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Section 3
Standards of Quality

Standards assist us to determine the quality of our reasoning and thinking on any topic. Your application of following standards can help you evaluate your reasoning and thinking process. These standards are not new. You have used them in many different circumstances. It's just that you have probably never given any thought about how you do it, nor how they enhance your communicative skills. We have included a series of questions you can use to evaluate your thinking.

1.  CLARITY. Clarity requires that we express our thoughts clearly. For example, have we clarified our purpose so that it is clear to all or did we muddy the waters so no one understands our intent. Clarity helps us to judge the relevance, depth, significance, and accuracy of our ideas, recommendations, or decisions.

  • Could you express that idea in another way?
  • Could you elaborate further on that point?
  • Could you give an example or illustration that clarifies that point?

2.  ACCURACY. Accuracy describes a product or decision that conforms to some truth or standard. Correct on the other hand denotes that there are no errors, mistakes, or distortions. When we strive for accuracy we imply that we try to conform to a specific truth or standard. Some questions to help us achieve accuracy are:

  • What evidence supports the assertion?
  • How can we check for the validity of the evidence?
  • How can we verify or test the assertion?

3.  PRECISION. Precision describes the quality of accuracy and exactness. An issue M16 rifle differs from a match rifle in sights, barrel, and stocks. Manufacturers have machined the sights to closer tolerances on the match rifle than on the standard issue. We say that the sights are precise, that is, manufacturers hold them to closer tolerances so that soldiers can make accurate adjustments.

  • Could you be more specific?
  • Could you give me more details?
  • Could you narrow the focus?

4.  RELEVANCE. Relevance suggests that a close association exists between the subject and the data. Our task is to clarify if indeed there is an association and how strong it may be. Some questions that can help us explore the relevancy include:

  • What is the relationship between the subject and the problem?
  • How is this connected to the problem?
  • How does this affect the problem?
  • How does this help us with this issue?

5.  DEPTH. Depth in contrast to surface knowledge seeks to understand the complexities of the subject under investigation. To assess depth, ask these types of questions:

  • What are the complexities of this problem?
  • How does an understanding of these complexities increase understanding of the problem?
  • How does your answer address the complexities of the problem?

6.  BREADTH. We may satisfy all of the above standards for assessment, yet have a narrow focus that prevents us from considering other points of view that may affect the problem. We need to ask ourselves:

  • What are the other points of view that affect this problem?
  • Can we look at this problem from another perspective?
  • How would a conservative, a liberal, or an opponent understand this issue?
  • What would this look like from the point of view of an enemy?

7.  SIGNIFICANCE. When we say something is significant we are ascribing importance to it. There is a danger, however, that we may equate significance with relevance. The two are not synonymous. We may describe something as being relevant to the problem, but it may have no significance. For example, easy to read election ballots are relevant to a fair election but are not significant if the problem is ballot box security. Here are a few questions that can help you clarify the significance of each issue and its relation to the problem:

  • Is this the most important problem to consider?
  • Is this the central idea or issue?
  • Which of these facts are most important?
  • Which will have the greatest effect on the problem?

8.  LOGIC. Logic refers to the relationship between ideas. It includes the order in which we place a variety of thoughts and how they support each other. Logic includes the rational conditions effecting whether an event will or will not take place. Logic includes the assumptions that underlie any discipline whether it be academic, business, or military. The principles of logic follow two basic patterns: nondeductive and deductive reasoning.

The most common type of nondeductive reasoning is inductive reasoning. Using inductive reasoning we gather data to support a hypothesis (the scientific method), or make observations that we then use as evidence to make an inference or generalization. Such predictions always require a "leap of faith" that goes beyond the narrow confines of the available data. So, although inductive arguments enable us to reason critically even when the content of our conclusions exceeds the content of the premises, we must keep in mind that even the most accepted of scientific laws may change as new data becomes available. For example, people believed the world was flat until the evidence proved this was a false belief.

Inductive arguments consist of premises and a conclusion. The conclusion is a statement of the point of view which the author wants us to take away from the argument. The premises are statements which contain the evidence to support the conclusion. Inductive arguments with true premises generally are judged successful if the premises are true enough to make it unlikely for the conclusion to be false. Inductive reasoning lacks the certainty that sound deductive reasoning provides. The conclusion of the argument may only be probably true--even if the premises are true.

The military regularly uses inductive reasoning. The intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) process is one which makes full use of inductive reasoning methods. Another example is a deception plan. A good deception plan counts on the enemy's use of inductive reasoning to reach the conclusion we want him to reach.

Deductive reasoning moves from premises based on generalities to a conclusion about a specific situation. To reason effectively, we must start with premises that our audience generally accepts. As with inductive logic, we must be wary of fallacious thinking and patterns of reasoning that look persuasive, but don't hold up to scrutiny.

We analyze deductive reasoning using the ideas of validity and soundness. A valid deductive argument is one in which the premises support the conclusion structurally. In other words, there is a step-by-step, logical progression from the first premise to the conclusion. Validity is not an assessment of the truth of either the premises or the conclusion. Validity only describes the structure of the argument, not the truth of the premises or conclusion(s). If the premises of a valid argument are true, it is impossible to get a false conclusion. A sound argument contains both a valid structure and true premises.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 14, 2016