Writing An Argumentative Essay
Devin W. and Molly T., former Writing Center Tutors
Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.
One of the greatest tools we have as writers is the power of persuasion. Argument essays hone in on that talent of persuasion. The most important thing to remember as you are writing an argument essay—or any essay for that matter—is your intended audience.
The main purpose of an argument essay is to persuade your audience to see your point. Academic, scholarly, and professional expectations and standards require writers to explain, support, and advance their arguments by adding evidence, logic, and careful reasoning to formal settings. Arguments that are anything less are not considered convincing or substantive. Keep this in mind as you are writing your argument essay. In order to write a convincing argument, you will need a strong thesis statement, sources to support your argument, and a counter argument.
The thesis is the heart of the argumentative essay. Your thesis statement is your argument consolidated into one or two sentences. The thesis will help you focus your paper so that you don’t go off on tangents, and it should make the rest of the paper logical and cohesive. Additionally, each point you raise should always connect back to your thesis.
Before you write your thesis, though, it is important to come up with some well focused points of inquiry or research questions to help guide your research for credible sources, which we will discuss further in the next section. These questions should stem from your essay topic, and they should be answerable so you can effectively argue for or against the questions later. These questions will eventually feed into your thesis-writing after your research has helped you hone your argument.
For more information on writing a strong thesis statement, check out “How to Write a Thesis Statement," written by the Indiana University Writing Tutorial Services.
When writing an argument essay, it is important to remember that you are not just arguing your personal opinion but also you are supporting your argument with credible sources. An argument is only worth making if you support it. It’s easy to argue without substantiated support, but to make your argument valid, supporting it with quotations, statistics, and other data can help persuade your audience. In other words, you will most likely need to find sources if you don’t already have them. This is called the info-gathering stage of your writing process.
Typically, these sources will need to be academic in nature and hold some weight; more often than not, professors will advise you to stay away from Wikipedia. Find the sources that will best support your argument. You want to present the cold, hard facts. So, depending on the argument, you can use statistical data and/or charts and graphs. More complex arguments may require more evidence and it is always a good idea to vary your sources.
Refer to your prompt and consult your professor regarding which sources will be most beneficial to you and most appropriate for your paper. Check out the Purdue Owl for a list of source categories along with brief descriptions.
Your search for appropriate, compelling, and credible sources begins even before you fully form your argument. Your sources are the glue that holds the paper together. Weave the sources into your paper through quotes. You can use block quotes, but you should vary these with in-text quotations. This way, the quote is supporting rather than carrying your argument.
In your own words, fully explain the quote and how it supports your argument. In order to avoid “dumping quotes” (inserting quotes in your paper without explaining why they are being used), choose carefully. In other words, choose the quotes that best support your argument. Be sure to check out your sources’ Bibliography, Works Cited Page, or Foot Notes to add to your own sources.
Also, the DePaul Libraries are a great resource when searching for scholarly articles and books. The Libraries have subscriptions to a variety of databases including LexisNexis, JSTOR, and others.After you gather your sources, you should now be ready to form your argument. Remember those research questions that helped you find your sources? Go back to those and discover whether you have answered them with your research.
Bibliography/Works Cited Page
With sources usually comes, depending on the paper, a bibliography or works cited page. If you use outside sources, your professor will want to have the information to access the sources and check the authority of each.One of the best resources for correct formatting is the Purdue Owl.
In addition to great sources, you will need a counter argument. Basically, in addition to your point, you are offering a counter point or counterclaim. Don’t worry; your counter argument will not weaken your argument. Rather, it should make it even stronger. Ask yourself, what point or points can be made in attempts to disprove my argument? What doubts or questions might my audience have?
After you pose the counter argument, contest it. Say why the counter argument is faulty and why your argument is stronger. Here are some tips to have handy on how to construct and where to place your counter argument.
The introduction of your argumentative essay should definitely grab your readers’ attention. Don’t be afraid to put some passion into your writing. Emotion (Pathos) will add that extra element to avoid making your argument sound dry and uninteresting. You don’t, however, want to go to the other extreme and incorporate too much opinion to the point where it sounds like you’re screaming at the reader to see things your way.
This is where your sources come in handy. The evidence you provide should sustain your argument, keeping that healthy balance you will need to make your argument sound more rational and less emotional.
The Writing Centre at the University of Ottawa provides tips that will help you generate great topic sentences that keep your paragraphs neatly focused on the argument at hand.
Furthermore, the topic sentences should follow each other logically when separated from the paper and placed in sequential order. In order to keep your paper well-organized, limit one thought or idea to each paragraph. A new thought should indicate when you should begin a new paragraph.
The Purdue OWL has some tips on constructing strong and cohesive paragraphs.
Keep building upon your argument with each paragraph until you reach your conclusion. Your conclusion, essentially, brings your argument to a close, and your audience should be left satisfied and convinced. According to the OWL at Purdue, “a conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided”.
Go to the Purdue OWL for further explanation on how to end your argument. If someone is not convinced, your paper should inspire further research on the topic.Here are some more tips on writing your conclusion.
Additional ResourcesThe Purdue OWL explains the difference between an argumentative essay and an expository essay. Argumentative essays normally require more research than expository essays.