Features of Written Argument

Donald Ross, Deborah Rossen-Knill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


To complement theoretically driven work on argument, we present a datadriven description of published, written argument. We analyze political or philosophical treatises, articles in scholarly journals, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The description has emerged out of an inductive and a posteriori process based in grounded theory (Corbin and Strauss). The result is a suite of thirty-eight features that begins with conditions antecedent to writing and continues through to the consequences for the reader. We relate observational data to theories and practices from the fields of rhetoric and applied linguistics, including pragmatics, to explain how the features work together as social and communicative acts in which the writer produces a text in order to affect or change the beliefs or actions of the reader. For our purposes, the whole text is the argument and is not reduced to its propositional content; it is a unified communicative act. In our description of argument, the writer, reader, and text are central categories. We describe these categories and their features using examples from a variety of types of written argument.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-205
Number of pages25
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Applied linguistics
  • Argument
  • Rhetoric
  • Speech acts
  • Writing studies


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