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Read and mark text

Understand the author's position


Understand an author's position on an issue.

To map the debate you need to understand the positions of all the speakers in the debate.

Read an author's text to understand what they are saying and why they are saying it, by reading the text first for overall direction and second to understand the argument in detail.





Before reading and marking a text, there are some basic concepts you'll need.

Topics & Points

Points are statements of belief about the world that an author presents as true but that other authors might contest. An argumentative text can be looked at as a series of points laid out to get you from where you currently are to where the author wants you to be. (Kaufer, Geisler, & Neuwirth 1989, p. 32).

Topics are anything that can be talked about such as an event, belief, person, thing or concept. In an argumentative text, you will find several different points about a single topic. (Kaufer, Geisler, & Neuwirth 1989, p. 38).

Find points using headers and transitions

Authors don't want to loose their readers, so they indicate points using headings and transitions.  Headings indicate major points and transitions connect points. 

Some common transitions include:

  • contrast: on the other hand, but, even though, yet, despite, though, nevertheless, however, counter to, in contrast
  • addition: also, in addition, and, as well, furthermore
  • example: for instance, for example, illustrated by, one of
  • equivalence: in other words, the same, once again
  • emphasis or unexpectedness: even, still
  • cause or result: thus, then, hence, because, as a result
  • comparative quality or quantity: most, least
  • part-whole: in part, largely, mainly
  • time order: then, now, after, along with, at the same time as
  • dependency: only after, since
  • reason: naturally, at bottom, because
  • representativeness: most notably, tellingly, indicative
  • truth content: it may seem, it may appear, actually, really, ultimately
  • replacement: instead, rather than, not simply

 (Kaufer, Geisler, & Neuwirth 1989, p. 33).

Marking text for a second reading

As you read more closely, you will want to mark the text including:

  1. labels for the sources - sources are points that other people make that the author is citing, sometimes for support, often for disagreement.
  2. lines dividing topics - topics are clusters of points, usually an argumentative text has a large number of points clustered around a small number of topics.
  3. labels for topics - in addition to dividing the topics, you will also need to label the topic
  4. classifications of points - is the type of point being made, either main, faulty or return (see below)
  5. annotations for points - are labels describing the point

A three part argumentation structure
Points on the...

  • main path are points that the author wants you to accept
  • faulty path are points that the author wants you to reject
  • return path are points the author gives as reasons for rejecting the faulty path

Identifying main path points

There are several ways that authors indicate a point as being on the main path:

  • Direct presentation - the author states the point directly, as a truth
  • Self-identification - the author indicates that "I believe" or "we" should accept that point
  • Approval - the author indicates that the point is a good one
  • Attributed and approved - the author approves of a point made by another source
  • In a Problem/Solution framework - the author presents the point as being part of the "real problem" or "true solution"

Identifying faulty path points

To keep you on track of the desired argument, authors will indicate the faulty paths that they do NOT want you to follow using several strategies:

  • Faultfinding - the opposite of approval
  • Author attribution - often an author will subtly name the source of a point to distance themselves from the point.  If the author doesn't signal approval, be on the lookout for a faulty path.
  • Unrequired quotation - when the author quotes a common phrase or idea that isn't attributed to a specific source, the author is often indicating that there is something suspect about the point.
  • Parody -- using inappropriately formal or informal language to mock a point.

Identifying return path points

After describing a faulty path the author will give reasons for why you shouldn't accept them.  Typically these reasons fall into several sets:

  • Explanations of the negative effects -- such as the past, present or future consequences of accepting and acting on these points
  • Failure to meet important criteria, such as:
    • Accuracy -- the facts and truth 
    • Comprehensiveness -- the position covers all the relevant aspects
    • Feasibility -- the position can be realistically taken
    • Consistency -- the position shouldn't contradict itself
    • Effectiveness -- the position should work
    • Fairness -- the position should apply equally to all involved
  • Specialized criteria -- for example, failure to reach a reliability of .80.  In this case you'll need to familiarize yourself with the specialized criteria of this community.







To comprehend the argument in the text, do the following:

  1. Read for a sense of direction
    • Understand the points the author has laid out
    • Mark connections (to help identify points) by labeling common transitions
  2. Reread and mark the text a second time, remember to:
    • Label sources
    • Draw lines between the main topics clustering the points
    • Label the main topics
    • Classify the points as being on the: main path, faulty path or return path
    • Annotate the points

Rookie Mistakes







Critique questions





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 32-72).