Glossary

This our inline glossary feature; you will be able to look up words here, or search for a term to see its definition, like "warrant" or "evidence."

Abstract

A character, concept, or action that a reader can’t picture in his or her mind. Compare “imageable.”

Accurate

Correct in detail.

Acknowledgment and Response

The element of argument in which you address your readers’ potential questions, objections, reservations, and alternative ideas about your argument. Acknowledgment and response can occur in one, several, or many places in your argument.

Action

Something performed by or done to a character.

Alternative

A reasonable and viable complication or challenge to your position that your readers might expect you to address in your argument. Alternatives can take the shape of principles, definitions, claims, reasons, and evidence.

Anecdotes

Evidence taken directly from a person’s account of his or her experiences. For the problem with anecdotes as evidence, see “representative.”

Argument

A structured attempt to convince readers to change their actions or beliefs. Academic arguments should be well reasoned, take into account alternative viewpoints, and be built on evidence readers will accept.

Benefits

The positive results of solving a problem. Benefits include but are not limited to: arriving at a better understanding of a topic or idea, finding an improved method of making decisions, reduced suffering, and financial gain.

Bridge Warrant

A warrant that readers already believe. Bridge warrants don’t need further support from reasons and evidence: that’s what makes a warrant different from a claim.

Bundle (or chunk) of Information

A group of words forming a single idea.

Chained Topic String

A sequence of sentences in which the character presented in the “stress position” of one sentence reappears in the “topic position” of the following sentence.

Character

Anything expressible as a noun that performs an action or upon which an action is performed. See “abstract,” “imageable.”

Chronology

Sequence in time.

Citation

Your citations credit your sources of information and tell the reader where to find them. Citations provide the reader with details such as the author and publisher, the full title, and the date and place of publication.

Claim

Part of an argument that tells readers what they should do or think.

Closeness to the Source

The distance of the evidence from its original format or publication, e.g. quoting a summary of a report rather than the report itself.

Common Ground

Accepted points in an existing conversation that an argument does not challenge. Compare “Status Quo.”

Common Knowledge

Dates, facts, or other forms of evidence that readers can be assumed to know without having to consult an outside source, or that could be found in many available sources.

Conceptual Claim

The resolution to a conceptual problem; the specific change in a reader’s thinking that you hope to cause.

Conceptual Costs

Consequences typically associated with conceptual problems. Conceptual consequences can include misunderstandings and incomplete or incorrect knowledge.

Conceptual Problem

A problem whose solution hinges on changing how the reader thinks. Compare “Tangible Problem.”

Consequences

The costs or benefits related to a problem. Consequences may be tangible or conceptual.

Contestable

Capable of being disagreed with; a claim not already held to be obviously or inherently true by the group of your intended readers.

Costs

The negative results of an unsolved, or badly solved, problem. Costs include but are not limited to: a lack of understanding or knowledge about a topic, an inability to make well-informed decisions, physical suffering, or financial loss.

Current

Recent, up to date. Ideas, theories, and knowledge are constantly being replaced by newer ideas or facts.

Data

Sets of facts gathered together in one place for a reader. We usually think of data as numbers, but data can be any kind of information.

Destabilizing Condition

A fact or idea that causes the reader to question the status quo. In a problem statement, the destabilizing condition should be associated with consequences that matter to the reader.

Direct Observations

Evidence that the writer has personally observed. Compare “anecdote.”

Direct Quotation

The reproduction of the exact language used by another writer. Compare “summary” and “paraphrase.”

Disinterested

Unbiased. A source is biased if the author or publisher shows prejudice for or against a particular idea or point of view, or has an ulterior motive (financial, personal, political, etc) for supporting one possible solution over another. Disinterested should not be confused with “uninterested.”

Ethos

Ethos is the character you project through your writing—the readers’ sense of who you are and what you’re like. A good ethos for argumentative writing is rigorous, open-minded, and trustworthy.

Evidence

Quotations, statistics, historical accounts, expert testimony, or other external data presented in support of an argument. Evidence reflects not just your personal thinking, but what you and your readers agree is true about the outside world.

Exhibit

Examples or excerpts from the object of your study. Exhibits include musical scores, images, and written texts.

Existing Conversation

The ongoing debate to which an argument contributes.

Expert Testimony

Quotations from scholars or other specialists in the field. Expert testimony must include both the arguments made by specialists and the evidence on which they base their arguments.

External Process

A process familiar to the reader, but not directly related to any individual reason.

Focused Topic String

A sequence of sentences in which the same character appears in the topic position of each sentence.

Historical Facts

Verifiable information about past events, such as dates and locations.

Imageable

Words that are easy for readers to mentally visualize. The more vivid the style, the more easily a reader can picture what’s being described. See “vividness.”

Indirect Quotation

Quotation without reproducing the exact words. Compare “paraphrase” and “direct quotation .”

Intended reader

The reader(s) for whom you design your argument. Compare “Surrogate Reader.”

Interviews

Conversations or correspondence with individuals whose opinions, experiences, or expertise may be relevant to the question your document addresses.

Least Challenging to Most Challenging

An ordering of reasons determined by how easily your readers will understand each idea.

Logic

The reasoning that structures an argument.

Long Bundle

Information that requires more than a few words to convey.

Main Action

The most important action you wish to convey in a sentence.

Main Character

The character around which you structure the story told in a section of text.

Method

The means by which you interpret your data.

