At a number of universities around the world, people are now setting up studies to help determine the extent to which argument maps, or Rationale use, can help build skills or improve performance on difficult tasks.

One such person asked in an email:  “What is the average time for an adult learner to complete the building of an argument in Rationale?”

Unfortunately there is no simple answer to that question.  The time needed can vary enormously, depending on factors such as:

  • how complex is the argument?
  • are they coming up with their own argument (easier) or trying to map out an argument from a text written by somebody else (generally quite hard)?
  • how exhaustive and correct should the maps be?  Should all principles of argument mapping properly observed?  Or is “anything which looks good enough to them” acceptable?

On one hand, a simple argument of their own, done sloppily, should take only a minute or two.  But mapping an argument from, say, a journal article or opinion piece, and doing it properly, can take hours, even for somebody highly skilled.  And at the other extreme, mapping a truly complex body of argumentation can take months, even years.  Austhink is just completing an argument mapping assignment for a government department, looking at all the arguments surrounding a controversial major equipment purchase.  This has taken about four months with two people working on it.  Consider also the “mother of all maps,” Robert Horn’s Can Computers Think? series of maps, which took a team of people a number of years.

In practice, most non-specialists have only a finite appetite for mapping arguments, and limited capacity to apprehend deficiencies in their own work, and so are unlikely to spend more than, say, 1/2 an hour on any given task.  So, returning to the original question, here’s a very rough guess:

  • Simple tasks (e.g., coming up with one, single-reason argument for a claim) – allow a few minutes per task
  • Complex tasks – allow around half an hour, or more