Composition Writing Studio
From the University of Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/685/05/):
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic, collect, generate, and evaluate evidence, and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that s/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
- Argument Essays: Getting Started
- Developing Paragraphs
- Finding Academic Journals
- Logical Fallacies
- Research Writing
- Argument : UNC Chapel Hill Writing Center's online handout in argument.
- Types of Argument
- Writing Arguments: An Overview : Comprehensive guide from Colorado State University's Writing Studio
- Sample Argument Essays
- Prompts for Argument Essays : 301 ideas from the New York Times
- Argument : Main page for several argument sources from Oregon State University
- Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion
Rhetorical Appeals (Logos, Pathos, Ethos)
- Examples of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos : Numerous examples of each appeal from YourDictionary
- The Rhetorical Situation : Purdue OWL's discussion of Aristotle's three appeals and use of telos and kairos
- Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Advertising : YouTube video
- Ethos, Pathos, Logos: YouTube video
- Toulmin Method : An extensive online guide from Colorado State University on using the Toulmin method of argumentation
- Toulmin Method of Analyzing Arguments : PowerPoint that defines and offers examples for Toulmin method
- Definition of the Toulmin Method : Adaptation of a chapter on Toulmin's approach to argument
- Toulmin Argument (Aims of Argument) : YouTube video
- Rogerian Argument : Information on definition and format of argument
- Rogerian Argument Example : YouTube Video
- Rogerian Argument : YouTube Video
- Counter Argument : Overview provided by Harvard College
- Writing Counter Argument Paragraphs : YouTube video
- Rhetorical Fallacies
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American author Rita Mae Brown wrote a brochure called "Language Exerts Hidden Power, Like a Moon on the Tides" (2014). One interpretation of the title could be that language choices affect persuasiveness and credibility when communicating.
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Similarly, effective argumentative essays use specific linguistic methods to defend a position on an issue.
Argumentative Essay Definition
What works better when trying to convince someone of something — using demands or reason? An argumentative essay relies on evidence and logic to prove that a viewpoint is valid or invalid or to convince an audience to take action. Statistics aren't always available to support beliefs (and that's where logic is helpful). Still, they need to be corroborated to be viewed as credible.
Qualitative and Quantitative Evidence
The two types of evidence used to support a thesis (claim) in an argumentative essay are qualitative and quantitative:
- Qualitative evidence is data that describes a group or theme. It answers "why" or "how" questions. Examples of qualitative data include photographs, diary entries, audio/video recordings, documents (ex: public records, calendars, articles), and case studies.
- Quantitative evidence counts or measures the amount of something. It asks "how many," "how often," or "how much." Some examples of quantitative evidence are height, temperature, amounts of time, distance, and length.
It is natural to be confident about opinions. While researching topics, be aware of bias. Don't "cherry-pick" evidence to make an opinion look more substantial than it is, or it will be quickly discredited by someone knowledgeable on the subject.
Types of Logic and Common Logical Fallacies
When taking an exam and required to write an argumentative essay, there may not be any sources available to defend a position. Using logic to formulate an argument helps guarantee it will be understandable and reliable.
Logic uses pathways to determine "good" and "bad" reasoning by examining parts of a declarative sentence to decide whether it's true or false. A logical argument is consistent (doesn't contradict itself), sound (supports its conclusion by using valid points), and complete (provable within itself).
A declarative is a sentence that makes a statement about something.
Rhetorical fallacies (also called logical fallacies) are reasoning mistakes people often make. Watch out for these logical fallacies:
- Straw-man Argument: Twists an argument into an overly simplified version of itself. An example of a straw man fallacy is saying evolution isn't real because humans evolved from monkeys, and monkeys still exist.
- Bandwagon Fallacy: Connects validity with popularity. Just because three out of four people prefer a particular soap brand doesn't mean it cleans the best.
- Faulty Causality Fallacy: Implies that because two things share a connection, one caused the other to happen. False logic would conclude that because someone wore a new shirt when they got into a car accident, the new shirt caused the accident.
- Argument From Authority Fallacy: This can happen when someone in a position of power makes claims about subjects outside their area of expertise. For example, if a veterinarian specializing in livestock wants to perform surgery on someone's pet boa constrictor, they should probably get a second opinion .
The terms "argumentative" and "persuasive" are often used interchangeably, but they are technically two different types of essays. Both argumentative and persuasive essays use evidence and logic to defend a position.
However, a persuasive essay also uses emotion to appeal to the audience. For example, if the topic were gun control, an argumentative essay would examine the issue and present facts to prove its claim. A persuasive essay would present facts and include how safe (or unsafe) guns make people feel.
Argumentative Essay Topics
Argumentative essays can be written about any polarized subject, meaning an issue that contains opposing ideas. Typical argumentative essay topic ideas fall into many categories, including current events, politics, history, and culture. Here are a few topic ideas:
- Should we look at old media through the eyes of the time or era it was created?
- Is it unethical to eat meat?
- Should the United States have used atomic bombs on Japan?
- Should parents limit screen time?
- Should the United States accept more refugees from the southern border?
Argumentative Essay Format
An effective argumentative essay is made up of five key components:
- A claim statement that can be proven or disproven. (What are the opinions that surround this issue?)
- Reasons that support the claim because they are supported by evidence. (What led someone to think this way?)
