You are on page 1of 9

HOW TO WRITE AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY The following outline attempts to show you how to construct a good essay; it represents,

in as simple a form as possible, the basic pattern to follow in putting together any argument paper whether this paper is a class essay, a dissertation, or an article designed for publication. An argument paper is best defined as a paper which states a thesis, or says something, and attempts to back it up or support this thesis with evidence which tends to convince the reader of the truth and validity of this thesis; this kind of paper is distinct from the kind of paper which merely presents information. (Also, the argument paper is more interesting, both to write and to read). These instructions are presented in outline form merely to make it more apparent that a good essay is put together step by step. If you are writing outside of class you will be able to follow this outline at your leisure; if you are writing in class, or answering an essay question on an exam, you still should mentally follow this outline to construct your essay before you start to write.

I.

Form a good, strong thesis sentence, stating what you propose to show. This is the most important part of the whole process, the foundation upon which your whole essay is constructed, and it must be the first thing done; until you have written the thesis sentence it is useless to try writing anything else. Given a topic, assemble your material and review it (mentally if in class during an exam) until you are familiar enough with this material to form an opinion or judgment about your topic. This opinion or judgment is the stand you are taking on this particular topic and it will be the conclusion which your entire essay will to try to establish and support. This is your thesis sentence; and this is why the thesis sentence has to come first when you construct an essay. II. Build your argument to support this thesis sentence. Return to your assembled material. Go through it again, and this time copy down every argument, every bit of evidence, or every reason you can find in it which will support your conclusion. After you have done this you should be able to tell whether your conclusion is valid or not. If you cannot find enough support to convince yourself of the validity of your own conclusion, you should discard your thesis sentence and form a new one. Never attempt to argue on behalf of something which you yourself do not believe, if you do, your paper will not be very good. III. Arrange your argument to produce the maximum effect on the reader. Go through the evidence or separate arguments you have copied down and arrange them in the order of their strength. Usually it is best to arrange them in the order of their strength. It is often best to start with the weakest and end with

the strongest; this arrangement is not always possible, but when it can be done your argument will accumulate more force as it progresses. If this type of arrangement cannot be use, merely arrange the arguments in the order in which they will appear in your paper. Along with each argument, list any contrary arguments. You must state these fully and fairly, but show that on balance your viewpoint is to be favoured. If you ignore them, your essay will be weak, one sided and unconvincing. IV. Write your outline. a) Begin with a thesis sentence b) Always write complete sentences c) A brief introduction is needed if any questions or terms have to be defined before you start your argument; otherwise it is optional d) Roman numeral I will be the first argument or reason in support of your conclusion. Roman numeral II will be the second argument and so on as you have already arranged these arguments in order e) Just as the Roman numeral entries must support your conclusion, so must the sub-head entries under each roman numeral support that particular argument (usually by clarifying, explaining or the citing of examples). f) Copy your thesis sentence word for word as the conclusion at the end of your outline. (This may seem a bit of an insult to your intelligence, but if your outline has gone astray you will fins that your thesis will no longer fit in the position it was originally created to occupy. Thus, by doing this you can sometimes save yourself time and wasted effort. V. a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Check your outline Are there any self-contradictory concepts in it? Is any of your material irrelevant? Does each argument follow logically from everything preceding it? Are there any gaps in your reasoning? Are there any terms which need to be defined? Are there any statements which are merely platitudes? Have you made any dogmatic statements?

VI. Write the paper itself About three-fourths of your work should be done before you reach this step. If steps I-V are done well and carefully, the paper should just about write itself. VII. Proofread you Paper. And do it at least twice- more times if possible. (Never write anything which will be read by others unless you proofread it to the best of your ability; this is one rule that is rigidly observed by all mature scholars and authors who have been writing for years).

a) Proofread your thought and style, and again check the list in V. Also does your paper read smoothly and easily? (Read it aloud, if possible, and you will find out). b) Proofread for mechanical errors.
1. Check all questionable spelling. 2. Check all the minimum standard requirements

