Argument Mapping

Guidelines for the ‘Argument Mappings’
(or, ‘How to Map the Structure of an Argument’)

0. Turning in a Mapping (Turnitin on Blackboard)

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Turning in a mapping involves two steps and no exceptions will be made if you fail to follow them:

1. Turn in your paper electronically through ‘Turnitin’ (which is found on your section page in Blackboard. Directions will be announced and/or posted for you by your TA. Your mapping must be turned in before class on the day that that mapping is due (before 12).

2. (IF your TA requires it) Bring a hard copy of the mapping with you to class and give it to your TA (at the START of class; meaning not in the middle of class or at the end of class).

A mapping has not been officially turned in ONLY when
both of the above conditions have been met.

1. Introduction

One of the goals of this course is to help you learn how to improve your skills in reading, writing and thinking. All three skills are of course interrelated. In fact, there is little mystery in how one can improve in these areas. By whatever standard, improvement comes with practice. To help you along in this process, we will be ‘mapping’ the arguments of course readings together in class.

Though we will be working through two examples before your first ‘argument mapping’ is due, I want to outline the process here for you. In addition, I want there to be a fair and explicit guide for you to follow such that you can understand what the TAs will be looking for in grading your ‘mappings’. Note, finally, that each of you will have the option to rewrite your argument mapping. If your TA determines that you have addressed the comments made on your first draft then your final grade for that particular argument mapping will go up some fixed amount (typically a third of a grade, but the final decision rests with your TA always). Handing in a rewrite, however, is not a requirement.

2. Preliminary Distinction: Article Review vs. Mapping an Argument Structure

Note that I have used the admittedly awkward ‘argument mapping’ to describe this assignment. This strange use is being used on purpose. It is because I don’t want you to confuse what you are being asked to write with the much more common and arguably less useful ‘article review’. I want you to present an actual ‘map of the structure of the argument’ based on your understanding of the author’s work. So let’s be clear here on the distinction.

First consider the difference between an ‘article review’ and the ‘mapping of an argument structure’. Though the former is often a stepping stone to the latter, it has a different purpose. An article review merely attempts to report to its reader what the original author wrote about. It summarizes. Thus, it typically moves through the original article in more or less the order in which the original article was written and abbreviates the content in summarized form. The mapping of an argument structure, on the other hand, has a different goal. It is an argument itself. It is your own argument about the original author’s claims. Its goal is to persuade its readers on three fronts: (1) what were the central claims made by the author(s) of the original piece; (2) how were these claims demonstrated and (3) to what extent were the claims interrelated into a larger argument structure. Thus, in writing your own ‘argument mappings’, you should keep these goals in mind. Indeed, as you will see below they will be the ones influencing the structure of your own arguments here. (Put another way: Do not just review what the original authors wrote in the order in which they wrote it!)

3. A Fundamental Difficulty

When reading the articles (and chapters) attempt to keep the organizing set of goals and questions in mind as you go. Note too though that this process is just that — a process. It will take a good bit of internal searching and questioning to discover ‘what the author is trying to argue’. That said, do not necessarily expect authors to state clearly at the beginning of the reading (or anywhere for that matter!) what they actually end up arguing. Just as it is hard to understand the meaning of a single scene in a movie before you have seen the whole movie, expect to have to rethink ‘the meaning of things’ after finishing the entire reading.

4. The Structure of Your ‘Argument Mapping’

All ‘mappings’ must be typed and double-spaced (and see conditions for submission set out in section 0. above). They should be between 3-5 pages in length. Note, too, that they will not be accepted by your TA if they are over five pages in length. This imposed limit on length is intentional. We want you to have to work to get the ‘mapping’ to say what you mean. This will entail having to rewrite and edit your own argument numerous times (be in on paper – at least once – or in your head – hopefully many times).

4A. The All-Important Opening Paragraph)

All of your ‘mappings’ should have the same basic structure; that is, while the goals of a good ‘argument mapping’ can be achieved many different ways, you are taking additional risks by trying to create a new structure for yourself in the context of this course. As I hope you will soon learn, it will be hard enough to carry out this assignment within the confines of the structure set out below.