- Verifiable evidence that backs the position. (What proves the claim is valid?)
- Acknowledgement of the opposing viewpoint or counterclaim. (What does the opposite side think?)
- Rebuttals that explain how the counterclaim is incorrect. (How is their logic faulty?)
Qualifying the other side means parts of the opposing argument can't be dismissed entirely. In this case, list concessions that recognize their validity but focus on the areas they are incorrect. Words like "but" and "except" are commonly used in connection with concessions.
An argumentative essay will look like a typical essay and include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Follow the standard and begin the introduction with a hook, such as a shocking statistic or anecdote, to engage the reader.
The conclusion will usually reiterate the thesis , summarize the essay in response to the evidence provided, and possibly ask the audience to act on the issue's behalf. However, there are a couple of variations to experiment with.
When something is reiterated, it is repeated to emphasize it or make it more clear.
The Aristotelian Method is classic and straightforward. It uses a clear pathway of logic and reason to state its case. To use this form in an argumentative essay, the first thing to do is introduce the argument. Secondly, spell out its reasons. Next, explain and refute the opposing viewpoint, then provide proof. Finally, form a conclusion.
The Toulmin Method helps disprove an argument or discuss a complex issue. Start by stating the claim clearly and concisely. Next, use evidence to ground the reasons. After that, express the warrant, or assumption, that connects the claim to the reasons. Back the claim with a specific example.
The Rogerian Method is used when both sides have valid points, or the audience could support either side. Begin with an explanation of the issue. Next, discuss how the other side thinks, including their valid points. Then, assert the claim and proof. Summarize the argument by compromising to bring both sides together—end by offering an equalized conclusion.
While disproving the other side, avoid insults and a superior tone. All these will accomplish is making the argument look weak. In addition, avoid using absolutes such as "always" or "never" because they are rarely the case, so credibility will be lost.
Argumentative Essay Outline
A strong thesis statement is the cornerstone of an effective argumentative essay. If you want your position taken seriously, you need to provide a rational argument. One way to organize thoughts into a coherent claim is to brainstorm. Questions to ask include:
- How does this affect me and others?
- Why is this important?
- Are there any solutions to this issue?
- What will happen if nothing (or something) is done about this?
Similar to how a math problem can be checked by solving it in reverse, the validity of reasoning can be checked by anticipating how the other side will disagree. Arguments while alone in the shower — it's your time to shine! Go through reasons one by one and challenge them to answer "because" in a credible way.
Once everything is figured out, use the outline to play around with the argumentative essay structure. It's much less frustrating to spend some time on the organizational flow of an essay before writing than to realize halfway through constructing the essay that something should have been put in a different spot, and it saves time while proofreading, so win-win. Formulate the outline to look like this:
B. Introduce Topic and Relate it to the Hook
II. Body Paragraphs (number of paragraphs included and organized to suit your needs)
A. Summarize Main Points
B. Restate Thesis
C. Final Thought Based on Evidence Presented/Call to Action
Argumentative Essay Example
The included sample argumentative essay is an abbreviated example of an asserted claim formatted into the Aristotelian Method:
A new mid-range sofa costs between $1000 and $3000. 1 Most likely, a person protects their investment by applying a stain guard, but having a pet cat can pose its own threat. It's frustrating when a cat decides to start scratching on the furniture, and some people decide the best way to avoid it is to have their cats declawed. However, declawing cats is painful for them and can eventually lead to health and behavioral issues.
The reader knows what to expect from the article because the thesis claim clearly explains its stance.
While declawing cats used to seem like an easy solution for problem scratching behavior, veterinarians have become more outspoken about its negative aspects for the past decade or so. To declaw a cat, they remove a portion of the cat's bone, which is comparable to removing the tips of a person's fingers. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, it results in lasting nerve pain that can increase over time, cause infection, or interfere with their ability to walk .2 Rather than performing life-altering elective surgery on a pet, other options are available. Trimming the cat's nails and teaching it to use a scratching post will usually protect belongings from a cat's natural scratching behavior.
The body paragraph includes a claim , evidence, and reason.
A valid argument can be made that some cats are stubborn and refuse to use a scratching post . However, it's a pet owner's responsibility to take the time to try to figure out what is causing a cat to act out destructively. The cat could have an undiagnosed health issue, or it could just take a bit of extra work to persuade the cat to choose the scratching post over the arm of the expensive couch. A point to consider is the possibility that the declawed cat will not want to use its litterbox because scratching the litter causes discomfort, so the pet owner could be creating an even bigger behavioral problem down the road. 3
The body paragraph anticipates the opposing side's counterclaim . The author offers a rebuttal using evidence.
Indeed, a cat can't claw furniture if it doesn't have claws. However, there are multiple ways to steer a cat's inborn desire to scratch in a suitable direction. Making sure the cat has ways to keep itself occupied to prevent boredom and using a pheromonal diffuser to lower its stress level could deter the cat from scratching things it shouldn't. The alternative is to commit to caring for a cat with long-term nerve pain and potentially worse behavioral difficulties.
The conclusion offers solutions and restates the thesis claim as a consequence.
What words were used in the sample argumentative essay to avoid using certainties that could weaken the author's credibility? Are there any logical fallacies?
