Formulating Project Rationale: Designing Arguments

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Compelling thesis projects are based on strong arguments: a series of claims that make a convincing case for the significance and impact of your thesis project as well as the effectiveness of your approach. Although this rationale may seem evident to you as researcher, you may need to work to convince your audience, which is why strong persuasive arguments are so important.  

The activities below will guide you to… 

  • Identify examples of strong arguments within sample papers. 
  • Practice using a logical approach to argument design. 
  • Map out the central claims of your research project, and consider how you can best support each with appropriate rationale. 

Important Concepts 

There are various approaches to constructing argument, but for the purposes of generating your thesis claims, we will use Toulmin’s model.  This model, named for British rhetorician Stephen Toulmin, begins with the three components summarized below: 

Claim: Assertion that an idea is true/applicable or relevant; takes the form of a recommendation, a point of analysis, an interpretation of data, or a hypothesis that you as an author wish to prove to an audience

Warrant/Justification: An explanation that connects the evidence to the claim; may be signalled by a causal connector (because, since, consequently, given)  

Grounds/Evidence: The facts that support this assertion; takes the form of data, testing, modelling, prior research or other scientific principles 

Let’s take a look at how these components are connected in the following example:  

The structure of the model often follows the structure above, but each component is a moving piece. The order of justification and evidence may be switched with minimal wordsmithing and without losing the meaning of the argument.

Toulmin’s model includes three additional components that move beyond these basic building blocks, these are:  

Backing: Provides further evidence for the claim 

Qualifier: Acknowledges that the argument is not always true or limits the argument: may be signalled by words like however, but…. 

Rebuttal: Anticipates a counterargument by acknowledging another perspective  

These last two components are particularly important when drafting your thesis rationale: your gap will often take the form of a qualifier, as you acknowledge the limits of the research to date; your literature review reveals counterarguments, which may also be acknowledged and dealt with in your rationale.  

Let’s take a look at a qualifier and rebuttal for the above argument about EMS response time:  

Suggested Activity – Identifying Arguments in a Research Paper 

Estimated time: 30 min

Using the sample research proposals provided or a published research paper that is of interest to you, notice how the authors utilize Toulmin’s logic to create clear and convincing arguments that support their research objectives. Use the samples to practice identifying the main components of the Toulmin model (claim, justification, and evidence), as well as when a qualifier or rebuttal is used. Was the proposal/article persuasive to you as a reader? 

Suggested Activity – Identifying Arguments in Your Research 

Estimated time: 30 min 

  1. Refer to the mindmap of your thesis project that you created in the previous module. 
  2. List the primary arguments that you are or will be making in your thesis project. 
  3. For each argument, map out and fill in details for the three major components of the Toulmin’s model: claim, justification, evidence.  
  4. Are there any gaps in the claims that you made that you can fill in? Are there any central claims that you will make during your research that might be missing? 
  5. Keep the argument outline that you have generated in this activity to use in the next activity. 

Suggested Activity – Mapping Claims on an Argument Continuum 

Estimated time: 45 min 

  1. Refer to the arguments that you outlined in terms of claim, justification, and evidence in activity 1. Using the mapping claims worksheet provided, classify your claims along the continuum from big picture to focused/project specific. Map your claims along the continuum in a logical order of clusters. 

Take a look at the Activity 2 Examples in this module to see samples of mapped claims. 

Big Picture: Which of your claims are related more to the overall focus and challenges in your field as a whole?

Project Specific: Which of your claims are more specific to your unique thesis project and individual research outcomes? 

  1. Once your claims are in order on the worksheet, explore ways that you can connect claims together. What are possible ‘linking’ statements that you would use to connect these ideas together to logically move from the bigger picture to the specifics? How do claims relate to one another to build an argument? Do any claims need to be moved in the logic or deleted? Are there repetitions here? Write down and map out some of the links that help you logically move from the big picture to the project specific claims on your worksheet. Move, delete, or adjust claims to improve the flow of logic from general to specific claims to build a more convincing and coherent story for your thesis project.   
  2. Share your mapped and linked claims with a peer or someone outside of your research group if possible. Were they able to understand the flow of your logic in the order in which you presented your arguments? Are there any claims that are missing, unsupported, or undeveloped?  
  3. From your own reflections and/or peer feedback, revise the structure or shuffle the order of claims on your continuum to produce a more coherent and logical flow. 

Things to think about… 

  • The map that you generate in this module will form the basis of a motivation outline for your research project.  


Activity Examples

Sample Proposals for Practicing Argument Identification
Research Proposal Examples - Climate Change/PollutionExamples of 2 short and 2 long research proposals on climate change and pollution.
Research Proposal Example - Clinical EngineeringSample OGS research proposal in clinical engineering (optimizing defibrillator placement).
Research Proposal Example - Microfluidics (1 page)Sample 1 page research proposal investigating microfluidics for stem cell isolation.
Research Proposal Example - Microfluidics (2 page)Sample 2 page research proposal investigating microfluidics for stem cell isolation.
Mapping Claims on an Argument Continuum
Mapping Claims WorksheetArgument Continuum worksheet for mapping claims in order from big picture to specific.
Mapping Claims - ExamplesExamples of mapped claims.