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.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
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.
In an argumentative essay, you want to convince someone to agree with your idea or opinion, using research-based evidence.
Writing an argumentative essay is a skill that anyone in school needs to know, though it can be useful outside of the classroom, as well. With today's Common Core standards, learning to write an essay that intelligently proves your point is an essential part of your education.
You will need to select solid argumentative essay topics that you can work with, create an argumentative essay outline and write, revise, and polish before you turn the argumentative essay in. It’s worth checking out an argumentative essay sample or two, just so you have a good idea of how the whole thing works. You can learn a lot from what other people have already done.
Choosing Argumentative Essay Ideas
As you look at argumentative essay examples, you’ll notice that there is a specific argumentative essay structure that is followed. It’s easiest to work with this structure if you choose easy argumentative essay topics.
Good argumentative essay topics are interesting and relatively easy to defend. They should fit into your argumentative essay outline fairly easily and will be something you can write on without doing ridiculous amounts of research. You don’t necessarily need to know everything about the topic, but having some base knowledge will help you as you do your research and write the essay.
Ideally, you’ll select interesting argumentative essay topics to work with, which will keep your writing fresh and on point. It’s difficult to write on a topic you don’t enjoy, so selecting one that you can really get into will show in your work.
How to Write an Argumentative Essay
It’s helpful to look at a good argumentative essay example to get some ideas before you begin. This section will show you how to write an argumentative essay that will wow your teachers.
Before you even get started on the actual essay, take some time to create an argumentative essay outline. This will help you follow proper argumentative essay structure and can be useful for ensuring that your work stays on track and makes sense. An outline is an essential part of any essay writing process.
If you find it difficult to create your own outline, an argumentative essay template may come in handy for structuring the essay. A template will include everything you need to get started, including the format, so you just need to fill in the blanks with your own information.
How to Start an Argumentative Essay
The argumentative essay introduction is where you present your topic and your thesis. It should include a hook in the first few sentences. A hook will grab the reader's attention and keep them reading.
Once you've laid the basis of the argumentative essay topic out for the reader, give them a bit of background information to clarify things.
What is the issue you're addressing? Why should anyone care? Where is the issue prevalent? What is your opinion on the topic and why do you feel that way? The answer to this final question will be your thesis, or what you will try to convince the reader of throughout your essay.
Your topic should be something you know is debatable and this can be mentioned in the intro. The first paragraph, according to good argumentative essay format, should include your main point or thesis statement.
As you state your thesis, make sure it is concise and use confident language to write it out. You should summarize your rational, ethical and emotional supporting arguments here. Keep in mind that the opening paragraph should only be a few sentences long in most cases, so keep it concise.
Develop Your Argument
By this point in the argumentative essay example, it's obvious what the point of the essay is, but you have not yet convinced the reader. You need to develop your argument. Each body paragraph should contain a topic sentence introducing a claim, which should support your thesis statement. You may have as few as one claim, but it's a good idea to aim for at least three or four supporting arguments.
Argumentative essay prompts are handy for helping you think more deeply about your chosen topic and will allow you to work on creating
Just stating something doesn't make it fact, so you also need to present evidence in favour of your opinion. Your own personal experience does not stand as a reputable source, so look for scientific studies and government resources to help back up your claims. Statistics and specific data can also be helpful as you argue your main point.
Look at the Opposing Viewpoint
In order to truly convince readers of your point of view, the argumentative essay must also look at the opposing views. What do those on the other side of the issue have to say? Acknowledge these views and refute them with facts, quotes, statistics or logic. The more evidence you have, the better your essay will be.
It's not enough to simply disagree with another point of view or opinion. If you really want to get people to see things your way, you need to convince them with evidence and facts. This requires some research and possibly a little creative thinking. If you’ve chosen a good topic, however, it will be obvious what the opposite view is.
Most argumentative essay prompts will have you cover opposing views in the second or third body paragraph, but it can be used as the intro to the body, as well, with your point at the end. Include every source in your reference section so the reader can double check the evidence for themselves.
Create a Conclusion
Finally, every argumentative essay example finishes with a conclusion. Yours will do the same. Restate your main points and cover the basics of the supporting evidence once more. This is essentially a summary of your entire argument. How has the argument evolved throughout the paper? Give the reader a brief look back over everything.
Before you sign off on your essay, restate your topic and stress the importance of your opinion. Keep this part to one or two paragraphs at the most, since it is simply a recap of the previous points.
If you have done your job and written a convincing argumentative essay, your reader will now either be completely on your side or thinking seriously about their views on your topic. This is the end goal, to shake up those beliefs and help others see your point of view. Doing this in a calm, professional manner will work far better than being too passionate. Use lots of examples and reputable sources to give solid evidence for your side of things and you’ll see good results.
Polish and Revise
Once your essay has been written, it's time to polish it. Go back over the whole essay and look for any spelling or grammatical errors. You should also keep an eye out for pieces that can be better written or tightened up to make better sense.
Now, it's up to the reader to make up their mind. If you've done a good job, they will see things your way and your essay will be a success.
Using a template for your argumentative essay can also help you work through the essay faster and ensures you'll meet common core standards and improve your essay writing skills. Choose a great topic, use prompts and a template and you’ll have a winning argumentative essay by the end.