Argumentative Essay - Key takeaways
Unlike a persuasive essay that uses emotion to sway its audience, an argumentative essay uses logic and reason to state its case.
Evidence used to support your opinion in an argumentative essay can be grouped as qualitative or quantitative.
A logical argument is consistent and uses valid points.
Effective argumentative essays contain five key components: a claim, reasons, evidence, a counterclaim, and a rebuttal.
Ask yourself questions and challenge your beliefs to construct a compelling argument.
1 Benedetti, Ginevra. "How Much Should I Spend on a Sofa? Price Up the Perfect Sofa to Last You a Lifetime." H omesandgardens. 2021.
2 American Association of Feline Practitioners. "2017 Declawing Statement." C atvets. 2017.
Frequently Asked Questions about Argumentative Essay
--> what is an argumentative essay.
An argumentative essay relies on evidence and logic to prove that a viewpoint is valid or invalid or to convince an audience to take action.
--> What are the five parts of an argumentative essay?
The five parts of an argumentative essay are its claim, reasons, evidence, counterclaim, and rebuttal.
--> What is an example of an argumentative essay?
An example of an argumentative essay is "The Pleasure Principle" by Phillip Larkin
--> What are some topic ideas for an argumentative essay?
An argumentative essay can be written about any polarized subject, such as:
- Should we look at old media through the eyes of when it was created?
--> How do you format an argumentative essay?
An argumentative essay can be structured into three formats:
Final Argumentative Essay Quiz
Argumentative essay quiz - teste dein wissen.
According to Aristotle, which of the following is NOT a way to present an argument
Which other type of argument would be most closely related to logos?
Which of the following is not a necessary component of a good argument?
There is only one possible answer or solution
How many steps are there in the basic structure of an argument?
How is the Rogerian method of argument different from the others?
The Rogerian method of argument does not try to convince the audience of their stance, and instead looks for common ground.
What is the foundation of the argument when writing an essay?
Of the following, which is not a recommended strategy for removing bias from an argument?
Only talk about unimportant things
What is required to find support for an argument?
Research on the subject
Which step to the basic argument structure is missing?
Which method of argument is best used to show the facts of an argument?
In a Toulmin-style argument, what is necessary to support the claim?
Grounds (or evidence)
Which component of an Artistotelian argument appeals to the emotions of the audience?
What is the definition of an argument?
An argument is a reason for either supporting or challenging a topic under discussion.
What is missing if an argument is based solely on someone's opinion?
What is the goal of the Rogerian method of argument?
To find common ground, or consensus on the subject
What is an emotional argument?
An emotional argument is a means by which an audience might be persuaded of a particular argument by appealing to commonly held emotions.
How could you avoid an emotional argument?
Avoid emotional arguments by focusing on evidence and concrete details of the argument.
Which is an example of a negative emotion?
Which of the following is most closely related to emotional arguments?
True or false, it is possible to use a combination of ethos, logos and pathos in one single argument.
Which of the following is NOT a cognitive faculty?
What does an emotional argument add to an argumentative essay?
It makes the topic feel more personal to the audience
Why might you want to avoid emotional arguments?
Avoid emotional appeals in instances where the audience might have extremely opposing views and/ or emotional exhaustion
What are the two things to do/ consider before crafting your emotional argument?
- Identify your intended audience
- Understand commonly held emotions on the topic
Which emotional appeal technique uses words and phrases that appeal to the five senses of your audience?
Vivid details and imagery
What should you do if you cannot identify an opportunity for an emotional argument in your essay?
Which prewriting exercise involves mapping out your argument, either with word trees or word association?
Which philosopher outlined the three methods of persuasion?
Finish the sentence: Emotional arguments are an effective tool for writing ________ essays.
Which of the following focuses most on the reader?
What is an Argumentative Essay?
An Argumentative essay relies on evidence and logic to prove that a viewpoint is valid or invalid or to convince an audience to take action.
How are an argumentative and persuasive essay different?
An argumentative and persuasive essay are different because, in addition to using logic and evidence, a persuasive essay uses emotion to sway its audience.
What are the five parts of an argumentative essay?
All of the above
True or False: You should always use words like "all" or "everyone" to show the audience you have a strong argument.
False: Using certainties in your argument is an opportunity for the other side to discredit your reasoning.
What should you do if the other side has valid points?
If there are valid points to the opposing view, acknowledge (qualify) them using concessions.
What are the three argumentative essay formats?
True or False: If most people agree with something, it's a valid argument.
False: Relying on popularity to prove validity is a logical fallacy known as the Bandwagon Fallacy.
True or False: You should allow evidence to disprove the other side rather than sarcasm or insults.
True: Using an unprofessional tone when disproving a different viewpoint damages your credibility.
What is it called when someone twists your argument into a simplified version of itself?
A Strawman Fallacy twists an argument into a simplified version of itself.
How does asking yourself questions and questioning your beliefs help?
Asking yourself questions and questioning your beliefs helps you write a compelling claim.
What is an ethical argument?
An argument based on ethics that evaluates whether an idea is morally right or wrong
What are ethics?
Moral principles that guide a person's behavior and beliefs
What are ethical principles?
Rules which govern behavior and decision-making
What are two types of ethical arguments?
Ethical arguments based on principles and ethical arguments based on consequences
Which of the following is NOT an ethical argument based on principles?
