Whilst working in a busy local convenience store, in was the responsibility of myself and a colleague to unpack the weekly delivery and place the stock upon the shelves. The first part of this task involved transporting the stock from the delivery cages in stockroom to the aisle, front of house, where it would later be placed upon the shelves. Shortly after I had taken on this responsibility, it became apparent to me that the system being used was inefficient and yet when I broached the subject with my colleague, it became clear that we had conflicting opinions on the matter. This study will analyse the different types of argument which I used in order to try and persuade my colleague that I was correct and examine whether it is likely that I would have enjoyed greater success if I had used the Toulmin model of argumentation, the potential value of which is illustrated by Kneupper in his article The Toulmin Model.

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The existing system for unpacking the order, involved one member of staff removing the stock from the cages and placing it indiscriminately into trolleys in order that it could be transported to the shop floor and yet, since there were three aisles in the shop and three trolleys, I suggested that it would be more efficient to fill the three trolleys simultaneously, using each one to transport the stock for a particular aisle. In this way, I theorised, the member of staff who was placing the stock on the shop floor would not have to be moving back and forth from aisle to aisle to empty each trolley, thus saving time. However, because my colleague had never attempted to work using the system I was proposing, he was distrustful of it and was reluctant to listen to my reasoning. Like Toulmin, I was frustrated by his inability to accept my logic (Kneupper, 1978, p.327).

Firstly, I attempted an argument using comparison, except that since I was in reality arguing against the established system, I was ultimately creating the antithesis to my colleague’s established notion that his system was more efficient. Thus, it was my purpose to maximise the contrasting points between the two systems in order to illustrate the value of the one I was proposing. However, I believe that I also utilized arguments using casual analysis because before I could explain how my system would be better, it was necessary to provide an analysis of both the situation and of the existing system.

Since the Toulmin system was described by Alan Gross (1984), as being “an instrument of some pedagogical merit” (p.310) it might have been useful in this situation and I believe that it could have been applied to my argument. What Toulmin terms as the grounds, for example, would have been that it takes considerably longer to move from aisle to aisle sorting out the stock than it does to organize it into separate trolleys whilst it is still in the stock room. In addition, it could be asserted that since the task of the person putting out the stock onto the shop floor is more time-consuming than that of the person removing from the cages in the stockroom, based upon the greater distance that the former has to walk, in order to achieve greater efficiency, the latter should be responsible for sorting the stock.

Kneupper explains that “the warrant provides the link which shows the relationship between data and claim” (1978, p.328) and thus in this instance the warrants would be that the shorter the distance a person need to walk, the more efficiently their task will be completed and also that ultimately, if the work s shared more evenly, greater efficiency can be achieved because neither person would be as likely to spend (or waste) time waiting for the other.

In order to provide backing for my claim, I had suggested that we test my proposed system and yet my colleague was able to suggest that since no two deliveries were ever the same, it would be impossible to accurately test for any increased efficiency. In this case however, I could have qualified my argument by suggesting that my system would ALWAYS be more efficient regardless of the delivery and yet it would perhaps have been more accurate to suggest that it would USUALLY or ALMOST ALWAYS be more efficient before adding that it would NEVER be less efficient.

Even if I had presented these arguments however, my colleage would have been able to present the same rebuffal that he did at the time, explaining that it was inefficient to spend time discussing efficiency and whilst, ultimately in the long-run, I believe that adopting my system would more than make up for the time spent debating and implementing it, my colleague was not willing to listen to my point on this matter. “Toulmin’s system avoids the complex symbolism endemic to modern formal logic” (Gross, 1984, p.310) and yet in doing so, Gross (1984) asserts that it oversimplifies complicated situations and that because of this, the system has limited value when being employed in “the real world” (p.311). Indeed, Kneupper illustrates that even Toulmin himself; “was critical of the disjuncture of formal logic and the practical concerns of “real life” rhetorical argument” (1978, p.327).

If James Warren admits that he has found difficulty writing a warrant which will “jump off the page” and satisfy a reader (2010, p.42), it is reasonable to suggest that it would be even more difficult to satisfy someone who considers discussion of the point in hand to be unnecessary and ultimately, problems arise when irrational people refuse to see logic, even when it is clearly laid out before them (Gross, 1984 pp.311-312).

I believe that any educated person, who read this study would agree that, in theory at least, my system sounds more efficient and so clearly Toulmin’s model is useful in intellectual discourse, when all parties are genuinely interested in reaching the most reasonable conclusion to a debate and yet in a work-place setting such as this one, Toulmin’s system is unlikely to convince someone who does not care whether they are right or not, so long as they get the conclusion they want. As Warren (2010) explains, Toulmin’s works are still be recommended as the best introduction for students wishing to learn how to form written arguments (p.42) and yet it holds less value in situations such as the one described in this study.

  • Gross, A. (1984). A Comment on the Uses of Toulmin. College English. 46 (3), p.310-314
  • Kneupper, C. (1978). Teaching Argument: An Introduction to Toulmin Model. College Composition and Communication. 29 (3), p.237-241
  • Warren, J. (2010). Taming the Warrant in Toulmin’s Model of Argument.The English Journal. 99 (6), p.41-46.