Reading notes – Asking the right questions[2]

Part 1

Chapter 2 What Are the Issue and the Conclusion?

“Before we evaluate someone’s reasoning, we must first find it.”

Similarly, before we solve a problem, we must distinguish it.

“An issue is a question or controversy responsible for the conversation or discussion. It is the stimulus for what is being said.”

Kinds of Issues

Descriptive Issues: “Descriptive issues are those that raise questions about the accuracy of descriptions of the past, present, or future.” 【Informative】

Prescriptive Issues: “Prescriptive issues are those that raise questions about what we should do or what is right or wrong, good or bad.” 【价值判断】

Searching for the issue

  1. self explicit
  2. Ask yourself “What’s the topic the author trying to argue”
  3. The conclusion is the message that the speaker or writer wishes you to accept.

Searching for the Authors’s or Speaker’s Conclusion

“What’s the writer or speaker trying to prove?”

“Conclusions are inferred; they are derived from reasoning.”


Claims ——-> opinions

Claims ——-> conclusions

reasoning proves

How to find the conclusion:

  1. Ask what the issue is.
  2. Look for indicator words.
  3. Look in likely locations.
  4. Remember what a conclusion is not.
  5. Check the context of the communication and the author’s background.
  6. Ask “and therefore?”
    “Before you can evaluate an author’s argument, you must clearly identify the issue and conclusion.”

Once find the conclusion, your concern is: “Should I accept that conclusion on the basis of what is supporting the claim?”

CHAPTER 3 What Are the Reasons?

Reasons are beliefs, evidence, metaphors, analogies, and other statements offered to support of justify conclusions. Reasons are explanations or rationales.

You cannot determine the worth of a conclusion until you identify the reasons.

【Identifying reasons requires us to remain open and curious.】


Arguments: intent to convince, different quality.

Reasons are the tool by which conclusions are shaped and modified.

Initiating the Questioning Process

Approach the argument with a questioning attitude. Ask question with “why”.

【After you identifying a conclusion, try to play the role of the communicator. Ask questions like “Why am I support or disagree?”】

Kinds of Reasons

By evidence, we mean specific information that someone uses to furnish “proof” for something.

Evidence includes facts, research finding, examples from real life, statistics, appeals to experts and authorities, personal testimonials, metaphors, and analogies.

Keeping the Reasons and Conclusions Straight

Clues for Identifying and Organizing the Reasoning of a Passage

  1. Circle indicator words.
  2. Underline the reasons and conclusion in different colors of ink, or highlight the conclusion and underline the reasons.
  3. Label the reasons and conclusion in the margin.
  4. After reading long passages, make a list of reasons at the end of the essay.

CHAPTER 4 What Words Or Phrases Are Ambiguous?

Whenever you are reading or listening, force yourself to search for ambiguity.

Locating Key Terms and Phrases

Ambiguity refers to the existence of multiple possible meanings for a word or phrase.

Summary of Clues for Locating Key Terms

  1. Review the issue for possible key terms.
  2. Look for crucial words or phrases within the reasons and conclusion.
  3. Keep an eye out for abstract words and phrases.
  4. Use reverse role-playing to determine how someone might define certain words and phrases differently.

【First, find terms that may have more than one plausible meaning. Then identify words or phrases that seem crucial in the reasoning structure.】

The more abstract a word or phrase, the more likely it is to be susceptible to multiple interpretations.

【Pay attention to “new” concepts. Ask this question as often as possible: what other meanings may it be? 】

Determining Ambiguity

Only the ambiguity in the reasoning is crucial to critical thinkers.

【Tips: Can I create a mental picture(maybe specifically), based on what these phrases represent?】

Ambiguity, Definitions, and the Dictionary

Meanings usually come in one of three forms: synonyms, examples, and specific criteria. Synonyms and examples are inadequate when evaluating most controversial issues.


You cannot evaluate an essay until you know the communicator’s intended meaning of key terms and phrases as well as alternative meanings they could conceivably have had in the context of the argument.

“What could be meant?” “What is meant by the key terms?”

Four very important components of the reasoning:

  1. the key terms and phrases;
  2. which of these are adequately defined;
  3. which of these possess other possible definitions, which if substituted, would modify your reaction to the reasoning; and
  4. which of these are ambiguous within the context of the argument.
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