Physician-assisted suicide is right because it leads to the following positive consequences: individuals have more control over end-of-life decisions and physicians can provide care better aligned with the patient’s quality of life.
Which of the following is an argument based on principles?
Physician-assisted suicide is wrong because it violates Kant’s moral theory about human life.
Which of the following is NOT used to make ethical arguments from principles?
What is the correct reason an ethical argument based on consequences would be effective for a diverse audience?
An ethical argument based on consequences will not alienate audience members who have different moral beliefs.
An ethical argument based on principles would be most effective to which type of audience?
An ethical argument based on principles will be most effective to audience members who share similar moral beliefs.
Which of the following statements is NOT written as an ethical argument?
Public health officials should study the effects of gun control regulations to gain data on how these regulations impact public health.
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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts
Welcome to the Purdue OWL
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note : Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important ( exigence ) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis ( warrant ).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.
What this handout is about
This handout will define what an argument is and explain why you need one in most of your academic essays.
Arguments are everywhere
You may be surprised to hear that the word “argument” does not have to be written anywhere in your assignment for it to be an important part of your task. In fact, making an argument—expressing a point of view on a subject and supporting it with evidence—is often the aim of academic writing. Your instructors may assume that you know this and thus may not explain the importance of arguments in class.
Most material you learn in college is or has been debated by someone, somewhere, at some time. Even when the material you read or hear is presented as a simple fact, it may actually be one person’s interpretation of a set of information. Instructors may call on you to examine that interpretation and defend it, refute it, or offer some new view of your own. In writing assignments, you will almost always need to do more than just summarize information that you have gathered or regurgitate facts that have been discussed in class. You will need to develop a point of view on or interpretation of that material and provide evidence for your position.
Consider an example. For nearly 2000 years, educated people in many Western cultures believed that bloodletting—deliberately causing a sick person to lose blood—was the most effective treatment for a variety of illnesses. The claim that bloodletting is beneficial to human health was not widely questioned until the 1800s, and some physicians continued to recommend bloodletting as late as the 1920s. Medical practices have now changed because some people began to doubt the effectiveness of bloodletting; these people argued against it and provided convincing evidence. Human knowledge grows out of such differences of opinion, and scholars like your instructors spend their lives engaged in debate over what claims may be counted as accurate in their fields. In their courses, they want you to engage in similar kinds of critical thinking and debate.
Argumentation is not just what your instructors do. We all use argumentation on a daily basis, and you probably already have some skill at crafting an argument. The more you improve your skills in this area, the better you will be at thinking critically, reasoning, making choices, and weighing evidence.
Making a claim
What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea. In the majority of college papers, you will need to make some sort of claim and use evidence to support it, and your ability to do this well will separate your papers from those of students who see assignments as mere accumulations of fact and detail. In other words, gone are the happy days of being given a “topic” about which you can write anything. It is time to stake out a position and prove why it is a good position for a thinking person to hold. See our handout on thesis statements .
Claims can be as simple as “Protons are positively charged and electrons are negatively charged,” with evidence such as, “In this experiment, protons and electrons acted in such and such a way.” Claims can also be as complex as “Genre is the most important element to the contract of expectations between filmmaker and audience,” using reasoning and evidence such as, “defying genre expectations can create a complete apocalypse of story form and content, leaving us stranded in a sort of genre-less abyss.” In either case, the rest of your paper will detail the reasoning and evidence that have led you to believe that your position is best.
When beginning to write a paper, ask yourself, “What is my point?” For example, the point of this handout is to help you become a better writer, and we are arguing that an important step in the process of writing effective arguments is understanding the concept of argumentation. If your papers do not have a main point, they cannot be arguing for anything. Asking yourself what your point is can help you avoid a mere “information dump.” Consider this: your instructors probably know a lot more than you do about your subject matter. Why, then, would you want to provide them with material they already know? Instructors are usually looking for two things:
- Proof that you understand the material
- A demonstration of your ability to use or apply the material in ways that go beyond what you have read or heard.
This second part can be done in many ways: you can critique the material, apply it to something else, or even just explain it in a different way. In order to succeed at this second step, though, you must have a particular point to argue.
Arguments in academic writing are usually complex and take time to develop. Your argument will need to be more than a simple or obvious statement such as “Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect.” Such a statement might capture your initial impressions of Wright as you have studied him in class; however, you need to look deeper and express specifically what caused that “greatness.” Your instructor will probably expect something more complicated, such as “Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture combines elements of European modernism, Asian aesthetic form, and locally found materials to create a unique new style,” or “There are many strong similarities between Wright’s building designs and those of his mother, which suggests that he may have borrowed some of her ideas.” To develop your argument, you would then define your terms and prove your claim with evidence from Wright’s drawings and buildings and those of the other architects you mentioned.
Do not stop with having a point. You have to back up your point with evidence. The strength of your evidence, and your use of it, can make or break your argument. See our handout on evidence . You already have the natural inclination for this type of thinking, if not in an academic setting. Think about how you talked your parents into letting you borrow the family car. Did you present them with lots of instances of your past trustworthiness? Did you make them feel guilty because your friends’ parents all let them drive? Did you whine until they just wanted you to shut up? Did you look up statistics on teen driving and use them to show how you didn’t fit the dangerous-driver profile? These are all types of argumentation, and they exist in academia in similar forms.
