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Visualize line of Argument

Represent the author's line of argument



The goal of this technique is to visualize the author's line of argument


Visualizing the line of argument allows you to understand the author's argument in enough detail that you have the elements needed to map the debate.


In this technique, you paraphrase the authors main cluster's of points and visually arrange them along a set of issues milestones that describes the argument.



Paraphrasing points

In this technique, you'll be creating notecards that summarize the points of the text on notecards like in Figure 1.

Each notecard should include:

  1. the topic area, listed in top left-hand corner of the notecard
  2. the citation, including the author's name, date and page number
  3. the function of each point (main, faulty, or return, see Read & Mark the Text)
  4. the source of each point (if not attributed, list the author as the source)
  5. a paraphrase of each point

1-4 can be copied from your notes on the text.  5 requires you to look for other information such as Support, Amplification and Qualification.

Look for support

Support is any information offered to make a point more credible or believable.  Almost all authors provide support for the main point.  You should include support in your paraphrase if it's important for helping you understand and believe the point or if you think you will use it in constructing your position.

There are several kinds of support including these 3 common types:

  • support of experience -- such as cases the author offers as evidence
  • support of statistics -- that describe the frequency or quantity of a certain type of experience
  • support of authority -- citations to other people that have provided information or points that lend credibility to an author's own points

Look for amplification

Amplifications are statements that extend and refine the author's point.  When you paraphrase, you must include amplifications because they are necessary to understand the author's meaning.

Look for qualification

Qualifications modify the scope of a point my limiting its possible interpretation.  You should include the qualification in your paraphrase if you find yourself tempted by the misinterpretation.

Milestones of the argument

Authors create arguments to help a community resolve a set of problem cases -- successful arguments do this by moving the readers through 3 milestones (stages) of argument: "seeing the issue," "defining the problem," and "choosing a solution."

When classifying your notecards, you will want to figure out which stage of argument they fall.

Milestone 1: Seeing the issue

At seeing the issue, authors try to get the reader to care enough about the issue to want it solved.  Authors do this by (a) describing typical, recurring, or provocative problem cases and (b) through historical accounts of the controversy.  In an empirical research paper, this usually happens in the introduction and background sections of the paper.

Milestone 2: Defining the problem

At defining the problem, authors explain the source of the tension to give readers the terms they need to understand the heart of the problem.  In an academic paper, this usually happens in the background and purpose/hypothesis section.

Milestone 3: Choosing a solution

At the third milestone, authors convince readers to accept and act on their recommendations.  In an empirical research paper, the Methods, Findings and Conclusion are usually the author's solution to the problem (research question) raised in the purpose section.

Visualize the line of argument

When reading an argument, the author doesn't just articulate the main points they want you to accept, they also discuss "faulty paths" our counter-arguments that they want you to reject.  They typically also give you a rebuttal or "return path" that gives you a reason to reject the faulty path.  You can visualize the argument, main path, faulty path, and return path as follows:



For this technique you will need:

  • the text you are trying to understand
  • your initial markings on the text 
  • a diagramming program like Omnigraffle or 3x5 notecards and a whiteboard 


To visualize the line of argument in an author's text, do the following.

1. Paraphrase the points

Starting with your notes on from the text, create a notecard for each topic / cluster of points.  Each notecard should include:

  • the topic area
  • the citation
  • the function of each point (main, faulty, or return)
  • the source of each point (if not attributed, list the author as the source)
  • a paraphrase of each point, including support, amplification and qualifications

2. Divide your notes by milestone

Placing each notecard in one of the 3 milestone either:

  • Seeing the issue
  • Defining the problem
  • Choosing a solution

3. Sketch each milestone of the argument

Visualize the entire line of argument

4. Review the full line of argument

Check that the milestones flow from one to another.  

  • start at the second milestone (defining the problem)
  • check that the problem cases in seeing the issue illustrate the tension in defining the problem
  • check that the solution eliminates the tension in defining the problem

There is a fine line between staying true to the authors points and making sense of the argument.  Remember the principle of charity -- if a small rethinking makes the argument clearer to you, do not hesitate to change your initial interpretation.



In this technique you will produce:

  • a set of topic notecards summarizing the authors main points
  • a visual depiction of the authors 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 73-96)