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Avoiding Logical Fallacies in Your Arguments


A large part of academic writing is argumentative writing. However, it isn't as easy as many students would think. Making an argument requires research and fully understanding both sides of the argument before putting words to paper. Many students tend to make logical fallacies in their arguments, decreasing the merit of their writing.

In this article, I will explore the common logical fallacies that students and inexperienced writers tend to make. I'll also help you learn how to counter their use, so you can improve your writing skills.

What is a logical fallacy?

A logical fallacy is an unsupported argument or mistaken belief that lacks logical reasoning. The problem with logical fallacies is that they prevent the exchange of ideas and will not help you in making a good argument.

Note that an argument may contain a logical fallacy even if the conclusion is true. The problem is that the weak argument may convince readers that the conclusion is false.

In order to understand how to structure an argument, you should learn how it is supported. In turn, this will teach you to avoid using logical fallacies in supporting your arguments. Otherwise, you will find that arguments tend to fall apart very quickly.

Common logical fallacies in argumentative writing

Despite the great diversity that exists among students and other academic writers, they still have a lot in common when it comes to the challenges they face in their argumentative writing. The logical fallacies that most writers make typically fall within one of the categories below:

Slippery slope

Climbing a slope
A slippery slope argument is a type of logical fallacy that suggests taking a minor action will lead to major and often ludicrous negative consequences. It assumes a chain of events without providing evidence for this inevitable, cascading sequence. Image by Serge Vorobets.

In this case, a claim or suggestion is dismissed because of the belief that it would lead to a chain reaction of unfavorable events. Without any supporting evidence, the writer claims that going down the slippery slope is inevitable. An example:

Argument: "If we allow students to use calculators in elementary school math classes, they will become overly dependent on them. By the time they reach high school, they will have forgotten basic math skills. This will then result in an entire generation of engineers and scientists incapable of doing simple arithmetic."

In this argument, the writer is asserting that a relatively small first step (allowing the use of calculators in elementary school) inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact (an entire generation of engineers and scientists incapable of doing simple arithmetic). This is a classic example of a slippery slope fallacy, as it assumes without sufficient evidence that one action will inevitably lead to a certain negative outcome.

Red herring

A group of herring with one of them red
A red herring argument is a type of logical fallacy where irrelevant information is introduced to distract from the original issue or argument. This tactic diverts the conversation to a different topic, thus avoiding addressing the initial point directly. Image by Lena_zajchikova.

Here, the writer moves attention away from the main problem by focusing on irrelevant information. This is a distraction that confuses the reader. Note that some writers or debaters use this fallacy intentionally as well. An example:

Argument: "Research has shown a significant correlation between excessive screen time and poor sleep patterns. We should encourage policies that limit screen time for children."

Counterargument: "It's important to note that many successful entrepreneurs and tech leaders, like Elon Musk and Bill Gates, have spent countless hours in front of screens and have become very successful."

In this case, the counterargument presents a red herring. The success of tech leaders who spent a lot of time in front of screens doesn't address the original argument about the correlation between excessive screen time and poor sleep patterns in children. Their success, while potentially true, is not relevant to the discussion on the potential health impact of screen time on children.

Hasty generalization

Drawing a graph
A hasty generalization is a logical fallacy that occurs when a conclusion is reached based on insufficient or biased evidence. It involves making a broad claim based on a small or unrepresentative sample size. Image by GCapture.

More often than not, academic writers tend to hastily generalize a fact and come to conclusions based on insufficient evidence. This leads to a logical fallacy because one tends to predict a trend based on a negligible point. An example:

Argument: "In my survey of 50 students at University X, 70% said they preferred online classes to in-person classes. Therefore, most students in all universities prefer online classes."

In this example, the writer is making a generalization. They're basing their conclusion about "most students in all universities" on a small sample from just one university. This sample may not accurately represent the preferences of all university students, making it a fallacious generalization.

Begging the question

Circular reasoning
Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which an argument's premises assume the truth of the conclusion, instead of supporting it. It's essentially a circular argument, where the conclusion is treated as self-evident or inevitably true, without any real evidence to substantiate that claim. Image by Fran_kie.

This is a logical fallacy that is a type of circular reasoning. Here, the writer assumes the conclusion is true, and therefore it must be. In other words, this is when you assume that the premise of your claim provides that the claim is true. An example:

Argument: "Social media is harmful because it has damaging effects on people."

In this example, the writer is assuming what they are supposed to be proving. The premise "social media has damaging effects on people" is not backed by any evidence but is just a reiteration of the conclusion "social media is harmful." This is a clear case of begging the question – where the argument is circular, and the initial assumption requires proof.

