When documenting a root cause analysis or risk assessment or any of the myriad other technical reports we are making a logical argument. In this post, I want to evaluate six common pitfalls to avoid in your writing.
Claiming to follow logically: Non Sequiturs and Genetic Fallacies
Non-sequiturs and genetic fallacies involve statements that are offered in a way that suggests they follow logically one from the other, when in fact no such link exists.
Non-sequiturs (meaning ‘that which does not follow’) often happens when we make connective explanations without justification. Genetic fallacies occur when we draw assumptions about something by tracing its origins back even though no necessary link can be made between the present situation and the claimed original one.
This is a very common mistake and usually stems from poor use of causal thinking. The best way to address it in an organization is continuing to build discipline in thought processes and documenting the connections and why things are connected.
Making Assumptions: Begging the Question
Begging the question, assuming the very point at issue happens a lot in investigations. One of the best ways to avoid this is to ensure a proper problem statement.
Restricting the Options to Two: ‘Black and White’ Thinking
In black and white thinking or the false dichotomy, the arguer gives only two options when other alternatives are possible.
Being Unclear: Equivocation and Ambiguity
- Lexical: Refers to individual words
- Referential: Occurs when the context is unclear
- Syntactical: Results from grammatical confusions
Just think of all the various meanings of validation and you can understand this problem.
Good problem-solving will drive down the tendency to assume conclusions, but these probably exist in every organization.
Detecting the Whiff of Red Herrings
Human error is the biggest red herring of them all.