Arrangement is one of the five canons of classical Athenian rhetoric presented by Aristotle. Structure is often taught as a series of building blocks connected to form a coherent argument. However, structure is, in itself, the chosen structure is an essential part of the argument. We will focus on using the Toulmin model as an underlying structure for the macro level of one’s Literature Review.
In his book The Uses of Argument, philosopher Stephen Toulmin (1958) argued that making arguments about universality and absolutism lacked practical value. Therefore, he called for different type of argument, a practical argument that focuses on the justificatory function of argumentation. He believed that reasoning is less about making inferences and discovering new ideas. It’s a process of testing and sifting through existing ideas to find the best solution. For an argument to succeed, it must provide a good justification that holds up to scrutiny and criticism.
At its core, the Toulmin model contains three essential elements: the Claim, the Grounds, and the Warrant.
At its simplest form, an argument following the Toulmin model requires these three components. An argument must assert a claim about the world as experienced by the author. Claims must be supported by credible evidence. The author must explain the reasoning that led them to believe that the evidence presented warrants the conclusion made within the claim. Toulmin’s model also includes three additional components (Qualifier, Backing, and Rebuttal), and a future blog post will cover them. Now, let’s move on to discussing how this model functions in the Literature Review section.
The Literature Review is the section of any academic work where the author demonstrates four things: (1) the historical knowledge in the field; (2) knowledge of similar research; (3) knowledge pertaining to unsolved problems surrounding the topic; and (4) any knowledge of gaps in the published research on said topic. While it is easy to consider the literature review as being a simple transmission of information, its primary function is to establish the ethos, or credibility, of the author as a knowledgeable authority whose findings should be given weight and attention. As such, it makes both an overall claim and a series of claims.
The author’s authority as someone whose words should be granted consideration on the topic is the overall claim. While unstated within the text of the work, this is the implied Claim the full section or chapter makes.
In the discussion of said literature, the author provides the Grounds upon which they stand to assert that claim. “I am an authority whose findings should be granted consideration because” I have demonstrated that I (a) know the history of how this topic has been studied; (b) am aware of current trends in the research on this topic; and (c) have identified gaps in the literature. In general, this offers a good-faith demonstration that the author possesses values the academic community holds in high regard: (a) learning; (b) diligence of study; and (c) intellectual dexterity.
Furthermore, in presenting this review of literature, the author asserts they (1) have made a reasonable attempt to avoid plagiarism and thus present original scholarship and (2) recognized authorities (those whose work I am citing) can be seen as backing the claims of my knowledge and understanding (“See, I have read these authorities, both historical and contemporary, so I am someone whose findings should be granted consideration”).
And while those familiar with the Toulmin model might be tempted to assert that the citing of authorities is in itself an Authority warrant (“We should/not do X, because an authority figure told us so”), the Literature Review makes use of the Analogy Warrant.
At the macro level of the Literature Review, the author makes the argument that their findings are worthy of consideration because they share similarities with the findings of those scholars who preceded them. The Toulmin model forms a structure for the Literature Review on a more nuanced and micro level. Future blog posts will explore that and the rhetorical purposes of other dissertation sections.
Other Blogs on this Topic
Tips for the Literature Review: Synthesis and Analysis
Synthesizing Research in a Literature Review
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