Fallacies – What They Are and How to Avoid Them!
What This Guide Covers
This guide looks at the fallacies – mostly the logical type – that you are likely to come across both in the written work you do yourself and in the work of other people. Also included are examples, definitions, and tips on how to avoid the types of fallacies described here.
The Fallacies You May Encounter In an Argument
The majority of academic texts requires or expects the writer to put forward some sort of argument i.e. to give their reasons for interpreting something in a particular way or for making certain claims. It may have been suggested to you that your argument(s) are not strong enough or are not sufficiently logical. And it may be that this worried you into thinking you are not a logically-minded person or you may have wondered what is meant by a stronger argument. The learning process involved in knowing how to build the best possible arguments is a continuous one, yet it is one that is possible. Provided they have enough practice, anyone can become “logical.”
Every argument comprises of one or more premise (i.e. statements that set out the writer’s evidence or reasons). These need to be correctly arranged to support any conclusion(s) you arrive at (conclusions are any important interpretations or claims you offer to readers). Arguments can be made stronger by doing the following:
- Choosing sound premises (this means premises you believe to be both relevant and true to the matter you are dealing with).
- Ensuring the premises you choose properly support any conclusion you arrive at (i.e. rather than another conclusion or no apparent conclusion).
- Making sure that all the most relevant and/or important elements of the matter in hand are addressed (i.e. that each premise and conclusion focuses on those things that are wholly important and relevant to the matter you are dealing with).
- Not putting forward really sweeping or strong statements that you cannot properly support.
You should additionally make sure to present every idea in clear order so that readers can easily follow your thinking. Please refer to WritingsCentre.com.com’s website for additional tips on how to build good arguments and organize your work properly.
In this guide, we describe a number of ways that arguments do not adhere to the above guidelines and the resulting failures are known as fallacies. In the event you find it difficult to build a good argument, double-check to make sure you are not being hindered by one or more fallacies.
In particular, it is very easy for someone to make a slip and allow a fallacy to occur when they are working with a topic they feel strongly about. When it is the case a conclusion appears glaringly obvious, there is a likelihood of assuming it is correct or true and then becoming careless in respect of any evidence you put forward. In order that you can better see how writers frequently make these common mistakes, this guide draws on a few controversial topics – mostly of the political variety – such as gun law, abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, pornography, and abortion for illustration purposes. However, this guide’s primary purpose is not so much to take a particular stance on any of the given issues but to demonstrate weak logic and/or reasoning, something that can plague virtually any type of argument. Please keep in mind that any claims made in the examples below are merely fabricated to illustrate the point. None of them have been properly researched and we would ask that you do not use them as truth or evidence in any work you produce yourself.
Fallacies – So, What Are They?
A fallacy is a defect that makes an argument weak. If you learn to look at these in texts you write yourself and in those written by other people, it is possible to improve your own ability to examine and evaluate any arguments you read about, hear about, or make yourself. There are two important things concerning fallacies you should be aware of. Firstly, arguments containing fallacies are extremely common and it is possible for them to be persuasive – to the untrained listener or reader at the very least. If you look closely, you should find countless instances of flawed reasoning in advertisements, newspaper articles, and in other places. Secondly, when evaluating an argument, it can at times be difficult to spot fallacies. Any argument can be weak to different degrees i.e. a little weak or extremely weak, or it can be strong to the same degrees. Therefore, the aim of this guide is not just to show you how to brand various arguments as either fallacious or free of fallacy. Rather, it is to show you how to look at any arguments you construct yourself in a critical way and to develop them from being weak arguments to becoming strong one.
Fallacies – What Do They Look Like?
Each of the fallacies listed below is accompanied by an attempt to define it, an explanation, and an example. Each one also comes with a piece of valuable advice designed to help you avoid making the same mistakes in any arguments you construct yourself.
