The Toulmin method, developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin(pictured on the right), is essentially a structure for analyzing arguments. But the elements for analysis are so clear and structured that many professors now have students write argumentative essays with the elements of the Toulmin method in mind.
This type of argument works well when there are no clear truths or absolute solutions to a problem. Toulmin arguments take into account the complex nature of most situations.
There are six elements for analyzing, and, in this case, presenting arguments that are important to the Toulmin method.
These elements of a Toulmin analysis can help you as both a reader and a writer. When you’re analyzing arguments as a reader, you can look for these elements to help you understand the argument and evaluate its validity. When you’re writing an argument, you can include these same elements in to ensure your audience will see the validity in your claims.
Claims — The claim is a statement of opinion that the author is asking her or his audience to accept as true.
Grounds —The grounds are the facts, data, or reasoning upon which the claim is based. Essentially, the grounds are the facts making the case for the claim.
Warrant —The warrant is what links the grounds to the claim. This is what makes the audience understand how the grounds are connected to supporting the claim. Sometimes, the warrant is implicit (not directly stated), but the warrant can be stated directly as well. As a writer, you are making assumptions about what your audience already believes, so you have to think about how clear your warrant is and if you need to state it directly for your audience. You must also think about whether or not a warrant is actually an unproven claim.
Backing —The backing gives additional support for the claim by addressing different questions related to your claim.
Qualifier —The qualifier is essentially the limits to the claim or an understanding that the claim is not true in all situations. Qualifiers add strength to claims because they help the audience understand the author does not expect her or his opinion to be true all of the time or for her or his ideas to work all of the time. If writers use qualifiers that are too broad, such as “always” or “never,” their claims can be really difficult to support. Qualifiers like “some” or “many” help limit the claim, which can add strength to the claim.
Rebuttal —The rebuttal is when the author addresses the opposing views. The author can use a rebuttal to pre-empt counter arguments, making the original argument stronger.
There should be more laws to regulate texting while driving in order to cut down on dangerous car accidents.
The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million car accidents per year are caused by cell phone use and texting.
Being distracted by texting on a cell phone while driving a car is dangerous and causes accidents.
With greater fines and more education about the consequences, people might think twice about texting and driving.
There should be more laws to regulate texting while driving in order to cut down on some of the dangerous car accidents that happen each year.
Although police officers are busy already, making anti-texting laws a priority saves time, money, and lives. Local departments could add extra staff to address this important priority.
A rebuttal (R) acknowledges limitations of the argument and may be put forward to indicate conditions in which the warrant is not applicable and consequently the conclusion can be overturned.
A rebuttal in the case of Mrs. Smith may be that she is currently on a medication that interacts with hydrochlorothiazide. A more efficacious medication may be suggested and thus act as a rebuttal. Perhaps Mrs. Smith's particular set of values, whatever they may be, prevent her from using the medication.
With the introduction of qualifiers and the search for counterclaims and rebuttals, the Toulmin model can be used to analyze more complex Stage 3 and 4 arguments such as those commonly encountered in the practice of medicine.
Currently there is much controversy among the proponents and critics of evidence-based medicine in regards to the role of external evidence, individual clinical expertise and data from the individual patient in the clinical decision making process. Harley Dickinson has illustrated the role of such information in the clinical context through the use of Toulmin model of argumentation.
Dickinson argues that when introduced in argument information can either be "warrant-using" or "warrant-establishing".
Warrant-using information acts as the basis for a conclusion and attempts to answer "What information do you have to go on?". In the clinical context, warrant-using information relates to the individual patient and is obtained through the patient interview, physical examination and investigative tests. In the case of Mrs. Smith, warrant-using information would include the measurement of her moderately elevated blood pressure on physical examination.
Warrant-establishing information serves as the backing or justification of the warrant used to make the leap from the data to the conclusion. Essentially, this form of information is used to answer "How did you get there?". In relation to evidence-based medicine, warrant-establishing information is typically derived from systematic research such as randomized controlled trials and meta-analysis. However, clinicians may often find themselves in situations where there is little, if any, research data available. In such situations clinicians may use clinical expertise as their warrant.
In the case of Mrs. Smith warrant-establishing information would include randomized controlled trials that demonstrate the effectiveness of hydrochlorothiazide in lowering blood pressure.
Research evidence does not necessitate a clinician to make a particular decision. Evidence is not the absolute truth as it relates to the particular group of people participating in research studies. When we generalize from evidence obtained from a study to our patients we are simply improving our confidence in using a particular warrant.
Hierarchy of Evidence
Preference and greater weight is given to studies with less apparent bias such as randomized controlled trials and meta-analysis. Separate hierarchies of study designs have been developed for therapy/prevention, prognosis and diagnosis. Of the five levels of evidence, level I evidence is considered the freest of bias. Physicians should look to use the highest available evidence from the hierarchy.
The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine provides a document discussing the hierarchy of evidence and grades of recommendation.
Case One - Acute Bronchitis and Antibiotic Use
Ms. Carter, a 54-year-old non-smoking woman, presents with acute bronchitis and requests antibiotic therapy. Her condition is most likely viral in etiology and you deny her request for antibiotic medication. You develop a treatment plan focussed on supportive measures.
She demands an explanation for the treatment plan you've developed. You inform her that antibiotics are ineffective in treating acute bronchitis of viral etiology.
She still insists on you prescribing the medication and says that she always gets antibiotics when she is sick and they always make her feel better. In support of your warrant you refer to the findings of several clinical and basic science studies and discuss how prescribing antibiotics in this situation could help promote the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Case Two - Esophageal Cancer
Mr. Jones, a 68-year-old smoker, has come to your office today to learn the results of a series of diagnostic tests that were performed recently. You inform him that the test results are indeed positive for esophageal cancer and that it is well developed. You discuss his prognosis and outline a treatment plan. As his cancer has become well developed you propose that the mainstay of his therapy be pain management.
Mr. Jones understands that he has cancer but is confused as to why he can't undergo surgery or chemotherapy as treatment options. He asks you why the cancer won't be treated directly. In essence, Mr. Jones is asking you to provide a rationale or warrant for your decision. You may respond that "Esophageal cancer that is as well developed as his is usually terminal".
Mr. Jones may question your warrant by asking "How do you know that?". You are being requested to provide backing to your warrant. Mr. Jones is not interested in warrant-using information but rather warrant-establishing information. You may respond by referring to research studies that show no statistically significant differences in survival rates among men his age and with condition receiving treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation when compared to pain management.