Sidebar: Using a Warrant as a Clincher

Writers use warrants to get their readers to agree with their arguments, make their reasons more acceptable to readers, and lead their readers toward their claim. When you use warrants in these ways, they work as the foundation for your arguments; that is, you build your argument on top of your warrants.

But a warrant can be used in another way as well—as a “clincher” that you use to close your argument. A “clincher” placed at the end of your argument works as insurance: even if your readers haven’t been fully persuaded by your reasons, evidence, and solution, there is still a chance they might be swayed by a final appeal to values.

For example, in September 2009, President Barack Obama made a speech promoting his plan for health care reform. He listed some reasons why he believed his plan would benefit the country and gave the details of his proposal. Toward the end of his speech, though, President Obama tried something new. Citing a statement made about health care reform by the recently deceased Senator Ted Kennedy, President Obama quoted, “What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

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Kennedy’s statement is a warrant< about the moral importance of health care reform. If you believe in “fundamental principles of social justice,” and if you believe in the character of the country as Kennedy saw it, then—President Obama's logic goes—you should want to reform the health care system. By closing his speech on health care reform with an appeal to this principle, President Obama used a warrant as a clincher. After presenting reasons, evidence, and a solution, he made one final appeal to shared values to try to sway his listeners to his point of view.

This approach can work well, especially in contexts where an appeal to emotions is expected, or in tribes in which these kinds of appeals aren’t seen as suspicious. But there are also some things to be cautious about when using warrants as a clincher. Here is a quick look at the pros and cons of using warrants as a final bid for your readers’ agreement:

Pros of Warrants as Clinchers Cons of Warrants as Clinchers
  • Sometimes, an appeal to the shared values of a particular tribe can sway readers even when strong reasons and evidence have not completely done so.
  • Warrants offer a different kind of persuasion. Whereas reasons and evidence rely on logic, warrants as clinchers appeal more to values, which is acceptable in certain contexts, such as newspaper editorials, and to certain tribes.
  • Warrants as clinchers often appeal to your reader’s desire to be a particular kind of person (virtuous, generous, good). In certain contexts, and in certain tribes, this can be rhetorically powerful in swaying your reader to your point of view.
  • If your reader doesn’t share the warrant you’re using as a clincher, it will be ineffective at persuading him or her of your claim.
  • In certain contexts and within certain tribes your reader may find the emotional appeal to values unpersuasive or even irritating.
  • Warrants as clinchers can seem to be a last-ditch effort to win over your reader. Some tribes will respond by concluding that you must have had no real evidence to offer them.
  • The appeal you are making for your reader to be a particular kind of person, or feel a certain way, can feel emotionally manipulative to some readers depending upon the context and the tribes to which they belong. (You should also consider whether your readers will want to think of themselves as the kind of person your warrant describes.)