Every field has slightly different requirements for acceptable evidence, so familiarize yourself with some arguments from within that field instead of just applying whatever evidence you like best. Pay attention to your textbooks and your instructor’s lectures. What types of argument and evidence are they using? The type of evidence that sways an English instructor may not work to convince a sociology instructor. Find out what counts as proof that something is true in that field. Is it statistics, a logical development of points, something from the object being discussed (art work, text, culture, or atom), the way something works, or some combination of more than one of these things?
Be consistent with your evidence. Unlike negotiating for the use of your parents’ car, a college paper is not the place for an all-out blitz of every type of argument. You can often use more than one type of evidence within a paper, but make sure that within each section you are providing the reader with evidence appropriate to each claim. So, if you start a paragraph or section with a statement like “Putting the student seating area closer to the basketball court will raise player performance,” do not follow with your evidence on how much more money the university could raise by letting more students go to games for free. Information about how fan support raises player morale, which then results in better play, would be a better follow-up. Your next section could offer clear reasons why undergraduates have as much or more right to attend an undergraduate event as wealthy alumni—but this information would not go in the same section as the fan support stuff. You cannot convince a confused person, so keep things tidy and ordered.
One way to strengthen your argument and show that you have a deep understanding of the issue you are discussing is to anticipate and address counterarguments or objections. By considering what someone who disagrees with your position might have to say about your argument, you show that you have thought things through, and you dispose of some of the reasons your audience might have for not accepting your argument. Recall our discussion of student seating in the Dean Dome. To make the most effective argument possible, you should consider not only what students would say about seating but also what alumni who have paid a lot to get good seats might say.
You can generate counterarguments by asking yourself how someone who disagrees with you might respond to each of the points you’ve made or your position as a whole. If you can’t immediately imagine another position, here are some strategies to try:
- Do some research. It may seem to you that no one could possibly disagree with the position you are arguing, but someone probably has. For example, some people argue that a hotdog is a sandwich. If you are making an argument concerning, for example, the characteristics of an exceptional sandwich, you might want to see what some of these people have to say.
- Talk with a friend or with your teacher. Another person may be able to imagine counterarguments that haven’t occurred to you.
- Consider your conclusion or claim and the premises of your argument and imagine someone who denies each of them. For example, if you argued, “Cats make the best pets. This is because they are clean and independent,” you might imagine someone saying, “Cats do not make the best pets. They are dirty and needy.”
Once you have thought up some counterarguments, consider how you will respond to them—will you concede that your opponent has a point but explain why your audience should nonetheless accept your argument? Will you reject the counterargument and explain why it is mistaken? Either way, you will want to leave your reader with a sense that your argument is stronger than opposing arguments.
When you are summarizing opposing arguments, be charitable. Present each argument fairly and objectively, rather than trying to make it look foolish. You want to show that you have considered the many sides of the issue. If you simply attack or caricature your opponent (also referred to as presenting a “straw man”), you suggest that your argument is only capable of defeating an extremely weak adversary, which may undermine your argument rather than enhance it.
It is usually better to consider one or two serious counterarguments in some depth, rather than to give a long but superficial list of many different counterarguments and replies.
Be sure that your reply is consistent with your original argument. If considering a counterargument changes your position, you will need to go back and revise your original argument accordingly.
Audience is a very important consideration in argument. Take a look at our handout on audience . A lifetime of dealing with your family members has helped you figure out which arguments work best to persuade each of them. Maybe whining works with one parent, but the other will only accept cold, hard statistics. Your kid brother may listen only to the sound of money in his palm. It’s usually wise to think of your audience in an academic setting as someone who is perfectly smart but who doesn’t necessarily agree with you. You are not just expressing your opinion in an argument (“It’s true because I said so”), and in most cases your audience will know something about the subject at hand—so you will need sturdy proof. At the same time, do not think of your audience as capable of reading your mind. You have to come out and state both your claim and your evidence clearly. Do not assume that because the instructor knows the material, he or she understands what part of it you are using, what you think about it, and why you have taken the position you’ve chosen.
Critical reading is a big part of understanding argument. Although some of the material you read will be very persuasive, do not fall under the spell of the printed word as authority. Very few of your instructors think of the texts they assign as the last word on the subject. Remember that the author of every text has an agenda, something that he or she wants you to believe. This is OK—everything is written from someone’s perspective—but it’s a good thing to be aware of. For more information on objectivity and bias and on reading sources carefully, read our handouts on evaluating print sources and reading to write .
Take notes either in the margins of your source (if you are using a photocopy or your own book) or on a separate sheet as you read. Put away that highlighter! Simply highlighting a text is good for memorizing the main ideas in that text—it does not encourage critical reading. Part of your goal as a reader should be to put the author’s ideas in your own words. Then you can stop thinking of these ideas as facts and start thinking of them as arguments.
When you read, ask yourself questions like “What is the author trying to prove?” and “What is the author assuming I will agree with?” Do you agree with the author? Does the author adequately defend her argument? What kind of proof does she use? Is there something she leaves out that you would put in? Does putting it in hurt her argument? As you get used to reading critically, you will start to see the sometimes hidden agendas of other writers, and you can use this skill to improve your own ability to craft effective arguments.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.
Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The Craft of Research , 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ede, Lisa. 2004. Work in Progress: A Guide to Academic Writing and Revising , 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.
Gage, John T. 2005. The Shape of Reason: Argumentative Writing in College , 4th ed. New York: Longman.
Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. 2016. Everything’s an Argument , 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.
Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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What Is Argumentative Writing?
Written by Scott Wilson
What is argumentative writing? Argumentative writing is designed to prove a particular point with the use of supporting evidence, effective rhetoric, and persuasive debate. Most argumentative writing is clearly structured and attempts to convince the reader that the writer’s position is correct.
Argumentative writing is a style that is taught to most students during their primary and secondary studies. Like expository writing , it is usually taught following a standard formula that follows the five-paragraph essay format:
- An introductory paragraph
- Three supporting body paragraphs
- A concluding paragraph
While expository writing seeks only to inform and educate, often in the same type of format, argumentative writing goes further. In an argumentative piece, the writer takes a position on the subject and presents evidence that attempts to persuade the reader to agree with that position.
Unlike expository writing, there’s no requirement in argumentative writing that all sides of an argument or all evidence be presented. Doing so might ultimately be more persuasive, if the writer has convincing counterpoints for opposing views, but the point of argumentative writing is to convince rather than inform, so it could be more effective to leave out any mention of the opposing view.
The Basic Elements of Argumentative Writing
Although the five-paragraph essay is the most commonly taught form of argumentative writing, it’s not mandatory. In fact, many argumentative pieces of writing are expanded into much longer papers, or even books.
Each of them will have similar components, however:
A Thesis Statement
The basis of the argument is presented early in the piece, often in the first paragraph. This outlines the position of the writer and explains what the remainder of the work will attempt to convince the reader to believe.
The writer also has to introduce evidence of some sort to support the thesis. This may be factual or logical support.
Logical or rhetorical assertions regarding the evidence designed to convince the reader that the thesis is correct.
The conclusion of the pieces wraps up with a summary of the points made and tie them back to the thesis statement
Argumentative pieces are often less formal than expository writing, however. Writers are less constrained by format than by finding successful ways to prove their point. This can mean that rhetorical or literary devices might take priority over a carefully ordered list of evidence. And argumentative essays dealing with more complex subjects might be broken apart into separate sections involving sub-arguments and longer developments of evidence to make the point.
What Is the Purpose of Argumentative Writing?
The point of argumentative writing is to change opinions or behaviors among readers.
There can be many reasons for wanting to change actions or opinions. These are as diverse as:
- Developing new academic schools of thought
- Selling more products
- Convincing people to vote a certain way
- Winning mediation efforts
In short, argumentative writing can be used effectively any time the writer would like to change the reader’s mind about a certain subject, or as a spur to action for beliefs that may not have been strongly held previously.
Argumentative writing has a long history in philosophy and politics.
Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and its counterpoint, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, offer some of the most influential arguments on political philosophy ever made. They continue to shape various political positions even today.
Such pieces not only allow the writer to advance and articulate their own position, but often help readers to consider their own thoughts on the subject of the argument. Argumentative writing is often most persuasive when it incorporates other perspectives on the subject and dismantles them or provides counter-arguments to likely rebuttals. This introduces more information to the reader and different ways of thinking about the topic.
Creative writing degree programs do not typically teach argumentative writing with any particular emphasis. They do, however, make sure it is in the fully-stocked toolbox that all graduates leave with, along with other literary and rhetorical tools writers should have.
Module 9: Academic Argument
The argumentative essay, learning objectives.
- Examine types of argumentative essays
You may have heard it said that all writing is an argument of some kind. Even if you’re writing an informative essay, you still have the job of trying to convince your audience that the information is important. However, there are times you’ll be asked to write an essay that is specifically an argumentative piece.
An argumentative essay is one that makes a clear assertion or argument about some topic or issue. When you’re writing an argumentative essay, it’s important to remember that an academic argument is quite different from a regular, emotional argument. Note that sometimes students forget the academic aspect of an argumentative essay and write essays that are much too emotional for an academic audience. It’s important for you to choose a topic you feel passionately about (if you’re allowed to pick your topic), but you have to be sure you aren’t too emotionally attached to a topic. In an academic argument, you’ll have a lot more constraints you have to consider, and you’ll focus much more on logic and reasoning than emotions.
Figure 1 . When writing an argumentative essay, students must be able to separate emotion based arguments from logic based arguments in order to appeal to an academic audience.
Argumentative essays are quite common in academic writing and are often an important part of writing in all disciplines. You may be asked to take a stand on a social issue in your introduction to writing course, but you could also be asked to take a stand on an issue related to health care in your nursing courses or make a case for solving a local environmental problem in your biology class. And, since argument is such a common essay assignment, it’s important to be aware of some basic elements of a good argumentative essay.
When your professor asks you to write an argumentative essay, you’ll often be given something specific to write about. For example, you may be asked to take a stand on an issue you have been discussing in class. Perhaps, in your education class, you would be asked to write about standardized testing in public schools. Or, in your literature class, you might be asked to argue the effects of protest literature on public policy in the United States.
However, there are times when you’ll be given a choice of topics. You might even be asked to write an argumentative essay on any topic related to your field of study or a topic you feel that is important personally.