You should begin with a statement of your own basic goal. Please note that this has been given to you in the assignment itself. That is – and you should write this out explicitly – you want to ‘map the argument structure’ of the particular article. This is a simple fact about all of your ‘mappings’. Thus you can avoid the typically unnecessary generalizations that begin many undergraduate essays (i.e., ‘Words are interesting things’ or ‘The human being is a speaking animal’, etc.). That should be followed immediately with a series of explicit claims about what you believe – in the final analysis – are the basic ‘parts’ of the argument that the author is trying to persuade you of. You arrive at these parts and discover the best order to present them in by a close reading of the article.

Work with the simple ‘filter’ I have said you should read all articles with: seek out the forms that the author focuses on, ask what functions are linked to these form, make explicit any other claims that are built on top of these basic claims about linguistic meanings and then find the kinds of evidence that the author provides to convince you of his/her interpretations. The parts of an argument then emerge from carrying out the following four steps: (1) list the claims (in simple sentences if you can) that you believe are central to the author’s argument (given the ‘filter’ above that you are applying in reading the article); (2) list the kinds of evidence that the author provides for the central claims (typically a mix of empirical and ethnographic types); (3) edit and name the central claims based on the kinds of evidence that support them (thus allowing you arrive at the ‘parts of the argument’ that you will be putting forward as your ‘map of the argument’); and (4) rearrange your now named claims (i.e. assumption, empirical fact, ethnographic fact, etc.) in the way that make it easiest to write up as your representation of the argument. That will typically simply mean going from assumptions through basic formal-functional claims through any more elaborate claims that logically rely on prior parts of the argument.

Note that that you should write your first paragraph only after you have finished your mapping. You will be stating the conclusion of your argument mapping; that is you will be stating the parts of the argument mapping that you are putting forwarding in the order that you will be discussing them. The first paragraph thus outlines all that will follow.

In setting up the rest of the argument mapping in this first paragraph. As discussed above, tell your reader explicitly what you will be doing (i.e. how the rest of your mapping is organized). Here you have a bit more freedom organizationally. However you decide to do it though, you should be explicitly dealing with the concepts you used to state the central parts of the argument. That is, can your reader understand the technical terms from the article that you needed to use in the stating the parts of the argument? If not, be sure to open with a paragraph or two aimed at explaining them.

Your job of course, given the page limit, is to find those claims that you believe are truly central to the author’s argument (and in line with the simplifying filter of the course frame that we will be using to read all course materials this semester). Keep in mind, of course, that they will be based on your reading of the evidence presented for them and, in fact, need not be the ones the author believed were central.

I argued early in the semester why we would not be making use of an introductory textbook. In using ‘real’ professional research sources, however, we face a different problem. As I noted then, you simply don’t know enough about the traditions framing academic work in this area to appreciate the relevant oppositions that gives such articles their relative worth. In addition, we don’t have the time to develop that kind of knowledge. In the context of this assignment that means that many of the claims that seem potentially central in the articles that you read will not make much sense to you. This is obviously then a serious problem for us.

A compromise was proposed as a solution. In order to focus your task and not overwhelm you with details that you don’t have the background (or interest) to understand, we will all share the particular perspective that emerged from the course frame. In every reading this semester, in one way or another, the author or authors are pointing to some aspect of language form and making functional claims about it. In your attempt to write an ‘argument mapping’, you should focus on only these kinds of claims. That is, though you may try to include other types of claims (i.e. about the work of others, the state of the field, etc.), this isn’t necessary. Your primary task is to isolate out the linguistic forms that interest the author, discover what functions are attributed to them, uncover any claims build on top of these basic ones and make explicit how the author argues for these claims. This is the ‘filter’, mentioned above, that should be used in reading all of our readings this semester. One final note: you should use the technical language developed by the author in listing the basic claims that you think are central to the argument because from our own perspective, what you are doing is asking: if we accept the author’s representations, do they have any ‘use value’. If such technical terms are in need of definition and explanation, as mentioned above, that would follow in the next section (below) of your mapping.

