1 Issue

All arguments are a response to some kind of problem or concern.

We call this the issue.

Werewolves breeding like rabbits

The issue is that werewolves are breeding like rabbits and turning up in record numbers all over the world.

Is that good or bad? What will happen? What should we do about it? These questions would require arguments in response.

All issues have context. This can include:

  • A field, domain, or topic (e.g. environment, politics, science, culture, etc) that the issue sits within.
  • A history or backstory leading up to the issue.
  • location in which the issue takes place (or a time).
  • People involved (individuals, groups, stakeholders) who are at odds with each other in some way.

For example, what's the context behind this ad from the Malaysian Nature Society?

Using dot points: What's the issue in this ad? What's the domain? Location? History? Who's involved? (It's fine to guess.)
  • Issue: deforestation, specifically the way that logging reduces animal habitats and further endangers animals such as the Sumatran rhino


  • Domain: ecology, environment, animal welfare
  • Location: Malaysia
  • History: deforestation has been going on for a while, animal populations in decline, no sign of stopping
  • Parties involved: animals, logging companies, consumers, general public, activists

The people involved in the issue are important, because for an issue to really be an issue, people need to care about it.

We know people care when they feel strong emotion and urgency, so media and advertisers will often use those to make an audience care. For example:

  • "Werewolves are taking over the world!" feels alarming and urgent.
  • "If you cut a tree, you kill a life, and Sumatran rhinos are already nearly extinct," feels sad but not quite as urgent as invading werewolves.

But not every issue has to be quite so dramatic.

What's the issue in this ad? What's the context? It's subtle, but can you see who would care and why? (You might want to zoom in on the post-it notes.)

Using dot points: What's the issue for this ad? What's the context? Who would care and why? (Emotion and urgency)


  • Issue: Not Alzheimer's disease itself, but the toll taken on loved ones who look after a family member with Alzheimer's.


  • Field: Public health, specifically Alzheimer's disease (a brain disease that destroys a person's memory and other functions).
  • History: When a person has Alzheimer's, they need pretty much full-time care, and that job usually falls to family members, who will spend months or years caring and great cost to themselves, with little support.
  • People involved: Alzheimer's sufferer, loved ones, charities, support services, government, general public.


  • Loved one looking after a partner or parent with Alzheimer's.
  • They might feel exhausted, isolated, depressed, frustrated, overwhelmed—but if someone showed them some empathy and support they could feel hopeful and relieved.
  • The urgency comes from wanting relief from the daily burden of caring for someone with Alzheimer's.

Alright, we have an issue that people care about so much that it demands some kind of response.

But what is the response we're looking for?

That depends on what kind of question we're asking.

For example, let's look at the "werewolves are breeding" article again.

Werewolves breeding like rabbits
What are some questions you could ask about this werewolf issue?

Questions could be things like:

  • Factual: "Do werewolves really exist?"
  • Causal: "Why has the werewolf population exploded?"
  • Definitional: "Are these actual werewolves or just very smart dogs?"
  • Resemblance: "Is this like when we had that bush turkey invasion?"
  • Valuational: "What's wrong with werewolves?"
  • Proposal: "What do we do about all the werewolves?"
  • Ethical: "Is it morally right to try and eliminate all the werewolves?"

And that's just scratching the surface. (And none of these questions are from the werewolves' point of view!)

The most important thing to see is that one issue can raise many questions.

We'd say the werewolf article is asking a proposal question like, "What do we do about all these werewolves?"

But you might notice that the article (at least in the headlines) doesn't actually ask a question. It raises an issue and frames it in a way that makes you feel like we need to do something about the werewolves, and right now!

This happens all the time: people raise issues and make arguments but let the audience infer the actual question from the argument being made.

So it's important to remind ourselves that issues can raise many possible questions, and the question that is being answered might not be the best or only question.

Different questions lead to different arguments. The type of question you ask about an issue determines the kind of response you'll get.

In our Argument Types lesson, we discussed seven types of question:

  • Factual
  • Causal
  • Definitional
  • Resemblance
  • Valuational
  • Proposal
  • Ethical

For any issue, you could ask any of these types of questions.

This is important because the argument you make will be defined by the question you're asking.

Let's look at the Alzheimer's ad again. What questions could you ask based on this issue?

Can you ask 7 questions based on this issue? (Factual. Causal. Definitional. Resemblance. Proposal. Valuational. Ethical.)

You might ask questions like these:

  • Factual: "How many people in this state are looking after family members with Alzheimer's?"
  • Causal: "What will happen if we don't provide more support to carers?"
  • Definitional: "What makes someone a 'carer' as opposed to just. 'someone helping out'?"
  • Resemblance: "Is caring for someone with Alzheimer's like having a disability yourself?"
  • Valuational: "How much is the work and sacrifice of Alzheimer's caregivers worth to society?"
  • Proposal: "What should we do to relieve the burden on caregivers?"
  • Ethical: "Is it morally right for the burden of care to predominantly fall on family members without adequate support and recognition from the wider community or government?"

Which one of these questions do you think this ad is really asking?

It's quite hard to say! It could be asking all of these questions, only for different audiences.

The ad comes from the Alzheimer Society in Canada.

Like many poster ads, it's minimalist, but we can go to the Alzheimer Society's website to see them raise the issue more explicitly:

Providing care for someone living with dementia takes a tremendous toll on the physical and emotional health of the primary caregiver, yet many caregivers often don't recognize the warning signs, or deny its effects on their health.

How are you sleeping at night? Fine. How many times do you get up during the night? Not many. How many times were you up last night? Oh, twelve. It’s just another sleepless night for the dementia caregiver.

Many caregivers tend to set their own needs aside while caring for the person living with dementia and hope that if they don't think about it, the stress might just go away.

But you need to take care of yourself, too – the information in this section can help you reduce the many stresses associated with caregiving, and help you find resources that support your quality of life.

You can see, again, that this snippet does not ask an explicit question.

But you can also see they intend to answer a proposal question along the lines of, "What should you as a carer do to take care of yourself?"

General vs specific issues

Finally, issues have different scales.

In the argument types lesson, we discussed the difference between arguments about general trends vs specific situations.

That difference in scale comes from how we frame the issue.

For example, this ad is about the issue of housing in general:

This is My Home box ad

In contrast, the issue in this photo is about the specific housing situation of a particular toad called Jabba:

these shoes are the summer home of jabba the toad

To recap

  • Every argument begins with an issue.
  • An issue is a question, problem, or concern that demands some kind of response (such as an argument).
  • Issues can relate to general trends or specific situations.
  • Issues have context, which can include the history of the issue, place and time, people and parties involved, and so on. (Sometimes the context can be very complicated!)
  • An issue is only a real issue if people care about it. (People often try to make other people care about an issue by evoking emotion and urgency.)
  • Issues also need to be contested to some degree. (If nobody has a problem with the situation, there's no issue!)
  • All issues can be framed as questions (e.g. a factual question, a proposal question, etc).
  • While people often don't state the issue as an explicit question, it's helpful because it lets us see more clearly what kind of argument is being made (factual, causal, definitional, proposal, etc).
  • Also, framing the issue as an explicit question also helps us consider whether there are other, better questions we could be asking.
  • The most important takeaway from that last part: the issue determines the argument, so pay attention to how the issue is framed.