Signaling Warrants

This post extends some of the material from a previous post on argumentation.

As discussed, it’s not always enough for an argument to be persuasive merely based on the strength of the writer’s claim, evidence, and reasoning.  Arguments are rhetorical endeavors; you must think about the specific audience you are addressing and how an argument is appropriately tailored given this audience.  Thus, it’s important to understand the moments in your argument where you need to spend time explaining your assumptions and beliefs/principles you’re invoking to frame and support your work.  Otherwise, your argument will have limited success.

These belief/principles (or underlying assumption) are called warrants: statements connecting a writers’s reasoning to his/her claim.  Warrants are imperative when making arguments and are usually where issue arise with readers: why they would disagree and potentially oppose what you’re selling.  They are also, at times, tricky to understand.  Warrants involve the relevance of a reason, and the relevance is not something where everyone will necessarily agree.  They are principles  that are often based in our societal commitments–and we know we all don’t share the same commitments.  Similarly, we won’t all agree on the truth of all warrants.    

In certain instances, we don’t have to explain our warrants when making arguments.  Consider this brief argument (or enthymeme), without and with the warrant: 

  • You shouldn’t eat the pizza (claim) because it’s poisoned! (reason).
  • You shouldn’t eat the pizza because it’s poisoned, and we never want to eat poison food!(warrant).

It’s unnecessary to explain why we shouldn’t eat the poisoned pizza.  However, there isn’t much work being done here.  More complex arguments–even slightly more complex arguments–need explicit warrants.  When we think the evidence of an argument unsuccessfully connects to the claim, it can be because of the warrant.  Here’s an example (where we’ll just assume the evidence is true):

A recent survey was conducted showing 62% of VCU undergraduates believe that a foreign language requirement  is “utterly useless” and a “total waste of time.” Because of the dominate outcry of students disdain for the course, the foreign language requirement should not exist for undergraduates.

Though many people will buy the claim—completing foreign language courses shouldn’t be required—it’s not because of what the survey shows.  The warrant here would be something like, the student majority vote should rule.  But, this doesn’t seem right.  At the very least, most won’t buy the warrant, so the argument as is fails as is because the reasoning does not successfully support the claim. 

Many times there are competing warrants given any argument.  It’s difficult (and frustrating) to understand what warrant(s) need explaining given how many warrants can be at play in a particular discussion.  People vary so much in their thinking on particular issues.  Thus, it’s important to fully express the warrants you’re including (i.e. the support you’re providing) for readers to understand how you’re thinking about an issue and why your reasoning logically connects to your claim.  The key point: Don’t just assume your reader will agree with you and your principles when they are suppressed.

In many instances, the arguments from your sources will serve as prime warrants for your work.  You will not use them as mere evidence for your argument (like you would reports of data, for instance).  Rather, you will take the claims/assertions of the authors and apply them to your project focus: resting on what they have said to support your own analysis.   (Another way of putting this is that they act as conditionals for your assertions: something like, “If [author] is right, then it seems that…”)  Here is a breakdown of a paragraph using sourcework for warrants: taking the direct passage from a source, paraphrasing the passage (i.e. putting it into your own words), using a signal phrase with the paraphrased passage, and then finally incorporating it into an argumentative paragraph of a project.  (I use the same paragraph from my previous post for reference to the logical elements of argument within the final paragraph.)

  1. Direct Quotation from Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“:

The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements.

  1. This Paraphrased by me:

While we learn less about the world through the internet, the internet learns the world about us. The frequency of terms used in searches and links clicked helps companies understand our interests so they can selectively manage what we see online (advertisements, top search results, etc.).  

3.  Incorporated with Signal Phrase:

As Nicholas Carr suggests, while we learn less about the world through the internet, the internet learns the world about us. He explains that the frequency of terms used in searches and links clicked helps companies understand our interests so they can selectively manage what we see online. 

  1. This used as a Warrant for Analysis:

Search engines such as Google have become tools equally for exploration of internal interests and desires as for investigation of the external world: they tell us just as much about ourselves as they do anything else.  As Nicholas Carr suggests in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“, while we learn less about the world through the internet, the internet learns the world about us. When I type in the word ‘sonic’ in the search bar to look up where the closest Sonic restaurant is to my house, the auto-fill feature suggests the following top four searches: “Sonic Youth,” “Sonic Youth Dirty,” Sonic Youth Eternal,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”  Although not interested in finding anything about the band Sonic Youth (or the hedgehog) with my search, Google anticipates my expectations even before I can finish writing them out.   As Carr explains, the frequency of terms used in searches and links clicked helps companies understand our interests so they can selectively manage what we see online.  Given my previous experiences with searching, Google now “knows” that I am a Sonic Youth fan and, in turn, has adapted its functions to fit my interests accordingly.  Thus, going along with Carr, though we commonly use searches to find information and answers we don’t readily possess, the information becomes more and more tailored to what we will enjoy finding.