VIII. Turn in your finished paper and wait patiently for your A.

Writing Stage Once you've given yourself a solid foundation to work with, you can begin to craft your essay. An argument essay should contain three parts: theintroduction, the body, and the conclusion. The length of these parts (number of paragraphs) will vary, depending on the length of your essay assignment. 1. Introduce your topic and assert your side As in any essay, the first paragraph of your argument essay should contain a brief explanation of your topic, some background information, and athesis statement. In this case, your thesis will be a statement of your position on a particular controversial topic. Example introductory paragraph with thesis statement: Since the turn of the new century, a theory has emerged concerning the end of the world, or at least the end of life as we know it. This new theory centers around the year 2012, a date that many claim has mysterious origins in ancient manuscripts from many different cultures. The most noted characteristic of this date is that it appears to mark the end of the Mayan calendar. But there is no evidence to suggest that the Maya saw any great relevance to this date. In fact, none of the claims surrounding a 2012 doomsday event hold up to scientific inquiry. The year 2012 will pass without a major, life-altering catastrophe. 2. Present both sides of the controversy The body of your essay will contain the meat of your argument. You should go into more detail about the two sides of your controversy and state the strongest points of the counter-side of your issue. After describing the "other" side, you will present your own viewpoint and then provide evidence to show why your position is the correct one.

Select your strongest evidence and present your points one by one. Use a mix of evidence types, from statistics, to other studies and anecdotal stories. This part of your paper could be any length, from two paragraphs to two hundred pages. Re-state your position as the most sensible one in your summary paragraphs. Tips for Your Essay:

Avoid emotional language Know the difference between a logical conclusion and an emotional point of view Don't make up evidence Cite your sources Make an outline Be prepared to defend your side by knowing the strongest arguments for the other side. You might be challenged by the teacher or by another student.

Thesis Statements
No matter what type of writing that you do, whether you are writing an essay in a nursing class or an essay for a literature class, it has a main topic. In college level writing, most professors agree that this topic should be expressed in a thesis sentence. The thesis is a very important part of an essay because it summarizes what you have in mind for this essay and guides the reader in reading your essay accurately.

What a thesis IS:


It is a claim (not a fact) that can be supported by a reason or reasons; It directly answers the question of the assignment; It is a statement that unifies the paper by stating the writer's most important or significant point regarding the topic; It is usually one sentence that does not discuss many topics; It forecasts the content and order of the essay; It is placed most often in the beginning of the essay, preferably towards the end of the introduction, but at least within the first or second paragraph; and It is sometimes but rarely implied rather than stated outright.

Developing Your Thesis

Now that we know what a strong thesis statement is, we can begin to craft one of our own. Most effective thesis statements often answer these three questions:

What is the essays subject? What is the main idea that will be discussed about the topic? What is the evidence or support that will be used to support the main idea?

Lets suppose that I want to write an essay about playing sports. I might begin with a sentence like this: Playing sports is really good for people. This is a good start because it does express my position without announcing it; unfortunately, it is vague and general and therefore ineffective. It is not all that exciting for my reader, and it leaves my audience too many unanswered questions. WHY is playing sports good for people? HOW does playing sports benefit people? WHICH people benefit from playing sports? Asking questions about the topic is a great way to find more specific information to include in my thesis. Lets suppose now that after asking these questions, Ive decided I want to narrow my topic into children and sports. I might next have a thesis like this: Playing sports is really good for children. Now my thesis is more specific, but I still havent really answered the WHY and HOW questions. Maybe I think that playing sports helps children develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health. I might have a thesis that ends up like this: Playing sports is beneficial for children because it helps them develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health. Notice that I have beefed up my vocabulary a bit by changing really good to beneficial. For help with specific vocabulary, check out the Using Precise Language page. Notice that I also now have the three major elements of a thesis statement: 1) A subject: playing sports 2) A main idea: playing sports is beneficial for children

3) Support or Evidence: better cooperation, better coordination, and better overall health. Most effective thesis statements contain this type of structure, often called an action plan or plan of development. This is such an effective type of thesis because it clearly tells the reader what is going to be discussed; it also helps the writer stay focused and organized. How can you now use this pattern to create an effective thesis statement? Remember, this is not the only type of effective thesis statement, but using this pattern is helpful if you are having difficulty creating your thesis and staying organized in your writing.

What a thesis is NOT:

A thesis is not an announcement.

Example: I am going to tell you the importance of ABC. I dont need the announcement element of this thesis. I can simply write, The importance of ABC is XYZ.

