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.


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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