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How to Identify Nonargumentative Uses of Language

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Argumentative texts are extremely common, but not all texts are making an argument. In this lesson, you'll learn how to distinguish some types of non-argumentative texts.

Non-Argumentative Text

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.

Informational Texts

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.

Conditional Statements

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.

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