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Guide to Argumentative Writing v. 2.3.2011 Kamran Swanson A solid argumentative essay is difficult to construct well.

If the paper is going to do its job, it needs to be read by a skeptical audience or an audience that is outright opposed to the essays thesis. In order to open minds and stimulate intelligent discourse, instead of angry responses, the paper must do everything to guide the emotionally resistant reader to the nuts and bolts of the argument. If the essay can show where there is agreement, and walk from the point of agreement to the point of disagreement using logical arguments, then the debate can shift away from emotional beliefs and toward the validity of reasons. The form of essay that I am teaching in class aims to accomplish these goals. It will likely feel more restrictive, and many people get the feeling that this essay prevents one from being as creative as they could be. However, once the new way of organization is learned, it will not be difficult to implement, and you will find that it actually permits more freedom because it provides a framework on which your thoughts can play. Metaphorically: a human cannot simply choose to fly, although they may feel free to dance and jump about. We are bound by the laws of nature: no matter how free a person wishes to be, our freedom is always bound by natural laws. It would initially feel constraining to sit down and work out the mechanics of aviation, and submit yourself to constructing and then learning to fly such a contraption. But once this type of rule is submitted to, far more freedom is gained than what was ever had before. Han Solo might be loved because he is a rebel who doesnt care about rules, but in order to become the best pilot, he needed to understand how his machine, the Millenium Falcon, operates. He must submit himself to the mechanics of the machine in order to set himself free. A clearly constructed problem is needed in the introduction in order to engage both the writers and the readers thought. It accomplishes its goal if enough material is provided to get the reader to start thinking about a specific problem on his or her own. When a generic question is asked, like what is the meaning of life? the reader will lack direction, and will either not think or think about something other than what the author intends. If the question is specific: What is the significance of Hamlet not wearing black in the last two thirds of Shakespeares Hamlet?, then the reader will immediately start wondering (assuming they have read Hamlet and care to some extent). The problem funnels the possibility of what to think about, but then enables much more productive and creative thought as a result. The thesis is the product of a long and hard search. As the writer, you will not know what this is until the writing process has finished. But as the reader, knowing the thesis right after the problem is given helps to stir the readers mind even more. Why does the writer believe this?! I must know! From then on, the thesis should appear as though it guides the structure of the entire paper. Each body paragraph should begin with a claim. Structurally, it resembles a thesis. It is a strong, direct statement of fact. But it also logically supports the thesis, and the writer should make it clear how it supports the thesis (or at least how it supports another paragraphs claim that supports the thesis itself). This gives yet another signpost for the reader and helps them understand the structure of your argument. Each paragraph should then consist of evidence and reasons. Remember, evidence means to see, and it means that which, when presented, everyone will see the same. A quote, as the quote itself, is an example of evidence. The interpretation might be different, but the interpretation and the quote are two different things. Reason means to think, and it involves everything that goes on in the writers mind. For that reason, it is invisible to the reader. Therefore, the reasons must be carefully described, and every inch of logical reasoning from the evidence to the claim must be shown. A skeptic should be able to look at the claim, and initially deny it; then look at the evidence, and accept it; then read through the reasons and see that it is only rational to accept the claim based on the evidence. To believe in a claim on anything less is an example of dogma and lack of critical thinking.

This form of organization has a twofold purpose. First, it helps to guide the reader to clearly see and understand your argument. Second, it forces a writer to be honest with him or herself about the logical structure of his or her own argument, and helps the writer see where the argument needs to be fleshed out. You may be thinking right now that it is much harder to construct a convincing argument than you once thought. That is very true. Good thinking is difficult. Bad thinking is easy. If we are coming to our conclusions without much effort, chances are we are not thinking well. For this reason, it becomes even more important to have a specific thesis. A specific thesis will require less argumentation than a broad thesis, because a specific thesis isnt saying as much. A broad thesis is easier to write, but it guarantees that the paper will be bad. Likewise, a specific thesis requires a specific problem. Without a specific problem, a specific thesis is impossible. A broad problem might be easier to write, but again, it guarantees a bad paper. Furthermore, it becomes the special function of the conclusion to discuss what the paper has not proved. If we pretend the paper has solved all the worlds questions, then we have simply confused the uncritical reader or disappointed the critical reader. Also, if we have shown what the essay has not proven, we are in a better position to construct new questions, because there are obvious mysteries still to solve. With new questions, we stir new thought and the quest for truth is enabled. A lack of questions make us feel like truth has been achieved, but that would be a lie, and it kills our thought. This writing philosophy is not entirely of my own creation. Many of the ideas have been taken from the University of Chicagos writing program, Little Red Schoolhouse. I have developed some ideas further for my classes, but I cannot take credit for the basic theory. The following quote is one I often present to class, and I believe their purpose will be more clear after reading this writing philosophy. Not the truth in whose possession any man is, or thinks he is, but the honest effort he has made to find out the truth, is what constitutes the worth of a man. For it is not through the possession but through the inquiry after truth that his powers expand, and in this alone consists his ever-growing perfection. Possession makes calm, lazy, proud If God had locked up all truth in his right hand, and in his left the unique, ever-living striving for truth, albeit with the addition that I should always and eternally err, and he said to me, Choose! I should humbly clasp his left hand, saying: Father, give! Pure truth is after all for thee alone! Lessing, 1778

The following page contains a visual representation of the argumentative form. I use this when I am reading your papers.

Visual Layout of the Argumentative Essay Introduction Paragraph Introduces a problem/question to solve/answer. Detailed, incorporates concepts and questions used later in paper. Also discusses what the benefit of the essay will be.

Thesis statement. Guides everything else in paper. Specific, strong, complex, direct, controversial.

Body Paragraph: Basic building block of argument. Of course, there will be multiple body paragraphs, but will have the same basic design.

Claim goes here. Miniature thesis, logically supports thesis. Guides everything in this paragraph. Placing it first guides the reader.

Supports the claim with logical argument and discusses anything interesting about the argument. This is the meat of the paper, but it cannot be done well if the problem, thesis, or claims are poorly constructed.

Conclusion: The goal is to show the reader the importance of the essay, but also show the limitation of the essay. It should raise thought provoking, productive questions, not pretend that it has tied up all loose ends.

Revisit thesis, and perhaps give a condensed version of the argument, touching only on the most significant claims. Shows how the essay fits in with the larger discourse.

Raises thought provoking questions, leaves reader with something to think about.