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Argument Analysis and Evaluation

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Edited by Ian Harrison, Thursday, 29 Jun 2017, 10:27

To be a good critical thinker a key skill required centres on being able to analyse and present in the form of arguments. If we consider Critical Thinking as an equation:

Critical reading


Critical analysis


Critical writing


Critical thinking

And then consider that:

Critical reading = argument analysis


Critical writing = argument building

We can see the importance of being able to work with arguments in an academic or workplace environment.

When analysing an argument you are actually evaluating it to determine whether it is logical and persuasive. In other words, is the argument strong and is the conclusion fully supported? We will cover this as we proceed through this discussion about arguments. Firstly, let us stop for a moment and understand what an argument consists of.

Quite simply, an argument is a claim that is supported by reasons or evidence. This means that when presenting an argument, an author is trying to persuade the reader that something is true or correct by presenting supporting reasons or evidence. It does this by presenting logical reasons and evidence to support the claim or viewpoint.

The constituent parts of an argument are:

•       THE ISSUE – the problem or controversy about which people disagree

•       THE CLAIM - the position on the issue and the point of the argument

•       THE SUPPORT - reasons and evidence that the claim is reasonable and should be accepted. A reason being a general statement supporting the claim, an evidence being facts, statistics, experiences, comparisons and/or examples

•       THE REFUTATION - opposing viewpoints

•       THE CONCLUSION – a statement that confirms the claim has been supported.

An issue may have several associated arguments and each of these should have one claim and one conclusion, but several reasons and pieces of supporting evidence. The supporting statements or evidence are called premises and there re key words that indicate that a premise is about to b presented. For example:

  • Because
  • Since
  • Supporting that
  • Accounting that
  • Given that
  • For example
  • For the reason that
  • In that
  • Given that
  • As indicated by
  • Due to
  • Owing to
  • This can be seen from
  • We know this by
  • Furthermore
  • Moreover
  • Besides
  • In addition
  • What’s more

Similarly indicator words that signal that a conclusion is about to be stated will include:

·             Therefore

·             Hence

·             Consequently

·             Ergo

·             Thus

The premises should provide a logical link between the claim and the conclusion, and a key question when evaluating an argument is,” Do the premises provide enough logical support to support the conclusion?” Below are some common errors made in logical reasoning, more often called logical fallacies.

1.     Red Herring Fallacy: where the writer tries to side-track the reader by raising an irrelevant issue.

2.     Hasty Generalisation – where a conclusion derived from insufficient or biased evidence

3.     Non Sequitur - “It Does Not Follow”

4.     Faulty Analogies – where the conclusion depends on a comparison between two dissimilar things

5.     Appeal to Authority – relying on the view of apparent authorities to settle the truth.

There are many more such fallacies and if you are interested some simple research will easily surface more.

The process for analysing/evaluating an argument quite simple and the steps are laid out below:

  1. Identify the claim.
  2. Outline the reasons/premises to support the claim.
  3. Identify the types of evidence being used.
  4. Identify the conclusion.
  5. Identify any assumptions.
  6. Evaluate the adequacy and sufficiency of the evidence i.e. do the premises logically support the conclusion.
  7. Does the author recognise or refute counter arguments?

Assumptions have been introduced here and they consist of things the author takes for granted without presenting any proof (in other words, what the author believes or accepts as true and bases the argument on). Hidden assumptions, or ones the reader has not identified, can be used to justify an argument, in effect, “by jumping to conclusions”.  To avoid this the reader should:

·      Look for gaps in the argument

·      Work out what the missing link is in the chain of reasoning

·      Check to see whether the conclusion would still be supported without those hidden assumptions

Finally, you may think that this discussion does not align with my PEE acronym discussed in previous blog. But to compare the two:

CLAIM = Position or Point of the Argument

PREMISE = Explanation and Evidence

The only difference is we have now discussed bringing your PEE to a Conclusion!

I hope this has been useful in helping you analyse, evaluate and write better arguments.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Maria Strange, Wednesday, 28 Jun 2017, 12:29)
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First and second order change

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Edited by Ian Harrison, Sunday, 31 Jul 2016, 15:14

 When thinking about organisational change it is important to consider the type of change that is being proposed. A system is able to change in two ways:

  1. Individual parameters change in a continuous manner but the structure of the system does not alter; this is known as "first-order change.
  2. The system changes qualitatively and in a discontinuous manner; this is known as "second-order change."  

First order change deals with the existing structure, doing more or less of something, and involving a restoration of balance. It is characterized by being incremental, a linear progression to do more or less, better, faster, or with greater accuracy. “It consists of those minor improvements and adjustments that do not change the system’s core, and that occur as the system naturally grows and develops” (Levy 1986).

It can be described as:

  • Transactional
  • Evolutionary
  • Adaptive
  • Incremental
  • Continuous
  • Making moderate adjustments

 Practice, reinforcement, and time will be the most likely approaches for facilitating sound developmental change of this kind that may involve changes to organisational structure and/or management practice. Other examples are:

  • creating new reports
  • creating new ways to collect the same data,
  • and refining existing processes and procedures (Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch, 1974).

Second order change is creating a new way of seeing things completely. It requires new learning and involves a nonlinear progression, a transformation from one state to another. The aim would be to enable the individual to behave, think, or feel differently. It can be described as:

  • Transformational
  • Revolutionary
  • Radical
  • Discontinuous
  • Reinvent
  • Reengineer
  • Rewrite

 Within the second-order change approach, applicable practice tools might be modeling, confrontation, conflict work, refraining and, most important, the introduction of decisively different personal experience over time and mat involve mission & strategy, leadership and/or organisational culture.