Being Overly Quick to Make Generalizations
The best way to define this fallacy is to say it is about assuming one or more things about an entire group or whole range of items or cases using an inadequate sample (mostly because the sample is not large enough or it is somewhat atypical). An appropriate example to illustrate hasty generalizations could concern the stereotyping of different groups of people e.g. “professors are clever and shy” or “rich people are arrogant.”
Here is an example: “My friend described his English course as difficult and the course I’m doing is also difficult. It must be the case that all English courses are difficult!” In this situation, the experiences of just two students do not provide sufficient material to come to a conclusion.
Our advice: Look at the “sample” you plan to use. Will you rely on the experiences and/or opinions of a few participants only or your personal experience of certain situations only? If this is the case, ask yourself if additional evidence is needed or if maybe your conclusion should not be so sweeping. (Please note that in this example, a somewhat subdued conclusion such as “Some students find some English courses difficult” does not constitute a hastily arrived-at generalization.)
Overlooking the Main Point
Possibly the best way to define what “missing the point” means is to say it is where the premise upon which an argument is based does support a certain conclusion, but just not the one the writer actually comes to.
Here is an example: “The severity of each punishment should equally match the severity of the offense or crime that has been committed. Currently, the penalty for driving while drunk might just be a monetary one i.e. the offender might just get fined. However, driving while drunk is an extremely serious matter where innocent persons can get killed. Hence, those who drive while drunk should be given the death penalty.” You will see this argument supports a number of conclusions i.e. particularly, that “drunk drivers should be severely punished but it does not really support the assertion that capital punishment is, specifically, merited.
Our advice: Try to separate the premise(s) of your argument(s) from the conclusion(s) you arrive at. Look at your premises and consider the conclusion(s) that objective readers are likely to come to upon reading what you have written. Consider also the type of evidence you would require to support a particular conclusion and check that you actually have provided that particular evidence. Missing or overlooking the main point mostly happens when a writer arrives at an extreme or sweeping conclusion. Therefore, you should be particularly careful in situations where you are making big claims.
False Cause (Also Known As the Post Hoc Fallacy)
Taken from the Latin words “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” this phrase is referred to as “post hoc” and translates to English as “because of this.”
The best way to define the “post hoc” fallacy is to say that because Y follows X, X is the cause of Y. Occasionally of course, one particular event does actually cause another to occur later. For instance, when one registers on a college course and their name subsequently appears on that college’s roll, it is reasonable to say that the first action caused the subsequent one. However, there are times when two given events that appear related at a particular time are not actually connected as a cause and an event. In other words, it cannot be said that correlation and causation are the same thing.
Here is an example: “When taxes were raised by President Smith there was a noticeable increase in violent crime rates. This increase in crime is caused by Smith.” The tax increase may be a factor in higher crime, but this argument does not show that one event has caused another.
Our advice: If the post hoc or false cause fallacy is to be avoided, the writer needs to explain the process in some way to show how an increase in tax is alleged to have caused an increase in crime. Here is what you need to do to prevent yourself making this mistake: If or when you claim X causes Y, you need to say something further about the manner in which X caused Y instead of just saying that X happened first and then Y happened.
The Slippery Slope Fallacy
A good way to define this fallacy would be to say it is a situation where the writer claims some sort of chain reaction occurred, which did or will result in some terrible consequence(s). However, this really does not provide sufficient evidence for such an assumption. The writer claims that if even a single step is taken along the “slippery slope,” it will result in the subject sliding downwards or right back to the starting point or bottom. They assume the spiral cannot be stopped at any point on the way down.