Whatever the case, having some knowledge of some basic argumentative techniques or strategies will be helpful as you write. Below are some common types of arguments.
- You write about how something has caused something else. For example, you might explore the increase of industrial pollution and the resulting decline of large mammals in the world’s ocean.
- You can write an argumentative evaluation of something as “good” or “bad,” but you also need to establish the criteria for “good” or “bad.” For example, you might evaluate a children’s book for your Introduction to Educational Theory class, but you would need to establish clear criteria for your evaluation for your audience.
- With this type of writing, you need to propose a solution to a problem. First, you must establish a clear problem and then propose a specific solution to that problem. For example, you might argue for a removal of parking fines on students who use the parking deck on campus.
- For this type of argument, you make your case by telling a story with a clear point related to your argument. For example, you might write a narrative about your negative experiences with standardized testing in order to make a case for reform.
- In a rebuttal argument, you build your case around refuting an idea or ideas that have come before. In other words, your starting point is to challenge the ideas of the past. For this type of writing assignment, you have to explain what you are refuting first, and then you can expand on your new ideas or perspectives.
- In this type of argument, you use a definition as the starting point for making your case. For example, in a definition argument, you might argue that NCAA basketball players should be defined as professional players and, therefore, should be paid.
- You can read more about an argumentative essay on the consequences of fast fashion . Read it and look at the comments to recognize strategies and techniques the author uses to convey her ideas.
- In this example, you’ll see a sample argumentative paper from a psychology class submitted in APA format. Key parts of the argumentative structure have been noted for you in the sample.
Link to Learning
For more examples of types of argumentative essays, visit the Argumentative Purposes section of the Excelsior OWL .
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- Argumentative Essay. Provided by : Excelsior OWL. Located at : https://owl.excelsior.edu/rhetorical-styles/argumentative-essay/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
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How to Write a Standout Argumentative Essay
An argumentative essay is a piece of writing that uses factual evidence and logical support to convince the reader of a certain way of thinking. Although many types of essays aim at persuading the reader to believe a specific point of view, argumentative essays rely heavily on hard evidence, drawing on other studies and sources to prove their argument is best.
Don’t let the name fool you: Argumentative essays don’t have to be aggressive or combative. Rather, it gets its name from the style of arguing, whereby the writer presents sufficient research to both support their own claim and invalidate opposing perspectives. When you’re writing an argumentative essay, remember that the goal is to show that your thesis is the only logical conclusion.
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Argumentative essays are only as good as their argument, and structuring good arguments requires a little more than just being stubborn (even if it helps!). Below, we run through the most useful techniques for writing the perfect argumentative essay. But don’t take our word for it—our evidence speaks for itself!
What is an argumentative essay?
Like persuasive essays and other types of essays , the point of argumentative essays is to convince the reader of a particular point of view. What makes an essay argumentative is the method of convincing: An argumentative essay uses fact-based evidence and unquestionable logic to prove that its thesis is true.
Persuasive essays do this, too, but tend to be more emotional and less formal . Argumentative essays focus more on concrete empirical data, whereas persuasive essays appeal more to the reader’s emotions. In other words, argumentative essays favor quantitative support, while persuasive essays favor qualitative support.
Likewise, it’s easy to confuse argumentative essays with expository essays , which rely heavily on fact-based evidence and copious research. The main difference is bias : Argumentative essays presume one point of view is correct, whereas expository essays usually present all sides of the argument and leave it to the reader to make up their own mind.
Another distinction of argumentative essays is that the thesis is not obvious . It usually has strong enough opposition to necessitate an explanation of why it’s wrong. For example, “the sky is blue on a sunny day” would be an awful thesis for an argumentative essay. Not only would it be redundant, but also far too simplistic: Your evidence may be “look outside,” and that’d be the end of it!
The idea is that an argumentative essay leaves no doubt that its thesis is accurate, usually by disproving or invalidating opposing theories. That’s why argumentative essays don’t just talk about the writer’s own thesis but discuss other contradicting points of view as well. It’s hard to name one perspective as “true” if you’re ignoring all the others.
Basic argumentative essay structure
Because your entire argumentative essay depends on how well you present your case, your essay structure is crucial. To make matters worse, the structure of argumentative essays is a little more involved than those of other essay types because you also have to address other points of view. This alone leads to even more considerations, like whose argument to address first, and at what point to introduce key evidence.
Let’s start with the most basic argumentative essay structure: the simple five-paragraph format that suits most short essays.
- Your first paragraph is your introduction , which clearly presents your thesis, sets up the rest of the essay, and maybe even adds a little intrigue.
- Your second, third, and fourth paragraphs are your body, where you present your arguments and evidence, as well as refute opposing arguments. Each paragraph should focus on either showcasing one piece of supporting evidence or disproving one contradictory opinion.
- Your fifth and final paragraph is your conclusion , where you revisit your thesis in the context of all preceding evidence and succinctly wrap up everything.
This simple structure serves you well in a pinch, especially for timed essays that are part of a test. However, advanced essays require more detailed structures, especially if they have a length requirement of over five paragraphs.
Advanced argumentative essay structure
Some essays need to support more complicated arguments and more definitive rebuttals than normal. In these cases, the three major formats below should serve your argumentative essay for a variety of needs.
