wikiHow to Always Win an Argument

Four Parts:Choosing Your ArgumentStructuring Your ArgumentAttacking their ArgumentStyling Your Argument

The rhetorical art of persuasion is a subtle and useful set of skills to master. Whether you like to debate for fun or are constantly being drawn into complicated arguments, these guidelines will help you negotiate an issue and convince your opponent. Get started with Step 1 below or find more specific advice by checking out the sections listed above.

Part 1
Choosing Your Argument

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    Brainstorm reasons a particular claim may and may not be true.[1] For any particular topic, whether you've chosen it, been assigned it, or just feel like arguing it informally for no particular reason, generate as many arguments for and against a particular claim as possible. Eventually, you'll want to have a nuanced and complicated argument about a topic. Before you do that, though, you'll need to have some sense of the logical scope of the topic.
    • Say you're debating the general issue of gun control with someone. The base level of the argument is whether you're "against" gun control or "for" gun control as a policy, but really the issue is much more complicated than that. Before you even think about "choosing a side," start generating some probing questions that will narrow the issue and force you to define the terms.
    • What is meant by "gun control"? What is the scope of the argument, legally and geographically? What does it mean to be "for" it? What would it mean to be "against" it? Why might someone be for it? Why might someone be against it?
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    Start backing up those reasons with evidence. But, wait--you may be asking: Why research the evidence for claims you may not even be making? Researching the evidence for both sides of an issue will be an integral part both of understanding, structuring, and eventually making the argument, regardless of which "side" you're going to defend. Think of it more as researching a topic and less of making an argument at this point.
    • Say you're having an argument with your parents about your curfew, and one of the reasons you've brainstormed for the argument about an early curfew involves getting enough rest. Your parents believe you need enough rest every night to ensure that you're physically healthy and that an early curfew will ensure enough rest. In that case, it would be good to look up statistics like how much sleep someone in your age bracket actually needs and other data you've gathered about the social and psychological effect of an early curfew.
    • It may be helpful to use note cards for this process, if you're arguing formally. On the front, write each bit of reasoning as a claim: "An early curfew will ensure a good night of sleep." On the back of the card, keep references to the evidence you've gathered.
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    Learn to ask "Why?" and "How?" For every claim you generate, qualify it by asking why and how that claim operates. Why was the second amendment written? How does it operate today? Why is it an important consideration?
    • The answers to these questions should be used to add complexity to your argument: "While an early curfew is intended to ensure a healthy amount of sleep, the negative impact on the social development of the child outweighs the physical impact of sleep."
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    Evaluate the reasons. Some reasons will be "better" than other reasons. "Gun control infringes upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms" is a better example of reasoning than "Gun control will keep me from having fun with my AK-47," because the former is worded in terms of universal rights articulated in legal documents and the latter is impossible to quantify or evaluate objectively. Asking "How?" of the latter will make it difficult to add any complexity and cause the claim to break down.
    • Order the note cards in order of the quality of their reasoning. Put the best arguments on top and the worst at the bottom. How many would you label "good" reasons? How many seem to be lacking?

Part 2
Structuring Your Argument

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    Develop your reasons into an argument. [2] Once you've got a good list built up of reasoning and evidence, and you've used that evidence to begin qualifying your claims, narrowing them into an argument, you can begin by selecting the strongest reasons and organizing them into an argument.
    • Often a good rule of thumb is to stick to three main points, but there's no sacred law that ensures three main points makes for a good argument. Pick the strongest bits of reasoning you've got. If you've got five, so be it. Your argument will be all the stronger for it.
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    Qualify each claim with data, warrants, and backing. British Philosopher Stephen Toulmin argued that all good arguments were made by offering data, that is factual evidence that supports the claim you're making ("Teenagers 16-18 only need 6 hours of sleep to maintain healthy body function.") for each claim in an argument.
    • What he calls a "warrant" is the logical connection made between that data and the claim that you're making ("So as you can see, an early curfew unnecessarily prevents social development.") and warrants should likewise be spelled out for each claim.
    • The "backing" in this case refers to the assumption being made by the warrant ("A later curfew will ensure social development.").
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    Discuss counter-arguments and rebuttals. Now's your chance to present all the research you did earlier by becoming familiar with the arguments for both sides. If you've researched the perspective the person you're arguing with is taking, you'll be able to introduce it before they do, effectively strengthening your argument by disallowing them from scoring the points.
    • "Now, it might be said that social interactions don't matter as much as getting enough sleep. That I get all the socialization I need in school. But, as you can see, the facts simply don't add up..."
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    Conclude your argument by drawing out the implications of your reasoning into an action. As you ask more and more questions of your reasons, you'll get closer to a manageable argument you can sum up after presenting all your good reasons and evidence: "It's true that I need to get enough sleep. But the amount of sleep I need in no way corresponds to the unfair restrictions and the social strangling that results from my super-early curfew."

