Sidebar: Know When to Use a Warrant

Whenever you decide to state the principles that underlie your reasoning and arguments, we call those principles warrants. But you don’t always need to state those principles. In some cases, you can reasonably assume that your readers will share your values, or they won’t need to have those warrants stated. In this sidebar, we’ve created a decision tree that will help you figure out when you need to state your principles as warrants, and when you don’t.

For each question, click the green answers to unfold the next set of questions or responses. You can click done at any time to reset your answers and return to the beginning of the piece.

Are you writing for a general audience or a particular affinity group? (If you are not sure, review the “Who Is My Audience?” sidebar< or the “Use Communal Warrants That Your Readers Already Accept” lesson.<)

General Audience<

Writing for a general audience

What are your goals when writing for this general audience?

Get them to reconsider their thinking about a topic<

Writing for a general audience to get them to reconsider their thinking about a topic.

Does your change of perspective involve considering new evidence, or changing the way a problem is considered?

Considering new evidence<

Writing for a general audience to recast their thinking about a topic by considering new evidence.

In this instance, you do not need to state your principle as a warrant. You are not asking your audience to reconsider its values, just to consider new information about the topic.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

New evidence has come up that supports the idea that comets bombarding Earth billions of years ago carried and deposited the key ingredients for life.

Scientists reported at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society that the research is part of a broader scientific effort to understand how amino acids and other ingredients for the first living things appeared on Earth billions of years ago. . .



“New Evidence Suggests Comets Carried life to Earth.” redOrbit.com. < http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1112503161/new-evidence-suggests-comets-carried-life-to-earth/>

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Because this evidence supports an already popular idea rather than introducing a new idea, the writer does not need to introduce his warrant. The audience is already receptive to the claim that comets deposited the ingredients for life and does not need to be persuaded that the evidence the writer is about to present connects to his claim.


Done<

Changing the way a problem is considered<

Writing for a general audience to recast their thinking about a topic by changing the way a problem is considered.

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant. When you’re trying to convince your audience to think about a topic in a new way, they’re not likely to immediately see the principles that underlie your argument, so you will need to make those principles clear to them.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

When we think about problems with today’s politics, we usually think in terms of actions – lying to the people, embezzling funds, or failing to deliver on promises. This type of thinking leads people to search for a solution through action – we could impose stricter penalties, keep a closer watch on political actions, or impose a policy of no toleration. But more important than the actions of our political leaders is their mindset. No one commits one of these actions without first having reached a decision in his or her mind. So what in the political mindset encourages political leaders to believe that their actions are acceptable?

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The writer knows that readers might have a hard time believing that the way people think is more important than how they act, so she includes a warrant to convince her audience: No one commits one of these actions without first having reached a decision in his or her mind.< Whether or not her readers agree with her principles, they now know why she has chosen to focus on less tangible issues than the ones she outlines at the beginning of the paragraph.


Done<


Done<

Explain a principle that won’t occur to this audience<

Writing for a general audience to explain a principle that won't occur to this audience.

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant, since your audience won’t recognize it otherwise.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

In the op-ed below, Greg Smith, the former executive director of the financial firm Goldman Sachs, explains why he’s decided to leave the company. His argument is based upon a principle that many readers of the New York Times, where the opinion piece was published, would be surprised to learn:

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.



Smith, Greg. “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs.” The New York Times. 14 March 2012: A27.

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Many readers would be surprised that Smith saw the culture as Goldman Sachs as one of “teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.” Movies like Wall Street and the recent scandals involving CEO bonuses suggest just the opposite. Since Smith knows that many of his readers might have a negative perception of the culture at places like Goldman Sachs, he needs to state his warrant that this wasn’t always the case so that his readers can understand why he decided to quit.


Done<

Gain the audience’s trust<

Writing for a general audience to gain the audience's trust.

Is your argument based on a principle that a general audience would share?

Yes<

Writing for a general audience to gain the audience's trust with an argument based on a principle that a general audience would share.

In this case, you most likely do not need to state your principle as a warrant. You can use other techniques, like explaining the current state of your topic or appealing to their general purpose, in order to gain their trust.


For an example of this in action, click here.<

As a democratic nation, the United States ought to . . .

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Most audiences would agree that the United States is a democracy, so you can reasonably assume that most readers would not question this writer's use of it as a premise that opens the sentence.

Done<

No<

Writing for a general audience to gain the audience's trust with an argument based on a principle that a general audience would not share.

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

Although the United States calls itself a democracy, it does not follow the principles of an ideal democratic system. A democratic system is one in which all citizens come together to vote on each rule to which they will be subject. Citizens of the United States do not vote on issues, only on the candidates who they think will support or reject those issues. Fifty years ago, people could argue that this was because the time and expense it would take to collect ballots from millions of people would overwhelm the country, but with the rise of secure internet identification and fast communication systems, we need to take a closer look at the inadequacies of our democratic system and discover a way to once again offer every citizen a personal vote in every law.