When to use it: making straightforward arguments
The Aristotelian or classic argument is a default structure for a clear argument, more like an extension of the simple five-paragraph structure above. It draws on credibility ( ethos ), emotion ( pathos ), and reasoning ( logos ) to prove its points, all of which can be adapted for virtually any argument. In form, it follows a direct and logical path:
1 Introduce the problem.
2 Explain your perspective.
3 Explain your opponent’s perspective. Refute their points one-by-one as you go.
4 Present your evidence.
5 Conclude your argument.
When to use it: presenting complex issues with no clear truths or when your thesis is a rebuttal or counterargument.
The Toulmin method was developed to analyze arguments themselves, so it makes sense to use it for essays. Because it’s steeped in logic and deep analysis, this approach best suits complicated issues that need unraveling, but also works well for refuting an opposing point of view piece by piece.
In form, it includes six main areas, but you’re free to organize them in whatever order works best for your essay. Keep in mind that your claim can itself be a rebuttal of another argument, so your entire essay could be disproving another thesis rather than presenting your own.
1 Claim: your thesis or argument, stated clearly
2 Reasons: your evidence, including data or generally accepted facts
3 Warrant: the connection between your claim and reasons (requiring you to state assumptions explicitly so there’s no confusion)
4 Backing: additional evidence to support your claim
5 Qualifier: the limits to your own claim, including concessions
6 Rebuttal: addressing opposing viewpoints and criticisms of your claim
When to use it: showing both sides of an argument as valid or when presenting to a mixed audience.
The Rogerian method is simply a middle-ground approach, where you acknowledge the validity of both your thesis and the opposition’s viewpoint. It’s the least confrontational and most respectful, which helps in convincing readers who are naturally biased against your main claim. In form, it follows a five-step structure:
2 Explain your opponent’s perspective first. Validate their points when correct.
3 Explain your perspective.
4 Bring both sides together. Present a middle ground where both viewpoints coexist.
5 Conclude your (balanced) argument.
How to write a good thesis
The thesis, or argument, is the cornerstone of any good essay. If your thesis is weak or full of holes, not even a perfect essay structure can save you.
The thesis itself should be the one takeaway you want your readers to leave with. What are you trying to convince them of, or what do you want them to remember after reading? Knowing this informs all other aspects of writing your essay, including the best structure and format, not to mention which evidence to collect.
For starters, choose a topic you feel strongly about (if it’s not already assigned). It helps if your argument is specific; having a broad or general argument means more facets to examine, which can make for a wordy essay.
It also helps to consider your audience. You don’t always have to tell readers what they want to hear, but their biases should influence how you write your essay, including your wording and how much credit to give the opposition.
Above all, choose a thesis with sufficient evidence. Argumentative essays thrive on factual proof from credible sources, and you don’t want to waste time searching for data that doesn’t exist. If you can’t find enough facts to back up your thesis, maybe you shouldn’t argue that point in the first place.
How to write an argumentative essay: the writing process
Argumentative essays follow the same recommended writing process as other kinds of writing, albeit with more emphasis on researching and preparing. Here’s a brief overview of how to adapt the process for argumentative essays:
1 Brainstorming: If your argument is not provided in the assignment, take some time to think up a good thesis based on our guidelines above.
2 Preparing: This phase is for collecting all the evidence going into your essay, as well as writing an outline . Because proof is key to argumentative essays, set aside ample time for research until you have all the support you need. It’s also a good time to outline your essay, answering questions like when and how to discuss opposing viewpoints.
3 Drafting: Write a rough draft of your essay. It helps to include any data and direct quotes as early as possible, especially with argumentative essays that often cite outside sources.
4 Revising: Polish your rough draft, optimize word choice, and restructure your arguments if necessary. Make sure your language is clear and appropriate for the reader, and double-check that you effectively made all your points and rebuttals.
5 Proofreading : Go through your draft and focus exclusively on fixing mistakes. If you’re not confident in your grammar skills or diction, use Grammarly .
Although optional, it always helps to have a fresh set of eyes on your essays before finalizing it. See if your argument is strong enough to convince your friends!
Argumentative essay writing tips
Our tips for writing better essays apply just as well to argumentative essays as any others, so that’s the best place to start if you’re looking for additional guidance. For tips specific to argumentative essays, try these:
Support your argument with concrete facts
Although similar to persuasive essays, argumentative essays are in some ways the exact opposite. While persuasive essays appeal to the reader’s emotions, argumentative essays appeal to the reader’s reason. That’s why hard facts work best.
Do plenty of research until you have enough data to support each of your main points. Feel free to cite other sources or studies to improve your credibility as well. Try to withhold your personal opinions and feelings as much as possible—let your evidence speak for you.
Be proactive about language
In an argumentative essay, tone and style are more important than you may think, especially if you’re criticizing another person’s perspective. Be respectful when choosing your words and phrasing. Using an aggressive tone reflects worse on the writer than the target, even if rebutting a despicable point of view.
Use aids for style and grammar
Even the smallest typo can derail the most carefully planned argument. The problem is, it’s hard to formulate the best possible argument if you’re distracted by spelling and grammar.
Grammarly finds all of your writing mistakes for you so you can stay focused on what’s important. It even checks your tone and clarity to make sure your true argument always shines through and comes across as intended. See how Grammarly can help your next writing project by downloading it now.