A thesis is not introduced by an opinion phrase such as I think, I feel, I believe.

Example: I feel that good hygiene begins with the basics of effective handwashing. I dont need to write that I feel this because if I am writing it, then chances are that I feel it, right?

A thesis is not a statement of fact.

Example: George Will writes about economic equality in the United States. Discussing a statement of fact is extremely difficult. How will I continue the discussion of something that cannot be disputed? It can easily be proven that George Will did in fact write about equality in the United States, so I dont really have a strong position because it is simply a fact.

A thesis is not a question.

Example: What makes a photograph so significant?

Remember, a thesis states your position on your topic. A question cannot state anything because it is not a statement. A question is a great lead in to a thesis, but it cant be the thesis.

A thesis is not a quote.

Example 5: George Will writes, Economic equality is good for the United States. This quote tells us George Wills position, but it does not clearly express my position. It therefore cant be my thesis.

Types of Papers: Argument/Argumentative


While some teachers consider persuasive papers and argument papers to be basically the same thing, its usually safe to assume that an argument paper presents a stronger claimpossibly to a more resistant audience. For example: while a persuasive paper might claim that cities need to adopt recycling programs, an argument paper on the same topic might be addressed to a particular town. The argument paper would go further, suggesting specific ways that a recycling program should be adopted and utilized in that particular area. To write an argument essay, youll need to gather evidence and present a well-reasoned argument on a debatable issue. How can I tell if my topic is debatable? Check your thesis! You cannot argue a statement of fact, you must base your paper on a strong position. Ask yourself

How many people could argue against my position? What would they say? Can it be addressed with a yes or no? (aim for a topic that requires more info.) Can I base my argument on scholarly evidence, or am I relying on religion, cultural standards, or morality? (you MUST be able to do quality research!) Have I made my argument specific enough?

Worried about taking a firm stance on an issue?


Though there are plenty of times in your life when its best to adopt a balanced perspective and try to understand both sides of a debate, this isnt one of them. You MUST choose one side or the other when you write an argument paper! Dont be afraid to tell others exactly how you think things should go because thats what we expect from an argument paper. Youre in charge now, what do YOU think? Do use passionate language Dont use weak qualifiers like I believe, I feel, or I thinkjust tell us!

cite experts who agree with you claim to be an expert if youre not one provide facts, evidence, and use strictly moral or religious claims as statistics to support your position support for your argument provide reasons to support your assume the audience will agree with you claim about any aspect of your argument address the opposing sides argument and refute their claims attempt to make others look bad (i.e. Mr. Smith is ignorantdont listen to him!)

Why do I need to address the opposing sides argument?


There is an old kung-fu saying which states, "The hand that strikes also blocks", meaning that when you argue it is to your advantage to anticipate your opposition and strike down their arguments within the body of your own paper. This sentiment is echoed in the popular saying, "The best defense is a good offense". By addressing the opposition you achieve the following goals:

illustrate a well-rounded understanding of the topic demonstrate a lack of bias enhance the level of trust that the reader has for both you and your opinion give yourself the opportunity to refute any arguments the opposition may have

strengthen your argument by diminishing your opposition's argument

Think about yourself as a child, asking your parents for permission to do something that they would normally say no to. You were far more likely to get them to say yes if you anticipated and addressed all of their concerns before they expressed them. You did not want to belittle those concerns, or make them feel dumb, because this only put them on the defensive, and lead to a conclusion that went against your wishes. The same is true in your writing. How do I accomplish this? To address the other side of the argument you plan to make, you'll need to "put yourself in their shoes." In other words, you need to try to understand where they're coming from. If you're having trouble accomplishing this task, try following these steps: 1. Jot down several good reasons why you support that particular side of the argument. 2. Look at the reasons you provided and try to argue with yourself. Ask: Why would someone disagree with each of these points? What would his/her response be? (Sometimes it's helpful to imagine that you're having a verbal argument with someone who disagrees with you.) 3. Think carefully about your audience; try to understand their background, their strongest influences, and the way that their minds work. Ask: What parts of this issue will concern my opposing audience the most? 4. Find the necessary facts, evidence, quotes from experts, etc. to refute the points that your opposition might make. 5. Carefully organize your paper so that it moves smoothly from defending your own points to sections where you argue against the