Evaluation skills help you make good judgements on the reliability of information and the soundness of arguments. They allow you to reach conclusions and make decisions, while justifying them with reasons. This process requires you to act like a judge, weighing all of the information available and reaching a final conclusion.
What is evaluation?
When we evaluate information or a claim, we make judgements and decisions. These are usually done in responses to some key questions, such as:
- So what? What implications does this information or argument have for my own thinking, or for the task I’m undertaking?
- What is the value or importance of this information? Is it relevant for my purposes?
- Are the argument’s claims fully supported by the evidence?
- Now what? What additional information is required? What claims need further investigation?
How do I evaluate arguments?
Recall that arguments are contentions with supporting reasons. Arguments aim to support or challenge contentions, drawing on evidence in order to do so.
To determine whether an argument is reasonable, you could ask a few evaluative questions:
- Is the contention clearly stated? Does it make sense?
- Is reliable evidence provided for each reason?
- Do the reasons and evidence provided fully support the contention? That is, is there a logical connection between the reasons and the conclusion?
- Are any objections to the contention clearly and convincingly rebutted (or refuted) with evidence and logic?
- Is there evidence of any logical fallacies in the argument?
We are always making these judgements based on the information available at the time. If more information becomes available, a good critical thinker will be willing to re-evaluate their judgement based on this new evidence.
Evaluating logical fallacies
Another aspect of evaluation is the consideration of an argument’s logical structure. Logical fallacies are often used as a means to misrepresent, distort or ignore the claims of an argument. Fallacies are flawed patterns of reasoning that typically indicate a weak or invalid argument. Understanding common logical fallacies can help you identify poor arguments, as well as improve your own argumentation skills. The following are some examples of fallacies and an explanation as to why they represent poor reasoning.
Click on the different types of fallacies for an explanation of what they look like in an argument.
Are you interested in logical fallacies? Check out these websites if you’d like to learn more about how to improve your arguments and identify fallacious ones: