How to Write an Argument Essay Step by Step
What is an Argumentative Essay?
Argument essays seek to state a position on an issue and give several reasons, supported by evidence, for agreeing with that position.
Finding Ideas to Write About
Argument essay topics can be found everywhere. Check the headlines of a newspaper, or just listen in to a conversation at your local Starbucks. Chances are, you will hear someone trying to persuade another person to believe in their claim about:
- What caused this?
- How important is it?
- What should we do about it?
Stuck for an idea? Check out my Easy Argument Topics List.
Topic IdeasClick thumbnail to view full-size
5 Types of Argument
Claims of Fact: Is it true or not?
Claims of Definition: What does it really mean?
Claims of Value: How important is it?
Claims of Cause and Effect: What is the cause? What are the effects?
Claims of Policy: What should we do about it?
Writing Your Thesis
Question/Answer format: To make your topic idea into a thesis you need to turn the topic idea into a question first. Examples:
- Does divorce cause serious problems for the children? (fact)
- What is "domestic violence?" (definition)
- What are the causes of divorce? (cause)
- How important is it for couples to avoid divorce? (value)
- What can you do to make your marriage divorce-proof? (proposal)
Answer: Your question often can be the title of your paper, or it can be the last line of the introduction. Your answer to this question is your thesis.
Example: The most important way to make your marriage divorce-proof is to make sure you have carefully prepared for that commitment.
Refute Objections: You might want to put an introductory phrase in the first part of your thesis to show that you are refuting other ideas about the answer.
Example: While some people think there is no way to divorce-proof your marriage, studies have shown that there are fewer divorces when people carefully prepare for that commitment.
Roadmap: An additional way to make a strong thesis is to do a "Roadmap" which tells in just a few words the three or more main points you will cover.
Example: While some people think there is no way to divorce-proof your marriage, studies have shown that there are fewer divorces when people carefully prepare for that commitment by taking time to get to know the other person before becoming engaged, spending time with one another's family and friends, talking about hot-button issues like finances, and getting extensive premarital counseling.
Introduction and Conclusion Ideas
Use a true story
What will happen if your solution is adopted or people accept your argument.
Scenario: imaginary story which illustrates the problem
Revise the scenario showing what will happen if the reader adopts your ideas.
Startling quotation, fact or statistic
Use a real-life example of how your idea works.
Explain the problem
Tell the reader what they need to think, do, feel or believe.
Appeal to the reader's emotions, character, or reason.
Frame story or flashback
Finish the frame story.
Organizing Your Paper
Argument essays are fairly straightforward in their organization. In your paper, you will need to do the following
- Interest the reader in the situation and make them think it is worth learning more about.
- Explain the controversy or problem clearly.
- Explain the sides of the debate.
- Tell them your side.
- Convince them that your side is the best one to take.
- Refute any objections they may be thinking about as they read.
- Urge the reader to adopt our point of view to do, think or believe something.
I. Introduction: Explain the subject, the controversy, and end with your thesis. Here are some tips:
- Use the title to present your point of view. Often the title can be a question.
- Think about your audience—what aspects of this issue would most interest or convince them?
- Check out the introduction and conclusion chart for creative ways to introduce your paper.
- Make sure you have a clear thesis which answers the question. The thesis should tell your position and is usually the last sentence of your introduction.
III. Body: Explains the reasons your audience should agree with your thesis. Your body needs to also refute objections or other points of view.
1. Reasons and support
- Usually, you will have three or more reasons why the reader should accept your position. These will be your topic sentences.
- Support each of these reasons with argument, examples, statistics, authorities or anecdotes
- To make your reasons seem plausible, connect them back to your position by using “if…then” reasoning
2. Anticipate opposing positions and objections
- What objections will your readers have? Answer them with argument or evidence.
- What other positions do people take on this subject? What is your reason for rejecting these positions?
Conclusion: Make a final point which tells the reader what to think or do.
- Why should the reader adopt your point of view?
- You might use the anticipating objections in the conclusion.
There are three types of argument strategies: Classical, Rogerian and Toulmin.
You can choose one of these or combine them to create your own argument paper.
Classical Strategies Explained
Classical Argument: Good for a topic that you feel strongly about and when you feel you have a good chance of convincing your audience to agree with you.
- Introduction: announces subject, gets readers interest and attention, makes writer seem trustworthy
- Narration: gives background, context, statement of problem or definition
- Partition: states thesis or claim and outlines arguments
- Argument: makes arguments to support thesis and gives evidence (largest section of paper—the main body)
- Refutation: shows why opposing arguments are not true or valid
- Conclusion: Summarizes arguments, suggests solution and ties into the introduction or background.
Rogerian argument strategy attempts to persuade by finding points of compromise and agreement. It is an appropriate technique to use in highly polarized debates, but you must be sincere about willingness to compromise and change your point of view for the reader to take you seriously. Qualities of this strategy:
- The author is Reasonable: Present your character as a person who understands and empathizes with the opposition. Often this means you state opposing position fairly and sympathetically. Example: it is not fair that animals are subjected to painful experimentation to help humans find new cures.
- Common Ground: Establish common ground in beliefs and values you share Example: As the dominant species, we do have responsibilities.
- Willingness to Change: Be willing to change views and show where your position could be modified. Example: It is a good idea to invest in trying to find ways to get information without using live animals in experiments.
- Compromise: Direct your argument toward a compromise or workable solution. Example: let’s look for other ways to get information without using animals, but until we do, we probably need to continue experimentation.
Example of Toulmin
Toulmin is another strategy to use in a highly charged debate. Instead of attempting to appeal to commonalities, however, this strategy attempts to use clear logic and careful qualifiers to limit the argument to things that can be agreed upon. It uses this format:
- Data: Evidence presented. Example: Pornography on The Internet is bad for kids.
- Claim: the thesis the author hopes to prove. Example: Government should regulate Internet pornography.
- Warrant: The statement that explains how the data backs up the claim. Example: Government regulation works in other instances.
- Backing: Additional logic and reasoning. Example: We have lots of other government regulations on media.
- Qualifier: The short phrase (usually uses “typically,” “usually,” or “on the whole”) which limits the scope of the claim. Example: In most cases, the government should regulate pornography.
- Exceptions: This further limits the claim by describing situations the writer would exclude. Example: Where children are not involved in pornography, regulation may not be urgent.
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