Here is an example: “The human race’s regard for life is reduced when we use animals for experiments. If humans do not care for life itself, it is likely that we as a people will grow more tolerant and complacent towards acts of violence such as murder and war. In no time, the society we live in will be nothing more than a battleground where everyone lives in constant fear. Civilization will end. To avoid such an unthinkable consequence, experiments on animals should immediately be made illegal.” Given the fact that experiments on animals have long been a legal practice and we have not yet seen an end to civilization, it appears abundantly clear that these events will not necessarily happen. Even if one believes that using animals for experimental purposes does reduce our regard for life, and that this reduced respect makes violence more tolerable to us, this could be the point on the downward slope where the situation ceases. Therefore, we might not tumble right to the bottom i.e. to civilization’s end. Thus, adequate reason has not been provided here to agree with the writer’s conclusion i.e. that experiments on animals should immediately be made illegal.
In much the same way as the post hoc fallacy works, the slippery slope is often a difficult fallacy to spot, not least because it is sometimes possible to predict that certain events really will follow on from other events in that chain. Take the following example, which does not seem to contain any fallacy: “If John fails Chemistry in his final exams, he will not graduate. If he does not graduate it is unlikely he will find a worthwhile job, and he may well have to take temporary work in a burger bar for the next few months or year.”
Our advice: Look back over the chain of events and consequences in any arguments where you have written “if X happens, then Y happens, then Z,” and so on. Check that all such chains and the events in them are logical and reasonable.
Perhaps a good way to define fallacies of the “weak analogy” variety is to put it this way: A lot of arguments are based on some sort of analogy between at least two events, ideas, situations or objects. Where both of the items under comparison are not especially similar in relevant ways, this constitutes a weak analogy and there is a fallacy in any arguments that are based on such analogies.
Here is an example: “There are many similarities between guns and hammers. Each one is a tool that has a part made of metal and one could use either weapon to kill another person. Nevertheless, it would not make sense to prohibit people from buying hammers. Therefore, restricting the purchase of guns is just as nonsensical.” Although both hammers and guns have certain shared features, (i.e. that they are tools, have parts made of metal, and have the potential to be used for violent purposes), these are not the features that need to be taken into account when determining whether or not to impose gun control. In truth, gun usage is restricted because of this tool’s ability to kill a lot of people from considerable distance. Hammers do not possess this ability. Killing a large crowd of people with a weapon like a hammer would be difficult. Therefore, this is a weak analogy as is the particular argument in which it is used.
With due consideration, it is possible to construct some type of analogy between virtually any two items you can think of. For example, “A paper is rather like a puddle of mud since both increase in size in the rain and each one is murky to some extent.” So just because an analogy can be drawn between almost any two items does not prove a great deal in itself.
You will find a lot of arguments that use analogy in discussions on subjects such as, say, abortion. Here, those putting forward pro-life arguments often compare the unborn fetus to an adult person in order to argue that anything that violates an adult’s rights is also a violation of an unborn person’s rights. How good or otherwise such an argument is depends a great deal on how strong the analogy is. For instance, does an adult human and a fetus share some or all of the important properties that bestow rights on a human adult? If the only property that really counts is the possession of the gene code unique to humans or the possibility of a life capable of sustaining the most common human experiences, then the adult human and a fetus certainly have that particular property. Therefore, this is a strong argument and strong analogy. If, however, the required property is the possession of self-awareness and the ability to think rationally and survive by oneself, then this is something that an adult human and a fetus do not share. Consequently, the analogy here is quite weak.
Our advice: Work out what features or properties are most important to whatever claim or assertion you are putting forward. Then try and figure out if the items you are using for comparison purposes share or possess these properties.
Appeals to Authority
It may be helpful to define “appeals to authority” as situations where a writer refers to authoritative sources or recognized authorities to strengthen their arguments. They would use these sources to explain their stance on whatever issue(s) they are discussing or arguing. However, if a writer tries to persuade readers to agree with them just by attempting to impress them with well-known names or through an appeal to an alleged authority who is not actually a real expert, this is known as an appeal to authority fallacy.
Here is an example: “The death penalty should be abolished. A lot of highly-respected people, including Guy Handsome (renowned actor) have said publicly that they oppose it.” While Handsome might well be a respected authority in matters concerning acting, there does not seem to be any special reason why people would be swayed by his personal opinions on a political issue. It is likely the actor’s voice is no more authoritative on this subject than the writer of the essay or paper.