4B. Definitions and Explanations

If needed, the second section of your ‘mapping’ should have you returning (in an organized and systematic way) to the claims you named as central parts in the argument in the opening section. Your goal here is to provide the definitions and explanations that your reader will need in order to understand the basic claims you proposed in the first section. Thus, you are answering the question, ‘What concepts or ideas are necessary to understand the authors’ basic claims as you have represented them in the first section of your argument?’. Here and elsewhere, if it helps you to organize the structure of your own argument (and thus thought!), feel free to include in your writing explicit statements of these kinds of questions. Your goal here and you should have it in mind as you write this part is to communicate to your reader exactly how the claims were defined by the original author(s). There should be no judgment here, just definition and explanation. The reader should leave this section of your ‘mapping’ confident that they know the meaning of concepts necessary to understand the parts of the argument you proposed in the first section of your mapping.

4C. Explaining the Map’s Parts

In this third section of your ‘mapping’, you will be following the logic of the argument as you presented it in the first section. That is, you will systematically walk through each named argument part justifying how you named it by reviewing the kinds of evidence that were put forward by the author. In general, you are presenting in a logical order that suits your goal here how the author attempted to persuade us of his/her argument. If the author’s argument relies on a claim that you find no evidence for but believe to be central to setting up the argument, then you have found an ‘assumption’ in the argument’s structure. Other possibilities that you will track here will likely be variations on some version of an ‘empirical fact’ – Did they take a survey? – or an ‘ethnographic fact’ – Do they know what they claim to know because they lived among the people they studied and observed it regularly?.

This is what you should be sorting out and reporting on this (main) section of the mapping. If the types of evidence differ for the different claims that should be reflected in how you group them together and name them. If many share the same kind of evidence, then that can influence how you organize the structure of the argument. In either case, however, the link between the claims and the types of evidence should be made explicit when you justify how you name the parts of the argument structure.

4D. Summarizing the Arguments

This section of the mapping if you have space for it would essentially just restate what you opened with in the beginning paragraph. That is, if your goal was to map the structure of the argument, here you should report on your finding. Tell us again what the structure was that you proposed for the argument you mapped.

NOTE: If (and ONLY if) you have space, the very end of your mapping would be the place to elaborate on any criticisms that you have of the article. Note, if you are including them, they should stand independently as claims listed by you at the start of the mapping. You would add them to the goal of mapping the argument structure (i.e. to present two central criticisms or something to that effect). Recognize though that the goal here is merely to represent to ourselves what the author claimed. Criticisms are not a necessary part of such an argument; indeed, we are practicing here what should precede (good!) criticism and it is for that reason that we have separated them. However, if you do want to include them and have the space to do so, then (again) remember to explicitly state your critical goals in the opening paragraph. You are however primarily being graded on your map of the argument structure so keep that in mind before you decide to include additional material (like criticisms).

Finally, note that the first part of the ‘essay’ sounds misleadingly simple. Herein lies the main frustration in learning to read, write and think! As you will no doubt soon discover, essentially every sentence in every article can be read as a ‘claim’ made by the author. So your job here is to work through as many as you can track until you have a sense of the whole. Then you can put together your own argument about which ones are central. Keep in mind our simplifying frame: focus only on claims aimed directly at language and, to the extent that you even become aware of them, ignore those that address wider academic debates. As your reading and writing abilities improve here, you should start to find it easier to see larger and more complicated argument structures.

5. Grading

The TAs will be reading your ‘mappings’ with the following, ordered criteria in mind:

-To what extent is the above organization followed?
-To what extent are the links between the paragraphs and sentences coherent?
-How accurate are the claims stated and defended?
-How perceptive or creative is your argument mapping?

As you can see, the emphasis in grading will be placed – in line with the primary goal these exercises are intended to serve in this course – on the organization and quality of your reading, thinking and writing. Though the content and creativity of your ideas certainly matter, they will be placed (in grading importance) after the structure and organization of your writing. Your TA will be reading your argument mappings and asking (over and over again!), ‘why are they telling me this?’ and ‘How does this relate to what they are doing in their own argument? In checking yourself, you should be sure that you think the answers to these questions are obvious. When in doubt, include language in your argument mappings that explicitly announces what (and, if relevant, why) you are saying what you are saying. That is, frame your own writing so that others can follow along.

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