Argument vs. Explanation Study Guide (page 4)

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Updated on Sep 20, 2011


Remember to say exactly what you mean. If your words are confusing to listeners, they won't know if you're giving an explanation or an argument.

In Short

Good explanations are helpful. They give people the information they need to solve problems and understand situations. They differ from arguments in a number of key ways. Explanations answer the question, "why?" by giving reasons that are the causes of a particular fact. Arguments try to convince you of their conclusions by presenting evidence for them. While explanations are about facts, arguments can be value judgments or recommendations. Understanding these differences allows you to see through poor arguments that aim to convince you to do, buy, or think something based on little or no evidence. Being able to recognize and formulate good explanations is a valuable critical-thinking skill.

Skill Building Until Next Time

  • Listen for explanations in conversations with friends and family. How often do you hear irrelevant explanans or circular reasoning?
  • Imagine you want to start a small business. You have no experience, and you need funding from your bank. How would you explain your idea to a bank loan officer?

Exercises for this concept can be found at Argument vs. Explanation Practice Exercises.

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