Our advice: It is possible to avoid making an appeal to authority mistake using one or both of the following methods. Firstly, make sure the authorities you are citing really are experts in the field or subject of your essay. Secondly, instead of just stating that “Professor Authority says ABC and therefore we should believe it,” make an effort to properly explain the evidence or reasoning that led that authority to form their opinion and/or conclusion. This will give readers more substance to grasp onto than just the expert’s name and/or reputation. It is also a good idea to select experts who are deemed reasonable or relatively neutral as opposed to those whose views are thought to be biased.
The Ad Populum Fallacy
The definition of the “ad populum” fallacy is quite clear-cut. This is a Latin term that translates to English as “to the people.” It is a fallacy that has a number of versions. However, of all these, the best example is the case of a writer taking advantage of most people’s desire to be well-thought of or liked and to be accepted by others. Therefore, it is a case of using this desire in an attempt to get readers to accept the writer’s argument. The “bandwagon” version of this fallacy is the most common variety. Here, the person building an argument attempts to convince his or her readers to believe or do something because it is – supposedly – popular with or done by the majority of other people.
Here is an example: “All same-sex marriages are simply immoral. This is the view of 70% of people in America!” Even though the views of the majority of American people may well be relevant and important when it comes to determining which laws should apply, this majority view is certainly not a deciding factor in matters of a moral and immoral nature. For instance, at one time, a large percentage of the American population favored segregation but this view could not be construed as proof that there was anything moral about segregation. Here, the person putting forward this argument is attempting to appeal to people’s wish to “fit in” with their fellow Americans in order to get readers to agree to or accept their conclusion.
Our advice: You need to be quite sure that you do not recommend or encourage readers to believe your particular conclusion just because it is something most people believe i.e. that it is the view of the “cool” crowd, that people will be more accepting of the reader if they believe or adopt a certain view, and so on. Just remember that popular or current opinion isn’t the only or right one every time.
The Tu Quoque and Ad Hominem Fallacies
There are two fallacies to be defined here – the “tu quoque” and the “ad hominem” fallacies (i.e. “you, too” and “against the person” respectively), both of which – like the two previous fallacies (i.e. the appeal to authority and the ad populum fallacies) – are people-focused rather than argument or evidence-focused. In arguments of both these types, the writer’s conclusion generally tends to veer towards “Do not or you should not believe such-and-such a person’s argument”. This is because “such-and-such” is deemed either tu quoque i.e. a hyprocrite or ad hominem i.e. not a very good person.
In an argument of the tu quoque variety, the writer is likely to point out that their opponent has done the very thing they disagree with and therefore, the argument of their opponent should be ignored or not treated as credible.
This example illustrates a tu quoque fallacy: Picture in your mind that your teachers and parents have discouraged you from smoking, and in explaining why they have provided several valid reasons such as the health hazards, the huge daily expense, etc. In return, you say you do not accept their reasons or arguments because they used to smoke cigarettes when they were the same age as you i.e. “You, too, used to smoke!” That those advising you did the very thing they are now against bears no relation to the reasons or premises of the argument they are putting forward here i.e. that smoking is hazardous to one’s health and it is an extremely costly habit. Therefore, there is fallacy in your counter-argument.
In arguments of the ad hominem variety, the writer focuses their attack on their opponent rather than on that person’s argument.
Here is an example of an ad hominem argument: “Author X has published a number of books proclaiming that all types of pornography are harmful to women. However, X is simply bitter and unpleasant-looking so she cannot be believed or trusted.” The character and appearance of Author X, which have been so ungenerously described by this writer, have no bearing on the strength or weakness of the argument she makes. Therefore, using these causes the writer to commit a fallacy.
