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OWL logo, Online Writing Lab, Purdue University.

The Toulmin System

Analyzing an Argument with the Toulmin System

A useful system of argument was developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin. In simplified form, it can help you organize an argumentative essay in this way:


Make your claim (a statement that is debatable or controversial). That is, state your claim or thesis regarding the question.


Qualify your claim if necessary. That is, restate or qualify your thesis or claim in narrower, more precise terms.


Present and discuss the series of good reasons to support your claim.


Explain the warrant (underlying assumptions) that connects your claim and your reasons. If the warrant is controversial, provide backing for it. That is, give your explanation of the underlying assumptions that support your reasons.


Provide grounds to support your claim.

  • facts, statistics, testimony from others, the use of other logical, ethical, or emotional appeals.
6. Acknowledge and respond to possible counterarguments.
7. Draw your concluding statement of your claim or thesis


(it is fine, actually recommended, if you work on this project with someone else)

Exercise 5.6

Read §5i.2, "The Toulmin system," p. 92 -93 of The New St. Martin's Handbook, then do the following exercise:

Use the seven-part Toulmin system above to begin to develop an argument for either question 1 or question 2. . . . Make sure that you clearly indicate each of the seven sections of your analysis. While you should feel free to discuss these questions with others in the class, remember that your analysis -- your position -- should be just that: yours. And remember that this is just an exercise; you could easily change your mind about these questions later.

Work on one:

  • #1:"Should colleges and universities include community service as part of the requirements for graduating with a bachelor's degree?"
    (e.g.: Group 1, Spring 2001

  • #2: "Is it better to move from high school directly to college, or should high school graduates get some full-time work experience before they return to school?"
    (e.g.: (Group 1, Spring 2001)

Exercise 5.6, from The St. Martin's Workbook, 3rd. Ed., p. 75

Cf. The New St. Martin's Handbook, pp. 92-93, 99-100



Discussion from The New St. Martin's Electronic Handbook:

"Suppose you were writing an essay about the dangers of smoking and you want to claim that the federal government should ban smoking. You might then qualify this claim by suggesting that the ban be limited to all public places. As reasons in support of your claim, you might say that smoking causes serious diseases in smokers and that nonsmokers are endangered by others' smoke. A warrant (or underlying assumption) you might offer is the fact that the Constitution was established to "promote the general welfare" or that citizens are entitled to protection from harmful actions by others. Since some might debate these warrants, you might introduce as backing the logical claim that the United States is based on a political system that is supposed to serve the basic needs of its people, including their health. As grounds for your claim, you could then cite not only statistics about lung and heart disease and the incidence of deaths attributed to secondhand smoke but also facts about the several lawsuits won recently against large tobacco companies and about the bans on smoking already imposed by many public institutions and places of employment. You might quote the U.S. surgeon general as an authority on the subject, or President Clinton, whose experience with lung cancer in his family is related to his stand against tobacco use. One counterargument you could anticipate is that smokers have rights, too -- and you could respond by reminding readers that you are suggesting a ban only in public places. Smokers would still be free to smoke in private. Finally, you could state your own conclusion in the strongest way possible."

Analyzing an Argument with The Toulmin System
(back to The Toulman System)
1. What is the claim or thesis? (5c)
2. How is the claim qualified? (5c)
3. What good reasons support the claim? (5d)
4. What warrants or assumptions support these reasons? (5f)
5. What backs up the warrant? (5g)
6. What grounds support the claim -- what facts, statistics, testimony, and so on? (5g2)
7. How are counterarguments acknowledged and responded to? (5f3)

SOURCE: Runcimau, Lex. (1995). The St. Martin's Workbook (3rd ed.). NY: St. Martin's, p. 75.

REFERENCE: Toulmin, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1964.


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