Mixed Topic String

A sequence of sentences combining both “focused topic string” and “chained topic string.”

Most to Least Acceptable

An ordering of reasons depending on the degree to which your readers will accept them without extensive supporting arguments.

Most to Least Familiar

An ordering of reasons determined by how familiar you expect your readers to be with each reason.

New Information

Information unfamiliar to the reader.

Nominalization

An action expressed as a noun. For example, when you nominalize the verb nominalize, you get nominalization.

Objection

An easily answerable disagreement a reader may have with some part of an argument (the claim, a reason, a piece of evidence, a principle, etc.). Compare “Alternative.”

Old Information

Information that readers can already be expected to know, whether because it is common knowledge or because it has been explained to them earlier in the work.

Parallel Reasons

Reasons that, although they support the same claim, do not rely on each other to do so. Removing one reason will not affect the logic of the argument. Compare “sequential reasons.”

Paraphrase

A restatement, in your own words, of information from a source.

Photographs and Diagrams

Visual aids that help convey evidence to a reader. Photographs and diagrams are usually accompanied by explanations. See “report of evidence.”

Plagiarism

The borrowing of ideas, phrasing, argument, methods, information, or data without proper citation or attribution.

Precise

Free from overgeneralization. The level of precision that readers will demand depends on the discipline, topic, and claim.

Primary Sources

Sources about which you make claims, as opposed to sources used to build contexts. In the humanities, primary sources can include written texts, television shows, films, theatrical performances, and paintings. In the sciences, primary sources are the articles and observations written by those who first acquired or discovered data, or the raw form of the data itself, rather than later summaries or commentaries on the previously gathered data.

Problem

Something that readers can help to fix or need to know. See “Tangible Problem” and “Conceptual Problem.”

Problem Statement

The framing structure in which you present the “status quo,” introduce a “destabilizing condition” and associated “consequences,” and promise readers a solution if they read the paper. This structure is usually presented in your document’s introduction.

Promise (Forecast)

In a problem statement, the promise of a “resolution” to a problem, even if the details will not become clear until the reader has finished reading the paper.

Qualified

A claim that has been qualified has had limitations placed on it, has been made less absolute, or has had conditions or reservations added to it. See "Qualify".

Qualify

To qualify a claim means to place limitations on it, make it less absolute, or add conditions or reservations to it.

Quantitative Data

Data consisting of statistics, percentages, facts, graphs, or raw numbers.

Quotation

Closely or exactly echoing a source’s words when representing its ideas in your own writing.

Reasons

Part of an argument explaining why a reader should believe your claim. Reasons support a claim and are in turn supported with evidence. A reason is a sub-claim that you cannot expect your audience to accept without supporting evidence.

Reliable

Reliable evidence is current, close to the source, disinterested, and reputable.

Report of Evidence

The presentation of evidence within an argument. Since writers usually cannot present the reader with the evidence itself, they must glean and represent the relevant quotations, statistics, and data.

Representative

Consistent with the facts and viewpoints found in other sources. Since the amount of available evidence almost always exceeds how much you can include in a paper, readers need to trust that your chosen evidence fairly represents the pool of evidence on the topic.

Reputable

Considered in good standing and reliable among experts in the field.

Resolution

A solution to a problem that replaces, expands, or strengthens the status quo in a way that better accounts for the destabilizing condition. See “Claim.”

Secondary Source

A source that reports information from, quotes, criticizes, or expertly engages with a primary source.

Sequential Reasons

Reasons that depend on each other. Your reader must understand each reason in order to understand the next. Moving or omitting one reason will affect the logic of the entire argument. Compare “parallel reasons.”

Short Bundle

A chunk of information that can be conveyed in only a few words.

Solution/Answer

See “resolution.”

Stable Context

See “common ground.”

Status Quo

A basic or commonly held position that an argument challenges. Compare “common ground.”

Stress Position

An emphatic position at the end of the sentence.

Summary

A short report of relevant parts of a source.

Supportable

Capable of being proved or disproved by evidence; answerable.

Surrogate reader

A reader (such as a classmate, teacher, or professor) who stands in for the “intended reader,” often in order to provide feedback.

Survey

Evidence obtained from many interviews.

Tangible Claim

The resolution to a tangible problem; the specific change in the reader’s behavior that the writer hopes to cause.

Tangible Costs

The material or financial losses, inability to act, or physical suffering or damage typically associated with a tangible problem.

Tangible Problem

A problem whose solution requires readers to change their behavior. Compare “conceptual problem.”

Thematically Explicit

A quality of claims; forecasting the themes that shape your claim’s supporting argument.

Topic Position

The beginning of a sentence, where readers expect to find the character around which they will organize their understanding of the sentence.

Topic String

A pattern of key words appearing in the “topic positions” across a sequence of sentences. See “chained topic string,” “focused topic string,” and “mixed topic string.”

Tribe

A specific group of readers who already share one or more principles regarding a given topic.

Unfamiliar Information

Information that requires explanation and/or background knowledge to understand.

Vividness

Vivid prose creates an imageable story. See “imageable.”

Warrant

An explicitly stated principle upon which an argument is based. Warrants connect reasons to claims, or evidence to reasons. A reader may or may not agree with your warrant.

Weakest to Strongest

An ordering of reasons determined by the degree to which you expect the reason to convince the reader. A reason is “weak” if the reader is unlikely to be convinced by it without further supporting reasons.