Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.
In everyday life, both reading and speaking, you encounter arguments. Sometimes it seems like everything is an argument! However, there are some texts and types of language that are not actually argumentative. That is, they aren't making a case and then defending it. Instead, they might simply be informational. They might also be conditional statements, which in many cases can sound a lot like an argument. They might even be explanations. One of the best ways to tell if a text is argumentative is to look at the thesis statement. That one small section can tell you whether it is an argumentative text or not.
One type of non-argumentative text is informational text, where the purpose is to convey information rather than state and defend a claim. One way to check if a text is informational is the thesis statement. It (and the rest of the text) should be made up of provable and easily verifiable facts, not opinions. If the thesis states an opinion, then it is an argumentative text and not an informational one. Take the following example thesis statement:
'The benefits of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone outweigh any negatives.'
This is an argumentative thesis statement. You can tell because it claims that one aspect of something outweighs or is better than another, which can be argued against. It might be supported by facts, but the claim is an opinion. An informational text about the same topic would have a thesis statement similar to this one:
'The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone was a controversial decision.'
This is a fact. The decision was argued against on many fronts, and the fact that it was controversial is easily provable. There is documented, factual evidence to uphold every part of this thesis statement. This shows that it is informational, rather than argumentative.
Reporting an Argument
The informational thesis statement above is reporting an argument. This is a subset of informational text that can be difficult to distinguish from argumentative text, since an argument is the main focus. One thing to look for in cases like this is that both or all sides of the argument are presented equally, with no preference given to either side.
Informational texts might also be illustrating or providing examples of an argument without actually supporting it. In this case, you can find clues in the language used. Informational texts will use distancing language that separates the author from the argument. For example, it might say:
'Scientists studying Yellowstone argue that wolf reintroduction is increasing biodiversity and improving the ecosystem as a whole.'
This statement reports an argument without supporting it. That the scientists make this argument is a provable fact, and the author makes no effort to say whether they are right or wrong. This is characteristic of informational texts reporting arguments.
Another non-argumentative form you might encounter is a conditional statement, sometimes called an 'if-then' statement. These can be difficult to distinguish from arguments, but they are different. In a conditional statement, you will have both an antecedent (the 'if' part) and a consequent (the 'then' part). If both of these are present, then it is a conditional statement and not an argument. In fact, that sentence was a conditional statement!
The difference between arguments and conditional statements is mainly the presence of the antecedent. Arguments will not present an 'if' factor, and will state the consequent or claim as fact. For example, a conditional statement about the wolves in Yellowstone might look something like this:
'If biodiversity continues to increase as predicted, then it will prove that introducing wolves was a beneficial decision for Yellowstone.'
Here, the antecedent is 'If biodiversity increases', and the consequent is 'then it will prove introducing wolves was a beneficial decision.' An argument would simply have stated that the reintroduction was beneficial, and used the potential biodiversity increase as supporting evidence. This is another example of how looking at the thesis statement can help you determine a non-argumentative text from an argumentative one.
Another non-argumentative language type is explanations. Explanations are different from arguments because they take something that is true and show why it is true. Arguments take a claim that is not proven and try to argue that it is true. Just like a conditional statement, an explanation will have two pieces: the explanandum, which is the true statement being explained, and the explanan, which is the part that contains the explanation. Take the following example:
'Wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in order to restore the natural ecosystem balance that was present before human interference.'
In this statement, the explanandum is that wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. The explanan is the reason this was done--to restore the natural ecosystem balance. Unlike an argument, this explanation is made up of facts, and starts with a true and proven statement, not an opinion or a statement that still needs to be proven.
There are several types of non-argumentative language. One is informational text. The purpose of this is to convey facts, rather than state and defend a claim. The best way to identify informational text is to look at the thesis statement. It should be made up of provable facts, not opinions. Informational texts can sometimes report an argument. If it reports all sides of the argument equally without supporting one over the others, then it is informational and not argumentative. You can also look for distancing language such as, 'The scientists studying this argue that...' This language separates the author from the argument, and shows it to be an informational report. Conditional statements, or 'if-then' statements, are also non-argumentative. Here you need to look for both the antecedent and the consequent. If both are present, it is a conditional statement and not an argument. Finally, you might also see an explanation. Explanations show why a statement is true, rather than taking an unproven statement and trying to show that it is true. Explanations contain both explanandums and explanans.
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