Key Concept

Proposal Argument: argues that something should, ought to, or must happen.

Proposal arguments–which propose that something should, ought to, or must happen–may be one of the most common kinds of arguments we encounter in our day-to-day lives; however, despite how often we find them, they can actually be rhetorically quite complex, perhaps because they appear deceptively simple to make. And this is exactly why we’re covering them last, since there are some very important subtleties to them.

The basic idea behind a proposal argument seems pretty straightforward: we state what we think should happen and then marshal evidence to support that proposal. Seems easy, right?

Let’s look at a hypothetical example:

Friend #1: “We should go see Movie X!” (Proposal claim)

Friend #2: “Okay, sounds good. I’m in!”

Friend #1 is making a proposal claim, arguing that both friends should go see a particular movie.  In an abstract setting, this claim makes sense. However, Friend #2’s response seems pretty unlikely. If you were Friend #2, you’d probably have a few questions about why Friend #1 thinks you should go see this movie, right? Equally, you’d probably expect Friend #1 to provide at least some evidence (however scant) about why you should go see this movie. Perhaps, for example, you might want to know about the actors or the director. Maybe you’re curious about what critics are saying. Perhaps you’d like to know how long it is. Indeed, these are pretty typical things that your average person would want to know before they pay for their movie ticket. Maybe a more genuine conversation would look like this:

Friend #1: “Hey, did you know that Movie X in the theaters right now?” (Definition claim, establishing the existence of a condition.)

Friend #2: “Yeah, I did!”

Friend #1: “I’ve been reading that critics across the board are praising it. One critic whose opinion I really trust even said that it’s the best movie to come out all year.” (Evaluative claim, arguing that something is good.)

Friend #2: “Oh wow!”

Friend #1: “I think we should go see it!” (Proposal claim)

Note that in this second example, in order for Friend #1 to build a sound proposal argument, they have to first make several other claims–notably a definition claim, establishing the existence of a condition, following by an evaluative claim, arguing that the movie is good.

However, in less mundane examples, proposal arguments often begin by identifying a problem before proposing a solution to it. For instance, in recent years, there has been increased public awareness of the dangers of disposable plastic drinking straws, particularly focused on the dangers they cause to wildlife. Many stakeholders have proposed (and even implemented) a variety of different solutions. Starbucks, for example, redesigned their cold-drink cups so that they could stop giving customers obligatory straws with their beverages. Other establishments have switched to using straws that are made of paper, which is more biodegradable and therefore breaks down more easily. Other companies have started marketing washable, reusable plastic straws that can be reused over and over again. While a wide variety of solutions have been proposed (and while many of those proposals have even been enacted), what’s important to note is that these proposals were in response to what was identified as a problem–i.e. The wastefulness of disposable drinking straws.

For our purposes, however, here is how we can think about making proposal arguments:

1) Part of showing that a problem exists entails getting your reader to care enough to accept your proposed solution.  To get the reader to care, you will need to work on their hearts as well as their minds by showing how the problem affects people (and, potentially, the reader specifically) and has important stakes.

2) You will need to show how your solution solves the problem (wholly or partially).

3) You will need to offer reasons for adopting your proposal.  What values can you appeal to? Of the person or organization that needs to be convinced, how can you show that their interests are served?  Always remember your audience. You don’t have to pretend that your solution is perfect or has neither costs nor any negative consequences; you should address these and convince your reader that despite them, your solution is about doing the right thing.

Recapping the main ideas behind Proposal Arguments:

  • They argue that something should, ought to or must happen
  • They don’t necessarily need to completely “solve” the problem; perhaps they only improve certain parts of it.
  • Proposal claims are often the culmination of a string of other claims (definition, causal, etc.)



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College Comp II Copyright © 2019 by Jude Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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