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It’s not incredibly important that you use the language of “warrant” so much as it is important that you understand how  to use your sources.  You’re not always relying on them for facts, but resting on the authors’ arguments to bolster your own.  They act as principles to establish your own work–you don’t need to prove they’re true.  This adds to the conceptual framework established in your methodology where you set up the research and support you will draw on later in the essay to help situate concepts, definitions, etc.  Of course people will disagree with these principles.  However, this goes along with the necessary hedging in any argument.  You need to establish the appropriate parameters of focus to provide a precise and significant argument given certain axioms you clearly address.  This is a good thing.  Through prudently limiting your range, you are strengthening your contribution to your field of study.

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Discussing

To continue building on points previously made regarding the Inquiry Project, both in design and ambition, this post specifically addresses how to think about logically structuring your argument throughout the body of your work.  As we discussed last Thursday with our friends from the VCU Writing Center, crafting your Inquiry Project will require you to be jointly attuned to the structure of your argument itself and the rhetorical force you put behind it.  Simply put, an argument is a set of reasons (we can also call them premises) working together to show why a thesis is true.  Though, your project will (necessarily) include more than this.  It’s important to make a solid argument, but it’s equally important to situate it within a suitable framework given the purpose of the project and the audience being addressed. As mentioned, this framework is primarily established by the way you set up the problem you’re addressing, the claim you’re making, and the conversation of sources you use to inform and shape your discussion. Though, this also includes the platform you select, the media you use, and how you decide to utilize it all. Everything you include in your Inquiry Project is a rhetorical choice you make to not only effectively express to your reader why he/she needs to care about how you represent the problem you’re addressing and the argument you’re making, but to also represent yourself and establish your own character as writer and master creator of this new contribution to the field.

(Note: There are many ways to discuss ‘argument’ and various models to consider. Everything that follows is purposefully limited and primarily derivative of the work of Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams and how they discuss argumentation in The Craft of Research.  More on warrants can be found in this post.)

We can think of an argument as a conversation between author and audience, where one must necessarily include a claim he/she is trying to show is true, reasons for believing the claim is true, and evidence used to support those reasons.  To better ensure success and that the reader understands the relevance of these elements, one should clearly articulate the assumptions and principles used to show how the reasons rightly support the claim being posited.  One should also want to address the limitations of the argument and provide tenable responses to possible naysayers.

From here, we get this breakdown:

Claim: The point you’re trying to prove true
Evidence: The data you interpret to support your reasoning
Reasoning: Your explanation of how/why the evidence supports the claim
Warrant: The belief/principle/underlying assumption that connects your reasoning to your claim
Acknowledgment & Response: Alternative views and/or reasonable objections you should give credence

As mentioned, it’s not enough to just list these components and leave it at that: intentionally organizing your ideas and coherently transitioning between them goes a long, much needed way.  Nevertheless, these components are necessary when trying to structure paragraphs to support major points in your larger argument.  In a sense, you can think of the logical elements of argument as a math problem, where everything included after your thesis in your introduction adds up to equal the thesis.  As Tyler mentioned in our Writing Center hangout, to help make this work and better ensure the reader clearly understands what’s going on in the argument being made, it’s important to structure paragraphs to articulate and support specific assertions (or topic sentences) within the argument, ultimately bolstering the larger understanding of the work.

Here is an argumentative paragraph broken down to show the function of these components:

Search engines such as Google have become tools equally for exploration of internal interests and desires as for investigation of the external world: they tell us just as much about ourselves as they do anything else. [1]  As Nicholas Carr suggests in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, while we learn less about the world through the internet, the internet learns the world about us. [2] When I type in the word ‘sonic’ in the search bar to look up where the closest Sonic restaurant is to my house, the auto-fill feature suggests the following top four searches: “Sonic Youth,” “Sonic Youth Dirty,” Sonic Youth Eternal,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”  Although not interested in finding anything about the band Sonic Youth (or the hedgehog) with my search, Google anticipates my expectations even before I can finish writing them out. [3]   As Carr explains, the frequency of terms used in searches and links clicked helps companies understand our interests so they can selectively manage what we see online. [4]  Given my previous experiences with searching, Google now “knows” that I am a Sonic Youth fan and, in turn, has adapted its functions to fit my interests accordingly.  Thus, going along with Carr, though we commonly use searches to find information and answers we don’t readily possess, the information becomes more and more tailored to what we will enjoy finding. [5]

1. Claim; the main point of the paragraph
2. Warrant; a part of Carr’s argument used to shape and support my analysis
3. Evidence; the indisputable data I am interpreting
4. Warrant; More support from Carr
5. Reasoning; my explanation of why the evidence should be understood as support for [1]

It’s important to note that the paragraph here starts and ends with my own view rather than mere evidence.  This is essential when writing argumentative paragraphs because it allows you to maintain control throughout–nothing is left open for interpretation because you’re explaining how everything provided should be understood.  A key point: Data do not always speak on their own.  When writing the body paragraphs, be sure to always end them with your own reasoning, unpacking your evidence and precisely explaining why it supports your point.
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***To help ensure success in crafting such paragraphs for your project, I strongly recommend making an appointment with the Writing Center.  They are open this summer from Monday-Thursday 12-6pm and are available for both face-to-face and online consultations.***

Introducing

 

Max Malini

We’re coming very close to the end of the course and Inquiry Project construction is underway!  As mentioned in the assignment details, the project itself will be the fruits of your labor during this course: your argument weighing in on the inquiry you’ve engaged in so much this summer and existing in a published form on the Web.  I use “published” here rather than something like “final draft” to keep pointing out that your work on this project does not need to end when the class does and you submit the work for final assessment.  (This is also why I refer to your draft of the project as being in “beta.”)   However, your published submission must be a polished, sustained argument based in the research and analyses you’ve conducted on your topic (see “Core Requirements” section).

