Creating a strong engineering argument has much to do with knowing what kinds of argumentative frames and supporting evidence will be most persuasive and credible to the audience being addressed. For engineers, It’s important to recognize the power of clearly laid-out logical structure that includes supporting evidence based on credible research and strong logical grounds. Emotional arguments, while they may come into play in appropriate ways in questions regarding ethics or politics, are not often effective (and can even work to damage credibility when relied upon heavily) in backing up most engineering assertions.

One of the most effective strategies for argumentation in engineering might be simply for you to understand the task of argument composition as an engineering task itself. In many ways, you are “engineering” an argument, the same way that you would design circuits. Because many of us have (mistakenly) come to accept argumentation as a “natural” activity that flows from the act of having something to communicate and then simply “getting it out,” it may be difficult to get used to thinking of argument composition as an undertaking that must be completed systematically. For this reason, a helpful activity might be to “reverse engineer” some logical arguments (either your own or some found in texts available to you) in order to understand how they work. Much like sentence deconstruction, reverse engineering an argument will help you to identify the crucial parts of the argument in relationship to one another. To get started reverse engineering, it’s helpful to be able to recognize some of the most fundamental parts of any argument along with common constructions.

As Irish and Weiss explain in Engineering Communication [1], arguments are composed of three main parts: claim, justification, and evidence. The claim is the main ascertain of the argument. Based on the purpose of your communication, the claim may recommend an action or procedure or advocate for a specific analytical perspective. Justifications are explanations that set up support for the claim by laying out a line of logical reasoning within which the claim could be supported by certain evidence. Finally, the evidence follows through in support of that claim based on the logical structure of the justification.

There are various configurations that and additional elements that claims, justification, and evidence can take, but the most prevalent one in engineering is the Toulmin Model of Argument [1]. In Toulmin argumentation, grounds give some background information for claims, a qualifier may narrow the scope of the claim, justification lays out the logic behind the claim, and evidence supports the claim as well as, perhaps, the logic behind the justification for the claim. It is also important to reconsider rebuttals as crucial to this model, as recognition of alternate viewpoints and making sure to address them also helps to reinforce the strength of an argument [1].

Grounds–>Claim & Qualifier<–Justification & Evidence<–Evidence for Justification/Rebuttal

There is much more that could be noted with regard to effective argumentation. For example, some claims lend themselves more to provability with data (known as analytical claims) and other less (known as interpretive claims) [1].  In addition, there are specific types of rebuttal to be on the lookout for, such as challenges to truth, logical reasoning, or justification and evidence [1]. When responding to these, it is important to give respect to them by handling them seriously and to remember that acknowledging their validity with, in most cases, actually make your argument more credible, whether you choose to dispute them or explain how your claim can transcend them.

Finally, in choosing the most appropriate logical pattern with which to engineer your argument, it will be important to recognize some common logical  patterns. These include problem-solution or cause and effect. Learn more about these and other ways of arranging ideas in information about common rhetorical patterns [1].


[1] R. Irish and P. E. Weiss, Engineering communication: from principles to practice. Oxford University Press, 2013.
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