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Design line of argument

Design your line of argument around the main point



Create the full line of argument


Specifying your full line of argument adds detail to your main point and is the last step before drafting your contribution in prose.


In this technique you will fill in your other points at the other milestones of the argument and then add additional faulty and return paths.



Visualize the argument

newness = accountability + freshness

accountability = knowing givens of issue (progress of previous authors)

freshness = making additional progress

progress = resolving unknowns or showing knows are incorrect  

To fill in the line of argument, you need to specify your main point at each milestone of the argument.  For example:

Once you have the full line of of the argument, you need to sketch out the faulty and return paths of the argument.  For example:



Make sure you have:

  • identified your main point
  • sufficiently explored the issue
  • diagramming software like Omnigraffle or a whiteboard


1. Fill in points at remaining milestones

After you have located your main point, fill in the points at the other milestones.

  • If you locate your point at seeing the issue...
    • fill defining the problem with an "X but Y" description that covers the cases you introduce or emphasize.  
    • fill in a solution that eliminates either the X or the Y
  • If you locate your main point at defining the problem:
    • fill in paradigms (at seeing the issue) with tensions that your definition captures
    • fill in solutions that eliminate either the X or the Y in your definition
  • If you locate your main point at choosing a solution:
    • fill in (at defining the problem) an "X but Y" that your solution can remove or relive
    • fill in paradigms (at seeing the issue) with the tensions that your definition captures

2. Search for and distribute faulty and return paths

Once you sketch the main path, add faulty and return paths.

  • At seeing the issue...
    • add faulty paths by discussing problem cases that miss the tension in your paradigms
    • add return paths that indicate which tension-producing aspects you find missing from the problem cases. 
    • You can then introduce your own paradigms as examples of cases conveying the tension-producing aspects you associate with the issue
  • At defining the problem...
    • add faulty paths by discussing any problem definition that denies the X or denies the Y in your own problem definition
    • add return paths by indicating that the first set of problem definitions misses the X; indicate that the second misses they Y
    • You can then introduce your own problem definition as capturing both sides of the conflict
  • At choosing a solution
    • add faulty paths by discussing any solutions that would remove the problem as you define it, but not in the way your solution would remove it. That is, if your solution would resolve the "X but Y" by eliminating the Y, discuss as faulty any solution that would eliminate the X.
    • add return paths by indicate why X is part of the tension that can't be eliminated.



A visualized, full line of argument.


Kaufer, D. S., Geisler, C., & Neuwirth, C. M. (1989). Arguing from sources: Exploring issues through reading and writing. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (p 239-243).