C. Examining the Argumentʹs Clarity
Sound arguments use plain language and are clearly expressed. Ask how well your document meets the following important criteria:
1. Definition of terms. Does the author clearly explain what he or she means by key vocabulary? Does the author use terms that are vague or terms that are precise (ʺChristianʺ vs. ʺRoman Catholicʺ; ʺscienceʺ vs. ʺmolecular biologyʺ)? Terms that can mean different things to different people (ʺliberation,ʺ ʺterroristʺ)? Emotionally charged terms that refer to ambiguous generalities (ʺfreedom,ʺ ʺthe American Dreamʺ)?
2. Precision: Does the author use sentences that have a single plain meaning (ʺ25 of the 37 people present reported that...ʺ) or vague and over‐simplified ones (ʺMost people would surely agree that...ʺ)? Are his or her statements confused or nonsensical (ʺAlthough Iʹm an only child, if I had a sister I know she would like cheeseʺ)?
3. Logical consistency: Do propositions contradict one another? Does the author make a claim in one place, and then make another claim elsewhere that contradicts the first one?
4. Relevance: How closely do the examples given, authorities cited, and evidence offered relate to the issue under discussion? Is the document padded with powerful language or emotional examples that donʹt focus on the central question?
Unclear premises, unsupported conclusions, faulty logic, vague or ambiguous terminology, and emotionally charged, unclear, or irrelevant statements are reasons to doubt an authorʹs conclusions.