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Writing a logical argument

11 November 2020

Construct a logical argument in your writing

Writing is not straightforward. Your objective is to communicate with a reader, someone who you’ve likely never met and will never meet. You need to communicate highly complex information. But more than that you need them to see things as you do. You need to provide them with your reasoning and your argument, and have it make sense to them; preferably to the point where they agree with you. 

To communicate, you need to start from common ground. The beginning of your introduction starts with the most general concepts in the context in which you are writing. The context depends on your audience, and this in turn relates to the particular journal that you are writing for. Even if you are writing a thesis, you should pick out a target journal for each of the chapters. Once you’ve established the common ground, you need to carry the reader towards the hypothesis or question that you propose. The easiest way to do this is to make use of a logical argument: 

A series of statements that introduce a starting premise, provide evidence for and against that premise [perhapsadding in an examplethat makes your point], point out what missing information would allow reaching a better understanding of said premise, and logically conclude that what you are doing is going to fill this gap. 

This logical argument style is most prominent in the early introduction of your manuscript, although the entire introduction could be seen as one long logical argument, with a few smaller more precise arguments being thrown in along the way. You might also use a logical argument in your discussion to explain how you deduce certain inferences from your results, or provide a logical extension for a future study. 

The following science argumentation model is modified from Cope et al (2013:which you can find here):

A framework for a scientific argument

A position statement / question / hypothesis / theory / problematic

This could be thebig ideain your manuscript, or one of several competing concepts that you are introducing. The context in which you are writing might mean that this idea theory needs no introduction (e.g. the theory of evolution in the journal Evolution), but you need to be confident that your audience will understand what you are proposing. 

Remember to cite the person who came up with the idea.

Claim 1

One potential explanation or interpretation of the original idea.

  • Evidence: Literature that agrees with this interpretation (could include an example)
  • Reasoning: Your justification that links the evidence to the claim or interpretation

Claim 2

Another potential explanation, of the previous interpretation of the original idea.

  • Evidence: Literature that agrees with this interpretation (could include an example)
  • Reasoning: Your justification that links the evidence to the claim or interpretation

Counter - claims

Other possible interpretations or counter claims. 


Evaluation: your judgement on weighing up the evidence for the idea.

There are other shorter forms that might suit you better. Consider another classic form of the scientific argument: “compare and contrast” which allows you as a writer to quickly familiarise your reader with some key examples (see herefor practical wording examples). Another sentence structure to consider is explaining cause and effect (see herefor practical wording examples).

We have seenelsewhere  how science is built on the works of those that have worked before us. When we construct a logical argument in science, we do so using this scholarly accumulation of knowledge as presented in the literature:  citations. That is to say that your claims must be backed up by the literature. To do this, you will need to read that literature and make sure that it can back up your claims. Beware of making a baseless claim.

It may be that when researching your question, you come across the same argument using the same literature rehashed time and again in different papers (it happens). Does this give you a green light to do it again? I’d like to think that you already know that there are likely lots of other untapped and better examples out there, and it’d be well worth your while constructing your argument yourself. 

Beware  of copying an argument wholesale. You might well end up getting muddled, or worse perpetuating an error. Better go back and make sure that you understand the original premise and the works that promote or oppose this. Having told you to beware, I’m now going to encourage you to read, because reading is one of the best ways in which you can learn about writing a logical argument (see here). 

Reading critically will make you aware of when you come across an argument. Ask yourself 

  • Did you understand it?
  • Was it written in a conventional style (as in the table above)
    • If not, how was the style broken with and did this improve or detract from the understanding? 

In this writing blog, I concentrate on providing formulaic approaches to writing, because these are by far the easiest ways for inexperienced writers. However, I encourage you to learn and experiment with writing styles as you become more experienced. Critical reading is one of the best ways to learn about alternative writing styles (see here): reading is probably the best way of improving your writing. Alternatively, and especially if the above hasn’t clicked with you, you can read more about writing a scientific argument (see for example here). And there’s plenty more out there. 

Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., Abd-El-Khalick, F. and Bagley, E., 2013. Science in writing: Learning scientific argument in principle and practice.E-learning and Digital Media,10(4), pp.420-441.

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