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Since most audiences would agree that the United States is a democracy, if you want to argue that it isn't a democracy in some significant way, you will need to make your warrants explicit. Not only do you need to have reasons and evidence, you need to show what criteria, that is, what principles you are working from when you make a claim that contradicts or even questions widely held beliefs.


Done<


Done<


Done<

Affinity Group<

Writing for an affinity group.

What are your goals when writing for this audience?

Get them to reconsider their thinking about a topic <

Writing for an affinity group to get them to reconsider their thinking about a topic.

Does your change of perspective involve considering new evidence, or changing the way a problem is considered?

Considering new evidence<

Writing for an affinity group to get them to reconsider their thinking about a topic by considering new evidence.

In this instance, you do not need to state your principle as a warrant. You are not asking your audience to reconsider its values, just to consider something new about the topic.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

These paragraphs come from an article in Nature about the effects of trans-Atlantic currents of airborne aerosols on sea and ocean surface temperatures:

Scientists have proposed that this arc of aerosols could block enough sunlight to cool sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and alter the regional climate. So Booth and fellow researchers at the Hadley Centre tested the idea with their newest model, which simulates not only the direct aerosol effect but also many of the indirect effects that aerosols have on cloud properties. These interactions take place on too fine a scale to simulate in a global model, so they are represented by statistical equations derived from even more detailed models. The Hadley Centre team reported last month that, in the model, the aerosols had an exceptionally large effect on North Atlantic sea surface temperatures.



Tollefson, Jeff. “Climate Forecasting: A Break in the Clouds.” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, nature.com, May 7, 2012.

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Because this article appears in a scientific journal, its primary audience would be an affinity group made up of scientists and people interested in climate research. This evidence supports and develops an idea that that affinity group accepts—that introducing aerosols into the atmosphere can cause regional temperature changes—rather than introducing a new idea, so the writer does not need to include a warrant. These readers would also already accept modeling (which the paragraph describes) as a valid scientific method, and do not need to be persuaded that the evidence the writer is about to present connects to his claim.


Done<

Changing the way a problem is considered<

Writing for an affinity group to get them to reconsider their thinking about a topic by changing the way a problem is considered

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant. When you’re trying to convince an affinity group to think about a topic in a new way, they’re not likely to immediately accept or understand the principles that underlie your argument, so you will need to make these clear to them.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

This paragraph come from a “letter to the editor” section of a newspaper in response to an article the paper had previously published about the causes of childhood obesity. The specific affinity group that the writer is addressing is readers of the paper who read the original article.

While last week’s article raised many interesting points about the psychological, environmental, and medical factors that can lead to childhood obesity, it failed to address one of the major contributors to this epidemic in our country: lack of access to nutritious foods. Many of the places in this country with the highest rates of obesity are rural areas where people are required to travel the greatest distances for groceries. This might not be such a significant factor if the choice were drive to the grocery store or go hungry, but studies have shown that in these cases, the choice is usually to either drive a shorter distance to a fast-food restaurant, or drive a longer distance to buy food that has to be prepared at home. It’s no surprised that over-worked parents are choosing to buy unhealthy drive-thru foods for themselves and their families. Until these people have quicker, easier access to healthy alternatives, they and their children will continue to suffer from high rates of obesity. Because fast food chains don’t seem all that interested in truly healthy alternatives, one sensible option would be for grocery stores to offer more low-calorie or low-fat options prepared in store. Even if consumers have to drive a little bit further to get the healthy items, they might do so if it would benefit their health, especially if they didn't have to spend time on food preparation. It would also benefit the stores by getting consumers in the door.

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This paragraph responds to an affinity group made up of people who are not only interested in childhood obesity, but who also read the article to which this writer is responding. As the writer tells us, that article addressed “psychological, environmental, and medical” causes for obesity. Because they’ve approached the issue through causes explained by the previous article, this group may have to learn to think differently about this problem before they can accept her solution. As a result, this writer has to state her warrantone of the major contributors to this epidemic in our country [is] lack of access to nutritious foods<—near the beginning of her letter. She knows that her audience will have to accept that not having access to healthy food is a bigger part of the problem than they had believed before they can consider why her solution might make sense. That’s why she has to state her warrant before going on to make her bigger claim.


Done<


Done<

Explain a principle that won’t occur to this audience<

Writing for an affinity group to explain a principle that won't occur to this audience.

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant, since your audience won’t recognize it otherwise.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

This paragraph comes from a “letter to the editor” section of a newspaper in response to an article the paper had previously published about the causes of childhood obesity. The affinity group that the writer is addressing is readers of the paper who read the original article.