False analogy

Book and TV
A false analogy is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone argues that because two things are alike in one or more ways, they are necessarily alike in another, often critical, way. For instance, saying "just as books improve our knowledge, watching TV must also make us smarter" is a false analogy. Image by Talaj.

In this fallacy, you may be comparing two situations that are not actually analogous to one another. This is common when the writer misunderstands one (or both) of the situations. An example:

Argument: "Reading a book is just like watching a movie on the TV. Both tell stories and have characters, settings, and plots. Therefore, if you've read the book, there's no need to watch the movie."

In this case, the writer is making a false analogy between reading a book and watching a movie. While it's true that both mediums can tell stories and have characters, settings, and plots, the experience of reading a book is fundamentally different from watching a movie. Books allow for a deeper dive into characters' internal thoughts and offer more room for interpretation, while movies can provide a visual and auditory experience that books cannot. It's also extremely common for filmmakers to incorporate plot and character changes when making a movie adaptation of a book. Therefore, the conclusion—that if you've read the book, there's no need to watch the movie—is based on a flawed comparison, making it a false analogy.

Moral equivalence

Rocks weigh the same as a feather
Moral equivalence is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone equates two actions or situations with differing moral implications as if they are equal in their ethical standing. This fallacy dismisses the nuances and complexities of the circumstances, leading to oversimplification and false comparisons. Image by Vladimir Tyutin.

This logical fallacy is where a writer would give two situations the same moral significance even if they are vastly different. An example:

Argument: "Lying about one's age to get a senior discount is no different than a company evading taxes. Therefore, if we prosecute companies for tax evasion, we should also prosecute individuals who lie about their age for discounts."

In this argument, the writer is making a false moral equivalence between an individual lying about their age to get a discount and a company evading taxes. While both actions involve dishonesty, the scale, impact, and legal implications are significantly different. Tax evasion by a company is a major crime that can affect the economy and public services, whereas lying about one's age for a discount is unethical but has a far lesser impact. The writer's claim that these two situations are morally equivalent is fallacious.

False dilemma

Black-and-white wall with birds
A false dilemma, also known as a black-and-white fallacy, is a logical fallacy that constrains a complex issue to only two possible options, when in fact more alternatives exist. This approach oversimplifies the situation, excluding the potential for nuanced or graded solutions. Image by Philippe Leone.

This is a common fallacy that debaters and writers fall into, whereby they reduce an issue into an oversimplified black-and-white choice. In reality, most issues are complex and reducing them to an either/or dilemma is not productive. An example:

Argument: "We must either invest in fossil fuels to keep our economy running, or we must face economic collapse. Therefore, despite the environmental impact, we should continue investing in fossil fuels."

In this argument, the writer presents the situation as having only two options: investing in fossil fuels or facing economic collapse. This is a false dilemma, as it disregards other potential options such as investing in renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, or developing new economic models that aren't as dependent on fossil fuels. This fallacy oversimplifies a complex issue into a binary choice, when in reality, there may be other viable solutions.

Ad hominem

Person putting a sticker with the word dumb on the back of a colleague
Ad hominem is a logical fallacy that involves attacking a person's character, motives, or other attributes instead of addressing the substance of their argument. Image by Pressmaster.

In this logical fallacy, the argument is made by attacking the opponent and not their views. Basically, this is name-calling when you don't have a good counterargument. Many politicians tend to use this tactic, but it does not always work. An example:

Argument: "Why should we believe Dr. Smith's findings on the effects of caffeine? He drinks five cups of coffee a day himself, so his research is obviously biased."

In this argument, the writer is attacking Dr. Smith's personal habits instead of addressing the research findings he has presented. This is an ad hominem fallacy, as it diverts the focus from the actual argument — the research on caffeine — to the person making the argument. The validity of Dr. Smith's research should be assessed based on its methodology, data, and interpretation, not his personal coffee-drinking habits.

Appeal to ignorance

"There is no scientific evidence proving that meditation has any health benefits, so it must be a waste of time." This appeal to ignorance argument erroneously assumes that because there isn't definitive proof, the practice must be ineffective or useless. Image by Benjamin Child.

This common logical fallacy bases part of the argument on claims that cannot be proven wrong because they are untested or cannot be tested. An example:

Argument: "There is no empirical evidence that proves the existence of extraterrestrial life. Therefore, extraterrestrial life does not exist."

In this argument, the writer is asserting that because something has not been proven to be true (the existence of extraterrestrial life), it must be false. This is an appeal to ignorance fallacy. The lack of evidence does not necessarily mean that extraterrestrial life does not exist; it may simply mean that we have not yet discovered it or have the means to prove it. The conclusion is not supported by the premise, making it a flawed argument.


