The following is summarised from "Smart Thinking" book by Dr. Matthew Allen and REA11 Applied Reasoning Unit at Curtin University. The checklist can assist you not to forget key points or considerations when planning your argument and the reasons for it.
Claims in General
- Ensure each claim stands by itself and makes sense
- Do not use pronouns.
- Does each claim make one separate statement that contains all the information necessary for it to express its meaning?
- Watch out for “and” or “;” which might indicate two claims instead of one.
- Beware of trying to oversimplify claims.
- Do not include traces of reasoning in claims (words like “therefore,” “because,” “since”…)
- Does the claim assume something that the audience might not know?
- Does any claim (or premise) restate/repeat another claim (or conclusion)?
- Use only one claim once within its own argument or you might make the mistake of circular reasoning.
- Ensure every claim is logically (and not just the wording) different.
- Have all irrelevant and redundant claims been removed?
- Does any claim need to be proved further (or explained in depth or justified or supported or referenced)?
- Are there any implied claims that need to be made explicit?
- Is the claim completely unpacked?
Scope and Certainty
- Are the scope and certainty appropriately indicated, either explicitly (preferred) or implicitly?
- Are the scope and certainty aligned (the same) in the premises and the conclusion?
- Are all generalisations limited by scope and certainty?
Implicit Value Judgement
- Are there any connotations associated with the claim?
- Be aware of special meaning in certain societies or social contexts.
- Well-formed claims always require some consideration of the meaning of the words used.
- Align the writing to the intended audience.
- Does the claim assert an explicit or implicit value judgement (words like “should,” “wrong”…)?
- If the conclusion is a value claim, then there must be a premise somewhere that addresses that value judgement.
Links and connections
- Each claim must imply links to other claims.
- One premise leading to one conclusion does not provide enough support and might reflect difficulty of thinking deeply enough about complex issues or a failure to recognise that the audience might miss the connection.
- When reviewing a group of premises, do they work together to establish the conclusion? Or can a more general framing claim (if/then) help?
- If the connection between the premises and the conclusion is unclear, then there is probably an implied premise that should be stated. (Otherwise the reason was not unpacked properly and the analytical relationship made explicit.)
- “A framing premise shows how or why a particular case or piece of evidence relates to the conclusion, usually by planning that there is some ‘general rule’ guiding what to do in the sort of case raised by the other premises.” (Allen, 2004:45)
- If one claim is a definition, is it linked with other premises that depend on it?
- Does each group of premises relate to their conclusion? Are they all relevant (within context)?
- If the conclusion is vague or unclear, then proving it becomes harder.
- Is the conclusion framed in such a way that all its aspects can be justified?
Five Types of Reasoning
- Causal reasoning
- Definition: how one event leads to another.
- Do the premises show the cause of an effect?
- Reasoning from generalisation
- Definition: how knowledge about a general class or category of events allows a conclusion about a specific event that fits the general category.
- Does a claim state some generalisation that provided knowledge we need about a specific conclusion?
- Reasoning from specific cases
- Definition: specific cases lead to a conclusion.
- Do the premises draw together specific cases in order to make a generalisation?
- Reasoning from an analogy
- Definition: drawing an equally specific conclusion from premises via a comparison of like aspects.
- Is it an analogical relationship, in which similarities between the premises and the conclusion can be linked?
- Reasoning from Terms
- Definition: some claims establish a definition or a particular meaning in a given context. In nature, definitional reasoning is deductive.
- Is it reasoning simply from terms, with the claim simply establishing the particular meaning of the conclusion? If so, is it clear?
Check your argument that it does not suffer from:
- Sweeping generalisation: Is the scope or certainty consistent with the conclusion?
- False cause: Is it a casual link where one thing happens after another, which may not equal a cause?
- Circular reasoning: Are the premises a restatement of the conclusion?
- Ad Hominem: Is the claim against a person?
- False dilemma: Does a premise include certain options without considering that surely there are other alternatives?
- Golden mean: Even though the premises are solid, are they adequate grounds or relevant to the conclusion?
- Straw argument: Are you taking a specific argument out of context? Is the summery too simplistic compared to the premises?
- Slippery slope: Is the conclusion reached through a slope of bad consequences? Does the conclusion appeal to false consistency?
- Allen Matthew, (2004), Smart Thinking: Skills for Critical Understanding and Writing. Oxford University Press, 2nd edition.
- More Effective Reasoning, More Understanding of Knowledge (nd), Reading 3.5-Fallacies, Module 3: Applied Reasoning REA11 [online unit notes]. Retrieved: 16 February 2007 from http://webct.curtin.edu.au/SCRIPT/302048_a/scripts/student/serve_bulletin
Mark Beljaars, Curtin REA11 Unit, (January, 2008) should be credited for points number 5c, 6a, 7 and 10.