Our advice: Make sure you remain focused on the reasoning put forward by your opponents and not on their characters or personal traits (unless, of course, your argument concerns that person’s character – i.e. if you conclude that President Smith “cannot be trusted,” then examples illustrating why he cannot be trusted are relevant and appropriate rather than fallacious.)
Appeals to Pity
Try to think of the definition of this fallacy as a situation where the writer attempts to get his or her readers to accept or agree with their conclusion by evoking feelings of pity for the subject i.e. getting them to feel sorry for the subject of their writing.
Here is an example: “I realize my exam grades will reflect my overall performance but I should be given an A grade. My car has been troublesome, I had to take my dog to the vet, and I have been unwell myself, so it has been very difficult for me fit much study in.” Here, the writer’s conclusion amounts to “I should be given an A.” However, the usual requirements for such a high grade are based on learning one’s course material and applying this. Consequently, what the writer wants their reader to accept here (i.e. that anyone who has had a difficult time on a personal level should get an A) is very clearly not acceptable. While the reasons the writer has outlined may seem relevant and may even cause the reader to consider their appeal, these reasons are not relevant in a logical sense so there is a fallacy in this argument. This is an additional example: “It isn’t right to levy too much tax on corporate organizations – consider the amount of money they donate to charitable causes and how much they pay already to keep their businesses running!”
Our advice: Check your argument to ensure you are not just trying to convince readers to accept your conclusion(s) by getting them to take pity on you or someone else.
Appeals to Ignorance
Think of the definition of appeals to ignorance as situations where the writer essentially says, “Look, the issue here does not have any conclusive proof. As a result, you should agree with my conclusion in this case.”
Here is an example: “For several centuries, all sorts of people have tried to prove the existence of God. Yet none of these people has succeeded in proving it. Hence, there is no God.” This next argument contains the same type of fallacy although it is the opposite of the previous argument: “For many years various people have endeavored to show that God exists. Yet not one of these people has succeeded in proving it. Hence, there is a God.” In both these cases, the writer attempts to use absence of evidence to support a positive assertion or claim that a conclusion is true. There is, in fact, an exception where this type of attempt is not considered a fallacy. Such a case can occur where a bona fide researcher uses carefully-considered methods over a long period to find something but is unsuccessful. It is the type of thing that should be able to be found, so the very fact it has not been found provides a type of evidence that the thing being searched for does not exist.
Our advice: Take a careful look at any argument you make where you refer to an absence of evidence and proceed to come to conclusions as a result of that absence.
Straw Men Fallacies
The following definition is the best way to explain fallacies that involve the use of “straw men” in arguments: One method that some people use to strengthen their arguments is by anticipating possible opposing arguments in advance and responding to these. In an argument involving straw men, the writer develops a weak form of an opponent’s stance and attempts to win points by destroying it. In addition, just as the act of destroying a man made of straw, e.g., a scarecrow is not hugely impressive, neither is destroying a weak form of an opponent’s position or argument.
Here is an example: “It is the aim of feminists to abolish all forms of pornography and to have anyone who tries to access it or view it punished. Surely tough measures like these are not appropriate, so any feminist who takes this view is wrong. We should leave porn and those who want to view it alone.” By overstating the argument on the feminist side, it is weakened. Indeed, the majority of feminists have not called for the total abolishment of porn nor have they suggested that people who access it or agree with it be punished. Usually, they suggest that certain aspects such as child pornography is restricted or they suggest that people who have been harmed by porn be allowed to sue producers and publishers, but not those who access or view it. Consequently, the writer has not won points but is guilty of committing the fallacy of appealing to ignorance.
Our advice: Try to be kind to those who might offer an opposing argument. State these arguments in as accurate, strong, and sympathetic a manner as you possibly can. If you are able to destroy the strongest opposing argument, then you can congratulate yourself on a real accomplishment.
Setting Red Herrings
Let us define the “red herring” fallacy as follows: When a writer is part of the way through their argument, they take a diversion and raise a separate issue that takes the attention of the reader away from what really matters. Frequently, the writer does not return to the issue they were originally dealing with.