While last week’s article raised many interesting points about the psychological, environmental, and medical factors that can lead to childhood obesity, it failed to address one of the major contributors to this epidemic in our country: lack of access to nutritious foods. Many of the places in this country with the highest rates of obesity are rural areas where people are required to travel the greatest distances for groceries. This might not be such a significant factor if the choice were drive to the grocery store or go hungry, but studies have shown that in these cases, the choice is usually to either drive a shorter distance to a fast-food restaurant, or drive a longer distance to buy food that has to be prepared at home. It’s no surprised that over-worked parents are choosing to buy unhealthy drive-thru foods for themselves and their families. Until these people have quicker, easier access to healthy alternatives, they and their children will continue to suffer from high rates of obesity. Because fast food chains don’t seem all that interested in truly healthy alternatives, one sensible option would be for grocery stores to offer more low-calorie or low-fat options prepared in store. Even if consumers have to drive a little bit further to get the healthy items, they might do so if it would benefit their health, especially if they didn't have to spend time on food preparation. It would also benefit the stores by getting consumers in the door.

<

This paragraph responds to an affinity group made up of people who are not only interested in childhood obesity, but who also read the article to which this writer is responding. As the writer tells us, that article addressed “psychological, environmental, and medical” causes for obesity. That means that this affinity group is either unaware of or ignoring a cause that the writer thinks is equally significant, so she has to state her warrant: one of the major contributors to this epidemic in our country [is] lack of access to nutritious foods.< She knows that her audience will need to include this previously-unexamined aspect of the issue in their understanding of what, exactly, the problem is before her solution will make sense to them—they will have to accept that not having access to healthy food is a bigger part of the problem than they had previously believed. That’s why she has to state her warrant before going on to make her bigger claim.


Done<

Gain the audience’s trust<

Writing for an affinity group to gain the audience's trust.

Is your argument based on a principle that your affinity group would share?

Yes<

Writing for an affinity group to gain the audience's trust using a principle that your affinity group would share.

In this case, you most likely do not need to state your principle as a warrant. You can use other techniques, like explaining the current state of your topic or appealing to their general purpose, in order to gain their trust.


Done<

No<

Writing for an affinity group to gain the audience's trust using a principle that your affinity group would not share.

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant or consider revising your argument using a warrant that they would not reject.

For an example of this in action, click here.<

The following paragraph is the mission statement from The S.W.A.P. Team, an organization dedicated to lessening the ecological damage created by clothing manufacturing.

Our mission:

  1. Provide good quality clothing to charities, who then use the clothes for their local community programs
  2. Provide communities with an alternative to new clothing consumption (e.g., collaborative consumption)
  3. Promote eco-friendly and socially conscious clothing consumption
  4. Develop upcycled items from used clothing, textiles and waste materials from the garment industry (check out our sister project, Style & Conscience)

http://theswapteam.org/about

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The S.W.A.P. Team can simply state these principles, because their target affinity group (eco-conscious fashion consumers) would accept them and want to support their work.

However, suppose an intern for a fashion magazine were trying to convince her boss to let her do an article on this project. It would be a tough sell—fashion magazines exist partly in order to sell clothes (specifically, the clothes that their advertisers buy advertising space to promote), and this association tries to keep people from buying so many clothes. The S.W.A.P. Team’s warrant, that it’s good to “provide communities with an alternative to new clothing consumption” directly contradicts the idea that readers should buy new clothes. So, if our intern wants to get her magazine involved in The S.W.A.P. Team’s project, she would have to sell her boss a story that isn’t going to upset their advertisers, who would definitely reject the warrant “fewer new clothes=good.” The article she proposes would have to focus on one or more of the mission statement’s other principles: for example, the idea the promoting eco-friendly clothing consumption and “upcycling” can have positive effects (without hurting the magazine’s business interests).


Done<

For an example of a principle that an affinity group would share, click here.<

Dentists most likely largely agree that oral health is as important as the health of other organs. This principle is one of the values that unites them as an affinity group.

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Done<

Demonstrate membership within a given affinity group<

Writing for an affinity group to demonstrate membership within a given affinity group.

In this instance, you should state your principle as a warrant. Stating warrants is one clear way to signal that you belong within a particular group when that group might not see you as a member.

To see this in action, click here.<

One common example of people stating warrants that demonstrate membership within a particular affinity group is politicians who claim to “share voters’ values.” In these speeches, when politicians claim to share values, if they go on to state what particular values they are talking about, those values are being used to appeal to a particular affinity group. So a politician might say, “I share your concern about” the economy, the national debt, foreign policy issues, etc. in order to demonstrate that he or she is a member of the affinity group of people concerned about a particular issue (and that, therefore, those people should vote for him or her).


Done<


Done<