Analyzing Arguments--Propaganda (Robbie Pock, Portland Community College)

In this unit you will learn about the formal parts of an argument and how they work together. You will also learn about a common and not always honest way that people making arguments attempt to persuade their audiences, sometimes through manipulation. These techniques are commonly referred to aspropaganda. This unit will present common types of propaganda techniques.


  • Define Argument as a claim that is supported by reasons or evidence.
  • Identify the parts of an argument.
  • Utilize the steps for evaluating an argument.
  • Evaluate an argument to determine its value or persuasiveness.
  • Identify propaganda techniques.


Analyzing Arguments

First of all, let’s understand the difference between an argument and an assertion.

Argument: a claim supported by reasons or evidence.

Assertion: making a claim with no reasons or evidence to back it up.

When an author tries to persuade you that something is true or correct by presenting supporting reasons, an argument is made. For example, if someone says, “Best Foods mayonnaise is better than Kraft because the flavor is better” an argument is being made.  But if someone says, “Best Foods mayonnaise is better than Kraft” with no reasons behind the statement, it is simply an assertion.

  1. As a critical reader you must be able to evaluate arguments.  When you analyze an argument, you break it down into its parts and examine them:
  2. Identify the argument’s conclusion (claim). What is the claim the author is trying to persuade you to accept as true?
  3. Identify the assumptions that the argument makes. These are the claims that lie in the background of the argument that make the argument work
  4. Identify the reasons (premises) that the author uses in support of the conclusion.
  5. Think critically and skeptically about the reasons or premises that the argument presents. Are the premises true?

Ask yourself how well the premises and assumptions support the conclusion.  If you do not share the assumptions or if the premises are weak or false, then the argument will not persuade you.

Take a look at this video, "Identifying Premises and Conclusions" from It presents a tutorial that will help you learn how to identify premises and conclusions.

Licenses and Attributions

Original text composed by Lucy Holm.


Propaganda is a way to deliver a message that appeals to the emotions instead of presenting solid evidence to support a point. It is used by advertisers, salespeople, and politicians who may lack adequate facts to persuade people to support their point of view. Governments may use propaganda to rally support and influence people for a specific agenda, such as war. Part of being a critical reader is the ability to recognize these propaganda techniques.

Beyond Words

Being a critical reader extends far beyond paragraphs of printed words. Images can be read critically too. Some of the most common types of propaganda are found in images and videos.

Review the types of propaganda and examples below while thinking about the following:

  • Who is the creator of these images?
  • Why were they created?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What biases are they portraying?
  • What is the perspective of the creators?


This form of propaganda presents the idea that “everybody’s doing it” so you should “jump on the bandwagon” and do what everyone else is doing too.

In the ad "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - Everyone Is Doing It (Banned)" by GamerSpawn, “everyone”— or 20 million people plus the elderly man—are playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, so to be with everyone you should play the game too.

Red Herring

A type of “logical fallacy,” this form of propaganda presents data or issues that, while compelling, have nothing to do with the argument. "Yes on 8 TV Ad: It's Already Happened" by VoteYesonProp8 argues that parents should control what their children learn in school, but what children are learning in school really has nothing to do with the issue, which is whether or not to legalize gay marriage.

Glittering Generality

This form of propaganda applies emotional words to a product or idea that presents no concrete argument or analysis. "Global", a political ad by John McCain, applies the words “reform, prosperity, and peace” to the “McCain for President” campaign.


This form of propaganda features an expert, person of authority, or respected public figure who supports the argument and encourages others to accept the opinions and beliefs as their own. In the ad "Be Like Mike Gatorade Commercial (ORIGINAL)" by bigwayne84, Michael Jordan, arguably one of the greatest basketball athletes in history, simply drinks Gatorade, which is an easy way for anyone—regardless of how well they play basketball—to “be like Mike.”


This form of propaganda arouses prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, or even finds desirable. In the ad "NEW 2013 Volkswagen Jamaican commercial" by Kasseem890, the viewer is led to believe that people who have a Volkswagen “experience” will in turn become a Caribbean stereotype, complete with an accent and a “no worry” attitude, even if it’s a bad Monday at the office.

Beautiful People

This type of propaganda features attractive, happy, or famous people associated with an idea to make other people think that if they buy a product or follow a certain ideology, they too will be attractive, happy, and successful.

The ad Go Daddy Super Bowl 2013 Commercial Bar Refaeli kisses Jesse Heiman with Danica Patrick" by JungleJuice2000, with supermodel Bar Refaeli, associates not only sex appeal but also smarts if you buy your domain and website from Go Daddy.

Licenses and Attributions


Read through this most important historical document carefully. Watch for any propaganda techniques. Remember, propaganda is not always negative. In fact, propaganda techniques have been used to rally people behind all kinds of causes, ethical and otherwise.

Wikipedia offers an annotated version of the Declaration of Independence as well.

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. 
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. 
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: 
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. 
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton


Directions: Locate five sources for your topic. Select at least one book, one article, and one web site . As you view the sources, copy the basic publication information (title, author, publisher, date, web address, etc.) so that you can locate these sources again. In a few sentences, discuss how the source was searched, keywords used and how well they worked, what was found, and any changes to your research topic. Have you discovered anything new or unexpected? Perhaps you ran into a wall; if so, what did you do?

  1. Book from the library
    The book may be a collection of essays or articles on the topic, not necessarily by a single author. Start with the library catalog (the blue box) to find books (some electronic E-books) and videos from our PCC Library. (You are able to use Other Libraries to request books from our partner libraries as well (if time allows) or select a book from a local library in your area.
  1. Article (approximately 2 pages each in length)
    The PCC Library subscribes to dozens of article databases (SIRS, Opposing View Points, EbscoHost, and so on). Databases provide access to thousands of articles from newspapers, magazines, trade journals, scholarly journals, and more.

