Using Details to Support an Argument

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson will help you to be prepared to make a more comprehensive argument by including details. You'll consider what's missing from arguments without specifics and what strategies to use to improve your supporting information.

An Argument without Evidence

Imagine a courtroom where a lawyer is making a case against a defendant. There's only one (big) problem: The prosecutor fails to present any solid evidence.

Without evidence, this trial is going nowhere.

In a similar way, if you present an argument but don't provide supporting details, you're like the lawyer standing in front of jury with no evidence…and no case.

This lesson discusses how you can avoid being in that position and strongly support your argument with details instead.

The Importance of Details

First, let's consider where supporting details fit into the whole of an argument. If you were to create an argument outline, it would likely look something like this:

  • Introduction
  • Body, including relevant context and background information as well as the claims you are making and their associated evidence/supporting details
  • Opposing positions
  • Conclusion

Now let's look at a particular argument you'd like to make and use this as our example. We'll pretend that after some research you've completed, you want to argue that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities accurately reflects the perspective and interests of persons with disabilities.

We'll say your body of your argument goes something like this:

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities advances the rights of individuals with disabilities. There are a lot of people with disabilities living in this country and elsewhere, so this was an important step in the right direction.

Hmmm…something's missing, isn't it? It's an argument, but not a particularly strong or detailed one. The language is vague, stating that the convention is a good thing, but we don't really know what it is and don't have examples of what makes it aligned with the views of persons with disabilities. The argument also mentions that ''a lot'' of people live with disabilities, but we are left with little idea of how many of us are affected.

Providing Relevant Examples

To improve your argument, you'll want to define what the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is and what it entails.

For this, you could look at documentation about the purpose, goals, and facts related to this human rights treaty.

You have two options for how to communicate what you find when looking at a primary source such as this. One option is to provide direct quotes. Another option is to summarize portions of what the treaty says or paraphrase the ideas. You can also do a little of both, being careful to use evidence succinctly (particularly if you have other details to provide). For example:

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights treaty that went into force in May 2008. The treaty identifies the ways that a society should work to achieve equal access and opportunities for persons with disabilities and highlights rights that should be protected, including requirements for the countries that have signed. Article 1 of the treaty states that its purpose is ''to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.''

Compare this to our original argument which simply stated that ''The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities advances the rights of individuals with disabilities.'' Notice how providing more specific details gives the reader a clearer context for why this treaty exists.

Turning to the Experts

We're not done yet, though. Right now we've only given a few details about the context of the treaty.

If you simply assert the Convention was an important step without having any specific examples to back this up, you're probably not going to convince someone who is skeptical or unfamiliar with the topic. How would you go about building a case that this UN Convention does, in fact, represent the interests of persons with disabilities?

Another type of supporting detail is that of expert opinion. You've probably seen the testimony of an expert on a crime drama, such as a ballistics expert who is called upon to explain whether it is likely a particular gun was used in a crime.

Similarly, expert opinions can be used when you're making arguments outside of a courtroom.

In this case, we could look to an organization whose mission it is to promote the rights of those with disabilities and see what they have to say about the treaty.

For example, you could note the following:

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