What is a premise?

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In the previous section we saw that research has to be based in researchable questions, and that these can take many forms. In this chapter, we consider how research questions and the arguments or ‘theses’ they give rise to are based in premises.

In academic research it is useful to think of a premise as a ‘position’ or belief that leads to a particular conclusion.


“Marriage and the nuclear family is the backbone of a civilised society.”

This idea may be popular or even fashionable in society at any given time, and it is a premise that many people ascribe to (as evidenced by the number of marriages and families). However, the belief  that it is the best way or only way to organise society has been challenged time and again (most recently in the movement for equal marriage rights). It is also a premise, which when scrutinised (i.e. through the lense of divorce rates increasing across the latter half of the 20th century) often leads observers to a very different conclusion.

There are many examples of ‘premises’ such as the one given in the statement above, which when tested or analysed closely, may or may not stand up to their underlying  beliefs.

What’s so important about a premise?

According to the San Jose State University Writing Center, “the most important part of any premise is that your audience will accept it as true. If your audience rejects even one of your premises, they will likely also reject your conclusion, and your entire argument will fall apart.” 

For instance, if your audience accepts climate change and the premise that the world is experiencing the effects of man-made climactic change, the following statement will be easier to accept:

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the earth has experienced a warming of  1 degree every 20 years.

However, if your audience does not accept the premise (perhaps they are executives from the fossil fuel sector) you will need to work harder to get your conclusions accepted.

Premises are fundamental to understanding how arguments work, because arguments and the ‘claims’ they give rise to are always predicated in one or more premises. The next section considers what makes a good claim.

Check your understanding



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Research and Writing Skills for Academic and Graduate Researchers Copyright © 2022 by RMIT University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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