Writing Argumentative Essays
- Search for a topic which interests you (perhaps in your major field). Try to come up with something fairly controversial, but avoid subjects that have been overdone (abortion, capital punishment).
- Try a heuristic strategy (free writing, brainstorming, clustering, journal writing, journalistic formula, etc.).
- After doing the appropriate pre-writing and organizing activities, write a draft which supports a thesis or conclusion of your own. Be sure it is an arguable one so that you can clearly choose one side. At this point some research may be necessary (library, interviews of experts, polls, surveys, experiments, etc.) to find data to support your conclusion more strongly than you can from your own background knowledge.
Structure your argument similarly to the following:
- Introduction - Give background or perhaps an illustrative example to show the significance of the subject or the nature of the controversy. Consider stating the conclusion of your argument here as the thesis of your essay.
- Refutation - Give a brief statement of a refutation of the opposing view(s) to make your reader aware that you have considered but rejected it (them) for good reasons. This refutation may be more appropriately placed last, just before your conclusion, or even interspersed at effective locations throughout the essay. You must choose the best location.
- Presentation of your argument - Throughout the body of your essay you should build your case one point at a time, perhaps devoting one paragraph to the defense of each of your premises, or setting forth your evidence in separate, meaningful categories.
- Conclusion - After all your evidence has been presented and/or your premises defended, pull your whole argument together in the last paragraph by showing how the evidence you have presented provides sufficient grounds for accepting your conclusion. You may also add here some conventional device to finish your essay, such as a prediction, a new example, a reference to the example with which you began (now seen in a new light) etc.
- Revise and edit, and be sure to apply the critical process to your argument to be certain you have not committed any errors in reasoning or included any fallacies for which you would criticize some other writer (see the handout "Guidelines for Writing Critical Essays").
Adapted from George Hammerbacher, "Guidelines for Writing Critical and Argumentative Essays," in D.W. Farmer. Enhancing Student Learning: Emphasizing Essential Competencies in Academic Programs Kings College Press: Wilkes-Barre, PA 1988. pp. 226-228.
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