Lacks a Clear Argument

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

Quickly examine Table 4 before moving further with the explanation for this comment.

As an assignment, you will never be confronted with an argument that entails socks in and out of drawers, but when you write a paper that critiques an argument, you are essentially writing an argument as well. You create your argument with a claim, what you believe about the subject matter. For an argument paper, your claim serves as the basis for your paper.

When you present the claims of two different authors, one of the two needs to complement what you claim. Make certain never to write a paper where one of the authors is the base or foundation of your paper. In doing this, you favor one author over another. Thus, the argument you present in your paper becomes biased with personal opinions. With this in mind, it is more important to weigh the evidence versus tilt the balance scale.

Table 4:  Socks and Drawers Comparison Table

Outline John Quincy James Jones
Claim It is important to keep socks separate from other clothing in a separate drawer. Socks need to be near the underwear in the same drawer so they are easy to retrieve since both go on underneath the body.
Reason #1 Socks are easily contained when they are separate from other clothing. Since I am always in a hurry in the morning to go to work, I need to be able to find the socks.
Reason #2 When my socks are in one place I don’t have to search for a match. When my socks are in the same drawer as the underwear, I don’t have to search for a match.
Reason #3 I like organization.  I like to categorize.  I like everything in its place. I like everything in one place.

With this table in mind, when you receive the written comment “Lacks a Clear Argument,” your professor highlights one or more of the following issues involved with the presentation of your argument.


When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear where you stand on the subject. After you have finished reading an assigned article for your class, immediately before you sketch the different ways the author feels about the subject, outline your thoughts first. What do you think about socks in the drawers? Develop three reasons of your own regarding the issue. Your claims and reasons form the base of your paper, not the claims and reasons of the two authors you are discussing.


When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about what you are trying to prove.  This inevitably goes back to your claim and stance.


When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about who your audience is. In Table 4, the primary audience represents anybody who wears socks, but in the right column, James Jones works. He needs his socks in one place so they are easy to find during the time he is getting dressed for work. If the authors of each article don’t specify exactly who the audience is, their examples can illustrate a specific group.

You could focus on people who are early morning risers, or you could focus on certain people who are organized. You can provide an example of the difference between an organized person and a disorganized person. The point to make here is that as the writer it is your job to make the argument, to prove your claim. In order for you to prove your claim, you must specify a certain audience to which to cater.


When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about the origin of the support you are using. Where does the factual evidence originate? Who is saying what, in what context, at what time, when? Pay attention to preposition words that signify present time and/or location. These include the following: “before,” “after,” “during,” “throughout,” and “at.” As you read the text, circle these prepositions. They are good indications of what happens chronologically.


When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about your understanding of key words in the author’s work. You must define the nature of the language expressed within each literary work. In other words, in Table 4 why does John Quincy use the word “separate” twice in his claim? Why does he use “categorize” to refer to the way in which he organizes his socks? This points to choice of words, or rhetoric.

Ask yourself each time you read an article, an argument—since the author (of an argument) must persuade you on his or her view—why does the author choose “this” word over a simple one or another? What does “this” word mean? What impact does it have on the rest of the sentences within the paragraph?


When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about your understanding of engaging the reading, of examining the argument critically. Typically, in writing about an argument, you are not supposed to pick a side; but you are supposed to develop a claim, some view that tells us, as the readers, what you think about the subject in general and specifically. It is ironic to suggest that you can’t pick a side but must develop a claim. However, I can’t disagree with the standard, the consensus on the nature of writing an argument.

The best method for engaging the reading, for examining the argument critically, and not being accused of picking a side, is to analyze the argument. Pick at it. Tear away its layers. Find out what’s inside. Similar to math, reduce the argument to its simplest form by getting to the meat of the author’s views. Most authors who write arguments do so from one of two perspectives: either 1) they want to inform you about the subject or 2) they want to persuade you about the subject, to do or not to do (or believe).

Treat an author’s argument in the same way as you treat a person you are interested in knowing or developing a longer relationship. For example, as a woman interested in a man, you attentively listen to all of his jokes. You notice when he laughs at yours. You notice his smile. You notice how he calls you all the time. You are interested in him. Now what happens when you are not interested in the person? As a woman not interested in a certain type of man, you look for every flaw, every inconsistency, anything to give you a reason not to continue pursuing a relationship or even friendship with the person. In essence, for the one you are interested in, you notice all of the good qualities.

For the one you are not interested in, you notice every bad thing about the person, from head to toe. Now apply this to analyzing a literary work. For the author’s article you are interested in, pick out all of the wonderful qualities the author has to offer and provides to you. For the author’s article you are not interested in, the one whose view you disagree with, criticize everything, every word he or she says from beginning to end.

Table 5 encompasses the major elements that must be present in any argument you develop. The table isn’t the only way to approach an argument, but it is novel in that it helps students understand that their ideas must serve as the foundation or basis of their papers. For example, students typically begin their papers with the ideas of the authors they are discussing, but they don’t begin with their own viewpoints concerning what they think about the topic. Therefore, it is important for students to develop the habit of thinking about a subject before using an author’s words, ideas, and perspectives as crutches.

Table 5:  The Five C’s Checklist:  Claim, Check, Contour, Communicate, Criticize

The Five C’s Primary Secondary
 Claim What is my claim? What do I believe? What do I think about the subject? Do I have any concerns? What are the author’s claims? What are the assumptions? How does the author feel about the subject? What concerns does the author have?
 Check How do I want to support my claim with at least 3 reasons of my own about why I believe what I believe? What are the author’s reasons for what he or she believes about the subject?
 Contour How do I want to structure the body paragraphs of my argument? Can the three 3 reasons function as separate body paragraphs? Is there a clear match between my 3 reasons and the reasons the author provides? Or is there a difference between one of my reasons and the author’s reasons?
 Communicate In what ways, by what method, do I want to show a specific reader the importance of my argument? Who is my reader? How do I want to help my reader throughout the process? In what ways, by what method, does each author show a specific reader the importance of his or her argument? How does each author help the reader throughout the process of reading the argument? How does each author use language? Does the author write rhetorically?
 Criticize What method can I use to engage the reading? What method can I use to engage the reader in reading my argument? Is each author persuasive in his or her method to persuade me about their beliefs on the subject? Or has the author not persuaded me?

The purpose of Table 5 is to serve as a guide for students during the post-reading, pre-writing stages of their arguments, particularly when students first begin sketching an outline.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Excellent Synthesis.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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