VCE English: Identifying argumentative strategies

VCE English: Identifying argumentative strategies

This week, English teacher and Insight writer Anja Drummond provides tips on how to identify argumentative strategies and improve your analysis of argument.

By now, most of you studying Unit 3 English will either be in the midst of, or about to commence, Area of Study 2: Analysing Argument. As outlined in the Study Design, some of the key knowledge you need to demonstrate in this task includes:

  • an understanding of arguments presented in texts
  • the ways authors construct arguments to position audiences, including through reason and logic, and written, spoken and visual language
  • the features of written, spoken and multimodal texts used by authors to position audiences.

It is particularly important to focus on how authors construct arguments in order to position their audiences. A high-scoring response needs to show an understanding of the broader argumentative strategies employed by an author, zooming in on the specific language choices they have made.

Below are some of the argumentative strategies you should look for when analysing a persuasive text.


Opening strategies

Authors will often use strategies to hook their audience at the beginning of a piece. This may help to create a bond with the reader or establish the seriousness of the issue. For example, a text might:

  • open with an anecdote to establish how the issue has come about
  • start with a quote or testimonial from an expert or an eyewitness
  • begin with a series of rhetorical questions to highlight the issue.

TIP: You should consider whether the main contention of the author is clearly stated in the opening (or in the title) or whether they delay revealing their argument. Ask yourself why the author has made that particular choice.


Shifts in tone

Understanding the importance of tone is essential to recognising the ways in which an author constructs their argument, as shifts in tone will often accompany other strategies. For example, an alarmed tone could be used to appeal to the reader’s fear and insecurity, while an author seeking to remove doubt from the reader’s mind may employ an authoritative tone. Pay attention to the language choices being made; a change in language equals a change in tone, which often equals a change in argument.

TIP: Develop a word bank to describe tone. Practise applying these words by analysing texts such as letters to the editor, which are found in most newspapers.


Establishing credibility

Another common argumentative strategy is when an author presents themselves as an authority on a subject to convince the reader to adopt their point of view. For example, on an issue relating to child care, the author might write ‘as a mother of three children, I have found that …’ This establishes that the author has firsthand experience using child care and that they are well-placed to comment on the issue.


Appealing to emotion

Authors will sometimes use emotionally charged words and phrases to elicit specific feelings from the reader that make them more amenable to the author’s ideas. Emotional appeals can also be achieved through visuals. If a piece contains visual material, consider how the selection of particular images supports the author’s written argument.

TIP: Emotional appeals are used everywhere. The next time you are watching television, consider the emotions advertisements seek to evoke in the viewer.


Considering the other side

By considering opposing views on an issue, an author can create the perception that they are objective. They can then rebut the opposing position and advance their own point of view. The following is an example considering whether a sugar tax should be introduced:

  • ‘Those opposed to the introduction of a sugar tax often invoke their concerns for the rights of the individuals and argue that we are turning into a nanny state. The reality is that the increasing rates of obesity in our nation, combined with the obvious reluctance of soft-drink manufacturers to provide clear labelling on their products, means that the government needs to intervene and help people take the right step towards guaranteeing their own health and wellbeing.’

Take note of how a variety of language devices work together to support this rebuttal. There is a subtle attack on ‘soft-drink manufacturers’ through the description of their ‘obvious reluctance’, an attempt to elicit fear through reference to ‘increasing rates of obesity’, and an assertive tone in the declaration ‘the reality is’.


Concluding strategies

Authors will often employ more emotive strategies in the concluding paragraphs of a text. This is particularly evident in text types such as reviews and editorials, which often begin in a moderate and reasonable tone before shifting to more emotive and aggressive language as their contention (and their biases) become clear. When analysing concluding strategies, think carefully about the author’s ‘takeaway’ message. Popular concluding strategies include:

  • a call to action that encourages the reader to demonstrate their support for the issue
  • a rhetorical question or a prediction that generates fear around the potential consequences of inaction (e.g. ‘If we don’t do something about education standards now, the next generation will be doomed to ignorance and apathy. Is that what you want?’).


Take the time to practise analysing argumentative strategies and how they are used to advance an author’s point of view. Doing this will help you to avoid lapsing into writing a simple summary of the text. Good luck!


Need help tackling Area of Study 2: Analysing Argument? Insight’s Argument & Persuasive Language 2nd edition by Melanie Napthine provides comprehensive coverage of Area of Study 2. A textbook and workbook, it covers the analysis of argument and persuasive language in a wide variety of media texts using a systematic, step-by-step approach.

Argument & Persuasive Language 2nd edition is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.


Photo credit: Noicherrybeans/Shutterstock

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