A strawman argument is a type of logical fallacy that involves misrepresenting an opponent's position, making it easier to attack or refute. It's like creating a "strawman" version of the opposing argument, which can be easily knocked down, while avoiding engagement with the actual, often more complex, points of contention. Image by Njbfoto.

In this type of fallacy, a counter argument is characterized by oversimplifying or misrepresenting in order to attack the absurd characterization rather than attack the argument. In other words, instead of directly arguing against your opponents claim, you are calling them names or otherwise mocking them. An example:

Argument: "We should put more funding into arts education in schools. Studies have shown that exposure to art can help students improve their critical thinking skills."

Strawman Argument: "My opponent believes we should divert all our educational funding into the arts. But what about critical subjects like math and science? We can't neglect these core areas of our students' education."

In this case, the person constructing the strawman argument is misrepresenting the original argument. The original argument suggested increasing funding for arts education, not diverting all educational funding into the arts at the expense of other subjects. By misrepresenting the original argument, the person using the strawman fallacy makes it easier to counter and dismiss.

Appeal to irrelevant authority

A programmer starting a plumbing project
An appeal to irrelevant authority is a logical fallacy in which someone attempts to support a claim by citing the opinion of an authority who is not qualified in the relevant field. For example, trusting a programmer's advice on plumbing issues just because they are an expert in their own field would be an appeal to irrelevant authority, as their expertise in programming doesn't qualify them to give professional advice on plumbing. Image by estradaanton.

While it is always a good idea to follow the advice of an expert on any subject, some people mistakenly think that authority figures in one field are capable of understanding other fields. A logical fallacy of irrelevant authority is when you argue for or against a topic based on information from someone who isn't an expert. An example:

Argument: "Albert Einstein once said 'Imagination is more important than knowledge.' Therefore, our education system should focus more on encouraging creativity and imagination rather than the acquisition of knowledge."

In this argument, the writer cites Albert Einstein, a renowned physicist, to support a claim about educational policy. While Einstein was an expert in physics, he wasn't an expert in education policy. Thus, using his quote as the primary support for a claim about educational policy is an appeal to irrelevant authority. His authority and expertise in one field do not make him an authoritative source on all subjects.

Appeal to authority

Baseball player signing a wheaties box
An appeal to authority is a logical fallacy where a claim is defended by citing a figure who is perceived as an authority but may not necessarily have relevant expertise. For example, stating that a certain cereal is healthy because a famous baseball player endorses it is an appeal to authority. Image by UPI.

Finally, this logical fallacy is an argument that is presented as true simply because an authority figure (or someone who is perceived as one) supports it. The authority figure often does not have relevant knowledge or expertise related to the argument. An example:

Argument: "World-renowned novelist John Smith believes that climate change is a hoax. Given his stature and influence, we should seriously consider his perspective."

In this argument, the writer is appealing to the authority of John Smith, a novelist, on a topic outside of his area of expertise: climate change. While Smith might be an authority in the field of literature, he is not a climate scientist or an expert in related fields. Using his opinion as a significant piece of evidence in an argument about climate change is an appeal to authority fallacy. His expertise in literature does not automatically make him a credible source on all subjects, including climate science.

How to stop using logical fallacies

In order to for your argument to stand up to challenge, you should steer clear of logical fallacies. Here are two steps you can follow to stop using logical fallacies in your arguments:

Understand the structure of an argument

Any solid argument is structured into three parts:

  • Claim: This is the point you are trying get across, or the claim you are trying to make. You can also consider this the conclusion that the reader draws from your writing.
  • Support: The minor premise of your claim is what proof you are using as evidence to support your claim.
  • Warrant: The major premise is an underlying claim that the reader and writer supposedly agree on.

If you think of your arguments in this way, you should be able to move on to identifying fallacies in your argumentative writing.

Identify logical fallacies in your writing

By familiarizing yourself with the common logical fallacies mentioned above, you should be able to spot any mistakes you might make. Before you write any content, consider writing an outline so that you are sure that your argument is solid and does not fall apart easily.

Writing an outline will also allow you to brainstorm ideas related to your argument and enable you to spot any errors in logic and change them before you do the bulk of your writing.

Once you are able to identify fallacies in your arguments, you can work toward changing the argument to ensure that it doesn't rely on the logical fallacy and won't fall apart upon closer inspection.

Final thoughts

The use of logical fallacies can negatively your ability to make sound arguments that will stand up to scrutiny. By following the tips I've mentioned above and watching out for the common fallacies that writers tend to make, you will be able to significantly improve your argumentative writing.

Header image by Ijeab.

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