Part 3
Attacking their Argument

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    Identify logical fallacies in your opponents argument.[3] A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning that are commonly used to make weak arguments appear stronger. Study these and learn to recognize them quickly, and you'll be able to quickly dismantle weak arguments. You also need to learn to avoid using them and weakening your argument. Here are a few examples of common fallacies:
    • The "straw man" fallacy involves misrepresenting the other's argument to make it appear weaker: "If you support early curfews I guess you must also support taking away of all my video games and sending me to a liberal fascist re-education camp."
    • The "ad hominem" attack involves attacking your opponent personally as a way of undermining their argument: "Dad's a dork. Why are we listening to what he has to say about going out with friends?"
    • The "slippery slope" fallacy involves drawing up a false cause-and-effect relationship as evidence: "If I have to be home at 9 o'clock, next I won't be able to eat hamburgers in restaurants either."
    • The "anecdotal" fallacy uses a single anecdote as evidence for a universal policy: "Steve gets to stay out until 12."
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    Attack their reasoning. Now that you've planned and presented your case, you can also do a lot to poke holes in the argument of the opposition. Remember when you were trying to develop your argument, asking "How?" and "Why?" is the most effective way to quickly pinpoint the holes in a particular claim. Do the same thing to your opponent. If they haven't thought these things through like you did beforehand, you've got an advantage.
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    Play Socrates. Socrates was an expert at leading a conversation from simple contentions to complicated gray areas by asking probing questions. Asking leading questions you already know the answer to can be a good way to score points: "So it's your contention that an early curfew means I'll go to sleep earlier? Why? Does being home mean I'm sleeping?"
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    Identify their weak points and play ignorant by asking for clarification. If they seem to have no statistics backing up a particular issue, ask if they know of any evidence backing up a particular claim.

Part 4
Styling Your Argument

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    Choose an appropriate presentational style for your argument and for your audience.[4] In Aristotle's ancient text on Rhetoric, he outlined the three basic rhetorical appeals: Pathos, Ethos, and Logos.
    • An appeal based on pathos appeals to the emotions. If you can find a way to make your opponent empathize with your argument, it can be a very effective tool in breaking their confidence in their own argument and sympathizing with your argument.
    • An appeal based on logos is an appeal to logic and facts. If you're arguing about something you can quantify with numbers, such as the "best" home run hitter of all time, using statistics will be an important part of your argument. Making an emotional appeals about a player being the best because he was the nicest father or gave the most to charity won't hold much water.
    • An appeal based on ethos involves persuading based on a position of either expertise or simple believability. The word literally means "character." While someone with a tattoo may not necessarily be an expert on tattooing, they're objectively more "qualified" to offer you tattoo advice than someone without one. You can use this to your advantage by connecting yourself to an argument: "As a former veteran and licensed firearms expert, I can tell you that gun safety is a skill anyone can learn."
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    Keep a cool head. When arguing, keep calm, and present your side of the argument in an organized manner. When the opposite side brings up a point, always counter this point with something relevant supporting you.
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    Avoid condescension. Make sure to let the opposite party finish their sentences, and let them know you are listening to what they are saying. When you are talking and your opponent tries to interject, try to finish your point without raising your voice or speaking faster, but be firm.
    • If they don't stop talking and try to make their point over you, calmly point out that you had the courtesy to let them finish their sentences, and that you wish to be treated the same way. You will obviously appear to be the more polite and mature party, and that often helps winning your arguments.
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    Lose graciously. Quickly accept faults in your reasoning or weak points in your argument and move on to other things. Learn to quickly identify lost ground and move on to stronger points. Stay focused on the big picture and don't get drawn into tiny skirmishes.


  • Sometimes it helps to partly agree with your opponent. Find something that both of you agree on. For example, "I agree with your stance on X, however, I think you don't understand Y. This process makes them more open to convincing. However, never make the mistake of agreeing with them on too many things.
  • Using 'childish' tactics, such as shouting "Shut Up," will only decrease the credibility of your argument. This will certainly detriment your cause.
  • Try not to use "weasel words" such as: may, might, should, could. These words leave a wide open hole in your argument. Other examples include phrases such as: "A growing body of evidence shows that..."(This doesn't prove anything), "Critics claim..." (what critics, what are their credentials?) "I heard that..." (Who told you, where is the source?). Although sometimes the use of these words is unavoidable, always try to be specific.
  • If you have a stand off end with some meaningful question before walking off to have them think about and decide that they're wrong or argue later for you to have another chance.
  • Try to not raise your voice to the person your arguing with.
  • Pick your arguments. Some things are not worth fighting about, especially if it does more bad than good to a relationship. Keep the bigger picture of what you want to achieve in mind.


  • Know when to stop. If you succeed in making the other person angry, it doesn't mean you've won the argument, it means you've started a fight.

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Categories: Managing Arguments