Similarly, though this is not a traditional research paper, it still has the same necessary components to distinguish your academic work for this class from other kinds of writing course products.  As Dr. Coats recently mentioned in his post regarding the kinds of arguments we make and the way we structure them, it’s fruitful to think of claims we wish to posit going beyond mere binary thought: x is right or wrong, black or white.  This kind of thinking gives short shrift to the rhetorical work you’re doing for the Inquiry Project: going beyond  “pick a side” arguing to demonstrate something conceptually compelling. Much of this is due to the complexities of situations and ideas in and of our topics that can’t afford strict prescriptions.    Though, this does not mean that we should think of claims as always existing in grey area.  Thinking of arguments in such territory can quickly lead to subjectivity or ambivalence—nogoodniks in argumentation.  We should always be attuned to alternative views; however, this does not mean that all claims are equal and all arguments are sound.  Rather, it means that we need to properly tailor our argument to support a precise thesis that is significant to particular field of study and interesting to an intended research audience.  Such theses (or, main claims) should be new contributions to how we understand the world and that provoke audience interests and questions.  (At the very least, your main claims needs to be debatable, supportable, and significant to your audience.)  If you succeed in making a strong thesis with equally strong support, people will still disagree with you.  Though, disagreement, rather than mere dismissal, is a mark of success.  It means that you are contributing to this ongoing conversation thing all us instructors keep gabbing about.

The best way to set up your argument and demonstrate why your thesis is compelling—and that it’s worth it for the reader to continue reading to find out why he/she should believe it—is to first establish a framework in the introduction of your project for the problem you wish to explore and that your argument (in a sense) will go on to solve.   A prime goal for your Inquiry Project is to convince your research audience that they need to embrace your way of thinking on your focus of inquiry.  Thus, it’s prudent to establish these three components up front:

  1. A statement regarding what is typically understood about your topic, including necessary background and context (the status quo).
  2. A statement regarding what you have come to believe is problematic with this. typical understanding (the problem), including why this problem is significant to the reader.
  3. Your thesis, encapsulating what you think people should embrace instead of the status quo.

Consider this paragraph (Note: I made most of this stuff up):

Most scholars have agreed that, prior to the late 19th century, throwing playing cards (often referred to as “scaling”) was a low-form spectacle: generally limited to tricks used by amateur magicians and intoxicated gamblers.  It was only until French magician Alexander Herrmman’s “flying card” act in 1890 that card throwing was accepted as a veritable skill. [1]  However, this reading of history undermines the significance of the work of conjurer Holtz Bellini to the art of card throwing. [2]  Though not well known in popular circles of performers, his card routines incorporated insurmountable speed and accuracy.   Further journal evidence was found in an 1846 issue of The Monthly Ruse which revealed a promotion of Bellini’s work, indicating that he would be “the first conjurer ever to successfully saw a woman in half with playing cards alone” (33).  Moreover, in “52 Reasons to Reconsider Messing with a Magician,”Calvin Tinks and Laverne Copp report that Bellini’s throwing abilities were reminiscent of 17th century martial arts, with particular similarities to the Dragon Scale Dance technique of instrument manipulation (803). [3]  If we overlook Bellini’s career, particularly his work touring in antebellum America, we jeopardize our understanding of the lineage of card throwing and how this history has influenced contemporary performers. [4]   By looking deeper into his methods and acts during the mid-ninetieth century, we can see that Bellini’s work serves an as integral link between old forms of object manipulation and new forms of scaling. [5]

1. Here is the status quo, establishing the general context of the issue and typical understanding of the history.
2. This begins the turn with the problem, where the common understanding of the the history is destabilized by pointing to what is missing given the common conception leaving out the importance of Bellini.
3. This serves as further evidence to bolster support for the problem actually existing.
4. Here is the significance of the problem, urging what is at stake for the reader by accepting the common conception of the issue.
5. The thesis.  This is what the rest of the paper goes on to show is true to replace the current status quo.  Notice that this is not a claim picking a side of an issue, but one that calls for a different and better understanding of it.

For longer projects like your Inquiry Project, it takes longer to establish these major parts of the introduction (~500 words).  No matter how you structure your Inquiry Project, take the time to develop these parts in the beginning to establish to situate your reader.  By the end of your introduction, your audience should have a clear understanding of the problem at hand, why it’s necessary to care about this problem, and the precise and significant thesis you will support and that responds to the problem at hand.