Relevancy of facts: Are all of the facts presented used to support or inform the main idea? If they are not, they are not relevant. Irrelevant facts are often used as diversion tactics, or may simply indicate a weakly constructed argument.
Statements that strengthen or weaken: A strengthening statement is one that can be readily debated and supported, and it should be specific rather than broad. A weak argument relies on generalities or broad spectrums, making it difficult to debate or support claims.
Persuasive techniques: The most common persuasive technique is the emotional appeal. This appeals not to logic or reasoning, but to the emotional state of an individual. These techniques are most commonly seen in advertisements, such as using a mother and child in a tender moment to sell a cough medicine. Persuasive techniques may also include appeals to logic, fear, or pride, calls to action, and what amounts to peer pressure.
When analyzing an argument, target each of the areas mentioned above. Does the argument largely contain relevant facts, or does it use “fluff” to fill space? Are statements debatable, supported, and specific or are they confusing and broad? Is the piece relying heavily upon persuasive techniques, rather than letting the data speak for itself? Answering each of these questions will determine whether an argument is strong and valid, or weak and unsupported.
Fact and opinion can be difficult to distinguish; many men and women use creative language or logical fallacies to present opinions as facts. The simplest method to determine whether something is fact or opinion is to ask, “Is this true?” Or, more accurately, “Is this subjective or objective?” A subjective statement is one that is left to interpretation (“It is a lovely day today”), while an objective statement is one without room for interpretation (“Today is Wednesday”). If a statement is subjective and reliant primarily upon interpretive reasoning, then it is an opinion. If a statement is objective and can be proven by evidence, then it is a fact.
A logical assumption is a piece of knowledge that is presupposed, or something that is taken for granted as being a fact. The depth of logical assumptions may vary somewhat, depending upon one’s level of education; a child, for instance, will not identify logical assumptions as readily as an adult. An example of a logical assumption is “The sun will rise tomorrow.” This is considered a logical assumption because the sun has always risen in the past, and there are not existing factors preventing this from happening. This is also known as the “zebra rule.” If you hear hoofbeats, it is generally safe to assume you hear a horse, not a zebra. To identify logical assumptions, seek information that is considered a “given.”
To challenge given statements, take a look at their support. One of the most common ways to sound authoritative is to use authoritative language without using any sort of solid support. Sadly, this tactic is quite effective, and many men and women fail to identify something as faulty because it sounds legitimate. To combat this, always check for supporting facts following (or preceding) a statement. If none are present, the statement may be challenged and potentially overthrown.
You may be asked to identify inconsistencies in content or tone, within or between selections. An inconsistency is the failure for a work (or works) to agree with one another, or express the same ideas. An inconsistent politician, for instance, is one whose words often belie his actions, or whose loyalties regularly change. In a written piece, search for changes in tone and content. Does the piece start by discussing one thing and suddenly change to another without tying the two together? This is an inconsistency. Does one piece treat its subject matter with respect and dignity, while the other treats it with contempt? This, too, is an inconsistency. Look for unexplained changes or shifts to identify inconsistencies.