8.3 Building an argument - 8 Textual development: structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

8.3 Building an argument
8 Textual development: structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking

An argument must be supported by logical reasoning demonstrating critical thinking. Building an argument will involve supporting the statements you make by providing explanation, evidence or examples. These will come from your own data or from the sources you have assessed. The latter are indicated through references.

Explorative Task (i)

1) Read the passage and complete the table which follows.

Owing to its enormous body mass, the small surface-to-volume ratio and the lack of sweat glands (Spearman, 1970; Hiley, 1975; Wright, 1984; Mariappa, 1986), elephants are confronted with unusual problems concerning heat dissipation and drying of the integument (Lillywhite and Stein, 1987). Control of skin temperature is an extremely important mechanism in elephants’ temperature regulation (Phillips and Heath, 1995) and the most important thermoregulatory organs to use this pathway are the elephants’ ears. The ears of the African elephant have a large surface-to-volume ratio as well as an extensive and prominent vascular supply, which predestines these organs for optimal heat dissipation (Wright, 1984).

(Weissenbock et al., 2010: 182)


Support (the reasons for this)


Elephants find it difficult to keep cool.

The ears of an elephant are the most important organ for regulating its temperature.

2) Which words or phrases are used to indicate the reasons given?

3) Read the passage below and complete the table which follows.

Overweight and obesity are major threats to public health globally. One estimate suggests that 1.46 billion adults worldwide were overweight in 2008,1 and projections suggest that by 2020 over 70% of adults in the United Kingdom and United States will be overweight.2 This is likely to result in millions of additional cases of diabetes and heart disease and thousands of additional cases of cancer.2

1. Finucane MM, Stevens GA, Cowan MJ, Danaei G, Lin JK, Paciorek CJ, et al. National, regional, and global trends in body-mass index since 1980: systematic analysis of health examination surveys and epidemiological studies with 960 country-years and 9·1 million participants. Lancet 2011;377:557—67.

2. Wang YC, McPherson K, Marsh T, Gortmaker SL, Brown M. Health and economic burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK. Lancet 2011;378:815—25.

(Howard et al., 2012)


Premise (assumed fact behind the claim)

Support (statistical evidence for the premise)


Overweight and obesity are major threats to public health globally.

Large numbers of people are over-weight/obese.

4) Read the passage below and complete the table which follows.

Infectious diseases remain a major threat to global animal and human health. Recent examples include the 2002 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in the UK, the 2003 global epidemic of SARS and the threat of an influenza pandemic. The control of infectious diseases in animals and humans is a problem that needs to be addressed by scientists, veterinarians, healthcare workers, economists, social scientists and policy makers.

(Adapted from The Royal Society)


Support (examples)

At the start of a research report in a dissertation or journal article, the writer must build an argument to justify the research they have undertaken. It is important to develop this argument through the text in a coherent manner.

Explorative Task (ii)

You are going to read a longer extract from the Introduction from a research paper you looked at in 8.1.

1) Look at the title of the paper and list the things you think might be covered in the opening paragraphs.

Characteristics of Activated Carbons Derived from Deoiled Rice Bran Residues

i) ________________

ii) ________________

iii) ________________

2) Read the text and check if the things you chose are mentioned.


Activated carbon is a well-known material with various applications on an industrial scale. For example, it is used for the purification of gases (Guo and Lua, 2002), the removal of organic pollutants from water (Zhou et al., 2009), the removal of heavy metal from wastewater (Daifullah et al., 2003; Montanher et al., 2005; Singh et al., 2005), and as a catalyst or catalyst support (Bedia et al., 2010; Gu et al., 2010). Activated carbons that are currently commercially available are expensive, however. Therefore, the search for alternative low-cost bio-based materials, as well as the appropriate processes for the preparation of activated carbons from these abundant resources, has become necessary (Guo and Lua, 2002; Maite et al., 2007).

In principle, the methods for preparing the activated carbons can be divided into two categories: physical activation and chemical activation (Ahmadpour and Do, 1996). In physical activation, a raw material is first carbonized and the carbonized material is then activated by steam (Li et al., 2008), carbon dioxide (Guo et al., 2009), air (Su et al., 2006), or their mixture. In chemical activation, a raw material is impregnated with an activation agent such as an acid while being heat-treated under inert atmosphere (Basta et al., 2009; Guo et al., 2002; Liou and Wu, 2009). Often combinations of chemical activation followed by physical activation methods are employed to improve the characteristics of activated carbon, such as surface area and pore volume (Azevedo et al., 2007). It has been widely accepted that activated carbons prepared using different types of raw materials, activation processes, types of precursors, or compositions and process conditions result in different textural and functional characteristics. For example, activated carbons derived from coconut shell with air activation have a surface area of 700 m2/g (Su et al., 2006), while steam activation gives a maximum surface area of 1,962 m2/g (Li et al., 2008), CO2 activation gives a maximum surface area of 1700 m2/g (Guo et al., 2009), and chemical activation with ZnCl2 followed by physical activation gives a maximum surface area of 2,114 m2/g (Azevedo et al., 2007).

Thailand is the sixth largest rice producer in the world …

(Niticharoenwong et al., 2013: 1309—1310)

Refer to the language in bold to answer the following questions:

3) How does the first paragraph:

a) establish the importance of the topic?

b) draw attention to a current problem?

c) state the need for a solution?

d) prepare the ground for a discussion of the role of rice as a potential solution to the problem?

4) Which phrases link the first and second paragraphs?

5) In the second paragraph:

a) How many separate points are covered?

b) What are they?

c) Which phrases and punctuation help to organise the points?

6) How do you expect the third paragraph to continue? How do the preceding paragraphs prepare for this?

7) Complete the sentence below to describe the argument that the authors develop in the paper as a whole:

The characteristics of activated carbons derived from deoiled rice bran residues make rice a p ______ raw material for the p ______ of activated carbon.

8) Match the sentence halves below to summarise the reasoning behind the argument.

a) Activated carbon is a useful material,

b) As it is expensive to produce,

c) Using low-cost bio-based materials would help reduce the cost of production,

d) Different processes work differently with different materials, affecting the characteristics of the finished product.

e) Rice is abundant in Thailand.

we need to find ways of lowering the cost of production.

Therefore, if it turns out to be suitable for the production of deactivated carbon, there will be a plentiful supply of raw material.

so rice, as a relatively cheap biological product, might be a good alternative.

so we need to produce more of it.

For this reason, it will be interesting to see how rice reacts.

9) How do the authors support their reasoning to produce a credible argument?

Practice: Critical thinking

1) What areas/sources could you investigate to find useful support (evidence; examples) for the statement below in bold?

Actual global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. Yet, the increase in global CO2 emissions for that year slowed down to 1.1%, which was less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% over the last decade. This development signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel-intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving.

(PBL Netherlands Environmental Agency, Trends in global CO2 emissions, 2013)

2) What arguments could you put forward to support or challenge the following statements?

a) People should adopt a vegetarian diet.

b) Social media such as Facebook and Twitter improve our lives.

c) Governments should invest in nuclear power.

d) It should be compulsory for all students to study scientific subjects until the age of 16.

e) It is important for scientists to be good communicators.

3) What is the reasoning behind your arguments?

4) What kind of evidence would support your arguments?

5) What examples could you use to support your arguments?

6) How would you structure your argument in a coherent manner?