Argumentative discourse is a specific kind of communication, but one that is often broadly defined. Discourse is defined as the social or public use of written or spoken language, or in other words, communication between two or more parties. Within the general definition of discourse, several different types of discourse apply. These are sometimes also called rhetorical modes, and they fulfill different functions in general discourse.
Although many people who hear the word, “argument,” think of a heated, vitriolic conflict or emotional exchange, in general, the word simply means support for an idea. Argumentative discourse as a mode of rhetoric is discourse that primarily consists of one or more parties supporting their ideas or opinions. This is in contrast to other kinds of discourse, including narrative, expositional, or descriptive discourse.
Many different kinds of argumentative rhetoric or discourse develop and manifest in different ways. Some are more formal, in which speakers or writers carefully expand on a basic idea with key supporting ideas that are often based on technical research. Other kinds of argumentative discourse may be more broad, and rely more on intuitive or emotional arguments than on specific fact-finding. It also includes many different kinds of diction and presentation. In more formal venues, the wording used for argumentative discourse may be very sophisticated and technical, where in less formal situations, dialect and slang may be used freely.
Different kinds of argumentative discourse also rely greatly on their physical or social context. One example is the various applications of argumentative discourse to different fields or sectors of a society. For example, argumentative discourse in a court or legislative parliament is quite different from the same types of discourse in corporate board rooms. Discourse related to the legal field contrasts sharply to discourse in other fields where less technical language often applies. Another kind of context involves the relationship between the speaker or writer and the audience, where some examples of this discourse happen between live people in a room with a human audience, and others happen in the form of published work distributed to readers, as in newspaper editorials and similar texts.
In general, the use of this kind of discourse offers readers or listeners an opportunity to examine the various ideas that are being discussed. Persuasive or coercive arguments are often effective in reaching large numbers of people within a target audience. Widely disseminated arguments can often have substantial effects on the mass psychology of the public at large, whether these are measured or not. Examining arguments and argumentative rhetoric or discourse also gives listeners or readers a good idea of how this rhetorical form is treated in a given society.