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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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6 Evaluating an argument – coherence and supporting evidence

When you evaluate written material, you are aiming to form a judgement on the validity of the argument presented. You can do this by looking at (i) the coherence of the argument, and (ii) the supporting evidence. Here are some prompts that should help you to evaluate arguments.

The activity below should help to put what you have learned so far into perspective.

Activity 5 Evaluating an argument

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

Select a piece of written material (this could be a newspaper or magazine article), and evaluate any arguments that have been presented, in terms of the following:

  • Coherence of the argument: identify when an argument is valid (i.e. that claims made adequately support the conclusions being drawn, and are justifiable).
  • Supporting evidence: evaluate the evidence being presented, and to establish its worth (in its own right, and when compared with other evidence).

Discussion

Whether you have chosen a newspaper article or peer reviewed journal article, we expect you to subject them to the same level of scrutiny or critique. The following table provides some pointers:

Coherence Supporting evidence
 
  • Check the line of reasoning – is it coherent and logical? Are there any flaws in its progression?
  • Look at the conclusions drawn – are they supported adequately by the claims made throughout the argument? Are they ‘valid’ and do they make sense?
  • Have the authors justified their claims by supporting them with acceptable sources of evidence?
  • Are any assumptions made and, if so, are they acceptable?
  • Have all alternative claims been considered?
  • Is there any bias in the claims and supporting arguments?
  • Is there any indication that a claim made is merely the author’s opinion rather than based on evidence?
  • Does the claim make sense when compared to the evidence used?
 
 
  • Does the evidence support all of the claims made? Is it comprehensive?
  • Is the evidence appropriate for the topic?
  • Is the evidence recent and is that important for your purposes?
  • How does this evidence compare with that provided by other people – is it conflicting or does it complement other evidence? Does it co-exist, adding something extra to the topic?
  • Are there any methodological issues about the collection of the evidence that might impinge upon its usefulness?
 

We will explore this process in more depth in Session 4, using a journal article.