This week, despite the fact that it is Easter and we should all be enjoying our chocolate eggs other traditions here I find myself looking at the Argumentative method of research.

  • So, first up, What is it ?

Well, its not the type of argument that an old married couple might have…

In fact, an Argumentative piece of writing begins by presenting a debatable statement and then defending it with a series of claims.

The statement that is put forward must comply with a couple of criteria, firstly it must be debatable, after all, if it’s not debatable then we are going to struggle to argue for or against it.  An example of a non debatable statement would be “cars can travel faster than people on foot”

The statement that is put forward also needs to be fairly ‘narrow’ in nature.  `Narrow` what does this mean? Well lets look at the following statement:  “Driving cars fast is dangerous”.  This statement is pretty broad and can be interpreted in many different ways or a variety of contexts added to it, it is therefore hard to argue for or against it.

We can make the statement ‘narrower’ by adding some detail:

“Driving Cars fast in residential areas is dangerous”

We have now given this statement detail. We have added a context to the statement by defining WHERE driving too fast may be dangerous, in this argument we have stated a residential area. However it is still a little bit broad, this is better:

“Driving Cars above the speed limit in residential areas is dangerous”

Rather than just state ‘fast’ we have defined speeds above the speed limit’, by adding this extra bit of detail and have clarified what we mean by ‘fast’

The following video shows WHY driving fast in residential areas is dangerous

We now have a nice narrow, well defined argument that we are able to defend or attack with claims.  The claims form the information that we have gained through our research.

A piece of argumentative of research must only either or defend the statement it can’t do both.   There is a nice little twist available though in which the researcher that is for example defending a statement can propose some arguments that attack it and then proceed to knock them down.  This gives the researcher a good understanding of both sides of the argument and is a good approach as it may preempt genuine attacks.

Each claim will generally be factual, logical, statistical or anecdotal.  It is rather unethical to leave out information that is uncovered but does not support the stance of the researcher, it is more appropriate to present these claims and defend or attack them rather than ignore them completely.

A good argumentative piece of research will conclude with by not simply restating the original argument, but will readdress with in light of the information put forward in the arguments.

  • What kinds of questions/problems might it be useful for?
    This approach would be good in most situations that are not subjective.  So would probably be most useful in the Scientific Paradigm.  It would be possible to use the argumentative method in the Social Science and Artistic Paradigms. However, as these areas are quite open to interpretation using the argumentative method may be more likely to start a never-ending debate rather than be used to present facts (on second thoughts lets just stick with the Scientific Paradigm for fear of philosophers endless sitting around stroking their long white beards and debating ‘what is truth’.
  • How could it be used in IT research  (try to think of an example)?
    This approach is probably widely used in IT already.  For example installing a new network, if an engineer wanted to use Cat6 cable instead of Cat5 cable he could but forward his proposal and argue that the higher cost of the cable is justified by the longer lifespan and greater connection speeds available.
  • What are the strengths of the approach?
    In the scientific paradigm it is a very strong approach to use as we are able to present an argument (in effect a fact) and then back it up with other facts or strong opinions.
  • What are the weaknesses of the approach?
    Outside of the scientific Paradigm this approach is probably not that useful for presenting facts, any subject that is open to opinion is not going to be easily supported by this research method because we all know that people, if given the chance, will just argue the toss for ever.