Here is an example: “The fairest way to grade this type of exam would be on a progressive basis. Most classes, after all, run better when a professor and their students get on well together.” Using the premise and conclusion method of analysis, we will look at the fallacy in this particular argument:
The premise of this argument is: Most classes run better when a professor and their students get on well together.
The conclusion of this argument is: The fairest way to grade this type of exam would be on a progressive basis.
When this is laid out in this manner, it becomes fairly clear that the writer has taken a diversion. A particular thing is not necessarily made fairer because the people involved get on well together. Sometimes, justice and fairness require people to act in a way that leads to conflict. However, readers might feel that it is important for professors and their students to get on well together and, therefore, become drawn away from the obvious fact that the writer has not provided any proof to show why a progressive basis would be a fairer way to grade the type of exam in question.
Our advice: Do your best to lay out the premises and the conclusions of your arguments in the type of outline form described above. Can you see the number of different issues that are raised in the argument? Are you able to explain how every conclusion is supported by the premise?
The False Dichotomy Fallacy
Perhaps the best way to define the “false dichotomy” fallacy is to say that it is where a writer orchestrates a particular situation so that it appears as if there is only a choice of two conclusions. Then the writer goes on to eliminate one choice so that it seems there is just one left i.e. the option the writer wanted their readers to choose from the outset. However, there are usually several different choices, not merely two – and, upon considering all of these, the reader might not choose the option recommended by the writer.
Here is an example: “The university recreation area is in a bad way. We can either pull it down or build a new recreation wing, or otherwise we will continue to put students’ lives and safety at risk.” This argument does not mention that the building might be repaired or that some other way might be found so as not to put students at risks from the dangers described above. For instance, if only one or some rooms are in a bad way, maybe those rooms should not be used.
Our advice: Look at your argument(s) closely. If you offer just two choices, ask yourself if there really is only two? Or there may be other options you have not thought of or mentioned. Where other options exist, do not neglect them. Say also, why these are not viable or why they should be eliminated. Even though it does not have a formal or widely known name, saying or believing that only three, four, or five options exist when there actually are many more is the same as false dichotomy and you should do your best to avoid this fallacy.
The “Beg the Question” Fallacy
It is difficult to define the “beg the question” fallacy because this is a complex one and it is often more difficult to detect than some of the others described above. However, let us say that to “beg the question” is to ask your readers to just accept your argument or conclusion even though you have not or are not able to provide concrete evidence. An argument like this is either a situation where the premise and conclusion of an argument state the same or a very similar thing (you may have heard this called “circular reasoning” or “someone being circular”), or it just ignores an assumption that is critical (yet questionable) but one on which the entire argument rests. People sometimes use the term or phrase “beg or begs the question” in the guise of a general grumble about or criticism of an argument and as a means of indicating that a writer has not provided very sound reasons for their conclusion. However, this is not the understanding or meaning of the fallacy that is to be discussed in this guide.
Here is an example: “Active forms of euthanasia are acceptable from a moral viewpoint. This is an ethical and decent way of helping fellow humans to die and avoid suffering.” Here is this argument laid out for analysis in the premise-and-conclusion format:
The premise of the argument is: This is an ethical and decent way of helping fellow humans to die and avoid suffering.
The conclusion of this argument is: Active forms of euthanasia are acceptable from a moral viewpoint.
If this premise is “translated,” we can see that the writer really has just stated one thing in two different ways. The words “ethical” and “decent” have much the same meaning as “acceptable from a moral viewpoint.” Saying “helping fellow humans to die and avoid suffering” is very similar to saying “active forms of euthanasia.” Therefore, this argument’s premise is really saying, “Active forms of euthanasia are acceptable from a moral viewpoint,” which is what the conclusion says. Yet, the writer has not provided any sound reasons as to why euthanasia is an acceptable option. Rather, we are left asking why he or she thinks active forms of euthanasia are acceptable. This argument “begs the ‘real’ question” or, in other words, it evades it.