    You may want to begin with Academic Search Premiere. Type your topic in the search box and check the ‘full text’ box. For a complete listing of all the library’s databases, go to the Databases by Titlepage. If you are not sure which database to use for your topic, remember you can Ask a Librarian. Also, use the articles tab to search all the databases at once.
  1. Website (either general or focused)
    Where did the author find the information? Why has it been published or posted on the web? Who’s paying for it? See How to Evaluate Information for help. (Here you can check out the ‘Website Evaluation Checklist’ created by PCC librarians.) HINT: Look at the “about link” in the website itself—usually at the bottom or top of the frame.

Example: Research Log

Topic: Human Cloning in the United States in 2010
Researchable question: How extensive is human cloning in the United States today?

  1. Book: Science and Technology Encyclopedia, 10th edition, 2007, McGraw-Hill Company.

    I talked to Librarian from my local library, and she recommended some resources. I first tried this encyclopedia. I used the index under ‘human cloning’ (nothing), then went to ‘cloning in the United States’ (nothing), then finally under ‘cloning’, I located almost 2 pages of history, definitions, and I learned that there is virtually nothing known about how the process works when attempting to clone a human, only that by using somatic cloning it may be done. The names of the four types of cloning are somatic, therapeutic cloning, reproductive cloning, and embryonic cloning. As I have been working on my research, I realized that to define human cloning, I first must define what, when, where, and who is cloning around the world as we know it. I learned that human cloning had been tried already and that all have failed for one reason or another.
  1. Magazine article: “Did Obama Open the Door to Human Cloning With His Stem Cell Order?”
    March 24, 2009, US News and World Report, Dan Gigoff author.

    I used the Internet to pull up US News and World Report website. I then used their search engine to locate an article of interest. I used the “legality of human cloning 2009” in their website search engine.

    This article tells about embryonic stem cell research that President Obama has made legal during 2009 in the United States. This has caused much discussion about the ethics of human cloning. The article sort of implies that the only reason for reversing the prior decision was that it had been made by President Bush.

    I made no changes to my topic as I am still trying to find laws against or for human cloning in the United States as of last year. This article focused on the political aspects of human cloning, and that is what I expected to find in US News and World Report.
  1. Web Site:

    I used the ‘Ask a Librarian’ link to contact one of the PCC librarians about my topic. She recommended some helpful sources. I fixed on “Human cloning and human dignity.” This is a Federal website that goes into a lot of detail as to what has happened in all types of animal cloning up until today. It also identifies the Federal policies on cloning.

    I have not made any changes to my topic, just keep digging deeper, until I get to the bottom of the legality of cloning in the United States in 2009. No Federal laws have been passed against cloning in the United States as of 2003.
  1. ( may be book, article, or web site)

  2. ( may be book, article, or web site)

Grading Criteria for Research Log Assignment

4 points for each well-written and complete research log entry.

Total: 20 possible points

Licenses and Attributions

"Information Literacy: Research Log" by David Pontias, Theresa Love, and Robin ShapiroPortland Community College is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Discussion: WWII Propaganda

During times of war, governments often resort to propaganda. For this discussion, you will apply what you know about critical readingmaking inferences, and propaganda to review propaganda posters generated during the time of World War II.


  1. Choose three of the WWII propaganda posters to review.
  2. Open a new document (Word, Rich Text, or Google Doc) and copy and paste the URL of each of the three posters you choose into the document.
  3. Under the URL of each poster, apply what you know about critical reading by answer the following about each poster:
    • Who is the creator of these images?
    • Why were they created?
    • Who is the target audience?
    • What biases are they portraying?
    • What is the perspective of the creators of the posters?
    • How effective are the posters in persuading someone to think, believe, or act in a certain way about something?
  4. Copy and paste the responses to the propaganda posters you developed into a blogpost, wiki, or appropriate discussion in your learning management system (if applicable).
  5. Review others' posts.
  6. Thoughtfully respond about whether you agree or disagree with their responses to the propaganda posters.


Propaganda Poster 
Primary PostStudent cites three posters, pastes the URL of each poster, and responds to all six critical reading bullets.
10 pts
Student cites two posters, pastes the URL of each poster, and responds to all six critical reading bullets.
7 pts
Student cites one posters, pastes the URL of each poster, and responds to all six critical reading bullets.
6 pts
Student does not fully post about the posters.
3 pts
Student does not post.
0 pts
10 pts
Secondary PostStudent thoughtfully responds to 2 classmates’ Primary Posts and meets 100 word posts for each response.
10 pts
Student thoughtfully responds to 1 classmate’s Primary Post, and/or does not meet 100 word counts.
5 pts
Student does not post
0 pts
10 pts
Identify propaganda techniques in text.Exceeds expectations
0 pts
Meets expectations
0 pts
Does not meet expectations
0 pts
0 pts
 TOTAL POINTS     20 pts

Licenses and Attributions



Great work on this week’s readings and assignments.

You should have completed the following:


  • Lesson: Analyzing Arguments
  • Lesson: Propaganda


  • Discussion: WWII Propaganda Posters

As you continue with your readings for this course, and indeed, as you go about your day in the world, be on the look out for instances of propaganda. Ask yourself whether or not the author of the text or media is attempting to manipulate your feelings and thoughts in order to persuade you to take some action. Use your strong critical thinking skills to beat them at that game!

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