First-Order Change

Second-Order Change

Change in one or a few dimensions, components, or aspects.

Change in one or a few levels (individual and group level).

Change in one or two behavioral aspects (attitudes, values).


Quantitative change.

Change in content.

Continuity, improvements, and development in the same direction.

Incremental changes.

Reversible changes.

Logical and rational change.


Change that does not alter the world view,

the paradigm.

Change within the old state of being (thinking and acting).

Multidimensional, multicomponent change and aspects.

Multilevel change (individuals, groups, and the whole organization).

Changes in all the behavioral aspects (attitudes, norms, values, perceptions, beliefs, world view, and behaviors).

Qualitative change.

Change in context.

Discontinuity, taking a new direction.


Revolutionary jumps.

Irreversible change.

Seemingly irrational change based on different logic.

Change that results in a new world view, new paradigm.

Change that results in a new state being (thinking and acting).


Levy, A. (1986) Second-order planned change: Definition and conceptualization, Organisational Dynamics, Vol, 15, Issue 1, pp. 5, 19-17, 23

Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J.H., Fisch, R. (1974) Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. New York, Norton.


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Cycles of Inquiry

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Edited by Ian Harrison, Wednesday, 23 Jan 2019, 13:38

A cycle of inquiry (see Figure 1) is an iterative process of collecting and interpreting information that will enable you to make decisions about what action to take next. It has a built in cycle that will enable you to collect more information if you feel there is not enough to make that decision about the next action.


Figure 1: The cycle of inquiry (Open University, 2016)


 A cycle of inquiry will usually be carried out for two circumstances:

  1. When an unexpected event has occurred in your project and you need to take a quick decision about changes you may need to make to it – this is called refection-in-action.
  2. When you think that a part of your project needs to be improved the next time it occurs in your project and you have time to reflect on what form this improvement may take e.g. how you conduct and interview or meeting, e.g. how you conduct and interview or meeting – this is called reflection-on-action.

Both may be required at different times as a project progresses.

The two important elements of a cycle of inquiry to make it effective is the information you select which will help you then reflect well when interpreting this information. In your reflections you will need to think about what theories and frameworks help you understand the information, critiquing them to identify their strengths and weakness and any adaptations you will need to make to make them work in the context of your project.

Cycles of inquiry are an important link between the theories and frameworks you have studied and the practicalities of using them effectively in your work/project context.

Another way of looking at what a cycle of Inquiry consits of has been produced as a digram by my colleague Rob Moore and is shown in the attached fil, ans asks a series of questions to help you develop your understanding of what is happening and what you need to do next.

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Critical thinking stairway

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Edited by Ian Harrison, Wednesday, 27 Jul 2016, 11:32

On doing some research on critical thinking I came across this framework that shows the process of critical thinking from the first engagement with information to the development of arguments and conclusions that form the basis of your critical writing. It clearly has its roots in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et al, 1956) but has been developed to include extra steps that are need for critical thinking.


Figure 1: The Critical Thinking Stairway (Open University, 2013)

Critical thinking stairway

Figure 2: Bloom’s Taxonomy Bloom et al (1956)


I have used the Stairway with students who are working on case studies and research projects both to show them the steps they need to take and also as a monitor of progress by revisiting the stairway during the process.


I hope you find this useful and would welcome feedback and comments especially if you have found another way of using the stairway.



Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, David McKay Company


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Critical Writing - weaving your PEE

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Edited by Ian Harrison, Sunday, 24 Jul 2016, 09:09

When writing academically you are expected to make your points by constructing arguments and these change your opinion into acceptable statements. Simplistically an argument is:

Argument = Conclusion + Justification

The conclusion is a statement that something is, or should be, the case, in other words the position that you are taking either in response to a question or as the result of some research work you have carried out.

Justification is the term that refers to the evidence that supports your position and the explanation of how it supports your position.

So in effect now we have:

Argument = Position + Evidence + Explanation (PEE)

It is good practice to start with your position but then ‘weave’ the Evidence and Explanation together hopefully in one paragraph. The last sentence of your paragraph should then briefly summarise your position and what argument will follow, thus providing a link from one argument to another.

In terms of the quality of the argument you will need to ensure:

  • There is evidence that the person reading your argument (or assignment) can check – obviously this means a clear reference.
  • That you have thought about the source of your evidence.
  •  That your argument clearly links to the question you are addressing.
  •  That you have not used too many quotations in your argument – it is better to quote key phrases and then too use your own words to paraphrase the rest of the cited work.

Your argument should fit into a good essay structure that should look like:

1.     Introduction

2.     Main Body

3.     Conclusion

The Introduction, that should be around 10% of the whole word count, should:

  •      Identify the main points and issues of the question being asked,
  •      Provide some background to the context of your arguments,
  •      State your overall position vis-à-vis the answer to the question
  •      The structure the essay or report will take.

The Main Body should:

  • ·      Have a suitable title (obviously not “Main Body”)
  • ·      Set out the arguments that support your position in a logical and coherent manner
  • ·      Include arguments that challenge your position

The Conclusion, that again should be up to 10% of the overall word count, should:

  • ·      Start by restating your position.
  • ·      Summarise the arguments you have made to support your position.
  • ·      Clearly show how these have addresses you question you are answering.

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