This is another example of the same fallacy. Here, a questionable premise is ignored although it is needed to validate the argument. “Acts of murder are wrong from a moral viewpoint. So, active forms of euthanasia are wrong from a moral viewpoint.” The crucial premise that is omitted here is that “active forms of euthanasia are murder.” And this premise is debatable – and its omission again leaves the argument “begging” or evading the real question i.e. that acts of euthanasia are murder. Here, the writer seems to be hoping that readers will focus solely on the premise that is less controversial i.e. that “acts of murder are wrong from a moral viewpoint,” and thereby not take notice of what is assumed.
Our advice: The way we suggest you try and avoid this fallacy is to set out your argument’s premise and its conclusion in brief outline format. Look at it to see if you can spot any holes or any missing steps needed to move you from premise to premise or from your premise to your conclusion. Make a note of any statement(s) that you think will fill these gaps. If these statements are of a controversial nature and you have tried to gloss over or by-pass them, then you may be guilty of committing a “beg the question” fallacy. Now try to work out if your premises and conclusion are basically the same (or repeat the same thing using slightly different wording). If this is the case, it is likely you are “begging” or evading the real question. The crux of the matter is that you should not simply assume or use the thing you are attempting to prove as non-controversial evidence.
The Equivocation Fallacy
The best definition of this type of fallacy is perhaps to say it is a situation where the writer uses the different meanings of a word and/or phrase where these words and phrases can mean more than one thing but are critical to the writer’s argument. In other words, they slide back and forth between meanings and in the way, they use particular words and phrases.
Here is an example: “It is right to give money to charitable organizations. Therefore, charitable organizations have a right to people’s money.” The word that points to “equivocation” in this argument is “right.” In fact, the word “right” may be used to describe something that is good or correct, e.g., “he gave the right answer to his teacher.” Or it can mean something someone is entitled to e.g. “Free speech is a right every person has.” On occasion, a writer will – by stealth or intentionally – sneak in an equivocation to their argument(s) using words such as “rights,” “justice,” “freedom,” and the like. On other occasions, the use of an equivocation represents a misunderstanding or mistake. In either case, it is crucial to use any key terms that pertain to an argument in a consistent manner.
Our advice: Pick out those words and/or phrases that are important to your argument. Then consider if any of these can mean more than one thing. If you find this is possible, make sure you do not slip and slide between the different meanings.
How Can I Identify Fallacies In My Writing?
The following are a few tips of a general nature to help you identify any fallacies in your written work and arguments:
- Imagine that you do not agree with a particular conclusion you are trying to defend. Which elements of your argument would you now find dubious? Which parts are most conducive to opposition or attack? Make time to make these parts stronger.
- Make a list of the key points of your argument. Now, list all your evidence under each point. Looking at your assertions and the associated evidence set out like this should help you see that you do not have very strong evidence for one or more claims. Alternatively or additionally, this exercise might prompt you to examine the evidence you intend to use in a more critical manner.
- Make time to find out which fallacies you are particularly vulnerable to, and take extra care to look for these in your written work. Some arguers use the appeal to authority a lot, others are prone to the weak analogy fallacy, and some tend towards the straw man. Look back over some previous papers and try to establish if you need to be vigilant about a certain type of fallacy.
- It is important to understand that wide-ranging or sweeping claims require more evidence than the narrower variety. Although the use of broad words such as “all,” “always,” “every,” “everyone,” “never,” “no,” “none,” and “no one” are at times appropriate, they do need considerably more supporting evidence than such words as “few,” “many,” “so forth,” “some,” “sometimes,” “usually,” and the like.
- Check any characterizations you have made of others again, particularly those who are likely to oppose you to ensure these are accurate, fair, and unambiguous.