Need to know how to write an argumentative essay? Start with this guide, where I explain the ins and outs of argumentative essays, and what makes them effective.
Essays, especially educational essays, are categorized by their purpose and structure. A common type of essay writers encounter is the argumentative essay. While this may sound challenging, don't worry: There are many effective ways to create a strong argumentative essay, especially if you spend time outlining first.
Let's take a look at how an argumentative essay works, and how to craft one properly!
What is an Argumentative Essay, Anyway?
An argumentative essay is a version of an essay where the writer researches a topic and takes a specific position on that topic, then argues their position with the written word. They are designed to be factually based, to the point, and a training exercise for writers to improve their skills.
When and Why Are Argumentative Essays Written?
Argumentative essays are frequently assigned to students, as they are effective ways to help a student learn more about a topic that has been covered in class, and really think about how it affects themselves, others, and the world around them. Sometimes people are assigned a specific position to argue, while other times they are given a topic and can choose which position to take.
While argumentative essays are generally written by students, that’s not a requirement. Writers may want to consider an argumentative essay for a blog or online article about a particular topic: Many opinion pieces and similar types of writing can benefit from studying the argumentative style.
Fiction writers may also find argumentative essays helpful to plan out the perspectives of specific characters, nations, or vendettas, and who has the stronger position for a particular subject.
Steps for a Good Argumentative Essay
A basic argumentative essay has a very simple structure, which is why it can also be used to teach the concept of essay writing: There is an introduction, a body of text that is typically divided into three pieces, and a conclusion.
However, writing an excellent argumentative essay involves much more than mastering the structure of the essay. It requires in-depth knowledge, logical thinking, clarity, and strong writing skills. These steps will help those new to the process start off the right way!
1. Research and Understand Your Argument
The first step for any argumentative essay is lots and lots of research. You’ll need to understand a topic backward and forwards before you are ready to effectively argue a certain position. This means studying the basics of a topic, the history behind it, what experts have said or argued about a topic, and any factual data that describes, explains or is connected to the topic.
If you’re a student in school, you may already be researching the topic as part of your class, which is an excellent start. However, I’d encourage you to go beyond the textbook when you prepare to write the essay: Textbooks have very good summaries of topics, but they almost never contain enough information for writing a good argumentative essay.
Fortunately, today’s online access makes researching a topic much easier than it was in the past – and leaves us with less excuse to start out properly.
2. Outline Arguments and Supporting Evidence
Once you have done the research and taken a position (or had one chosen for you), it’s time to start outlining your argument. Unlike some types of essays, the outline here is both necessary and subject to plenty of revision before you even start writing the essay. It’s all right to throw out many different versions of the outline as you work: Refining an argument can take time.
As I mentioned, a traditional argumentative essay typically has a body divided into three parts, with each part making its own clear point or presenting a different type of evidence. This is one option, but you don’t need to stick to it. Sometimes the best argumentative essay will only have one point that needs to be laid out very clearly. Other essays may need multiple points to successfully argue a more complicated position.
The good news is that when the outline is finished, the hardest work is done. You now have your argument, the points you are using to argue it, and what evidence or ideas will be presented for each point.
3. Create A Strong Thesis
The thesis is the mission statement of your argumentative essay, and clearly describes the position you will be taking. Some writers may prefer to create their thesis before working on the outline, while others may feel better about making the thesis after the outline is completed and they can clearly express their thoughts. Either way, it’s the core of the essay and needs to be very clear, concise, and powerful.
4. Develop the Body with Clarity and Flow
When writing the essay itself, focus on clarity and flow. Make your way from one point to the other in a way that helps the reader along at every step. Keep in mind argumentative essays should find a sweet spot between simplifying a topic for a reader and providing evidence for a position.
Too much simplification and the argument won’t be effective or meaningful. Too much attention to detail and the essay will get so bogged down that readers will forget what the points were in the first place.
5. Create Complete References
Referencing properly in an essay is a topic that could easily span a whole book, but let's keep this short and sweet. Practice your referencing skills, always cite credible sources accurately, and always provide the original source – don’t cite something that is simply citing something else (for example, instead of citing a news article about the research, you would read the research itself and cite it).
References are the backbone of your essay. If your teacher or someone else can show that a reference was improperly quoted, taken out of context, or later disproven by other research, the entire essay will immediately collapse (even if you have a good point). This is no time to cut corners. Try to reference facts and empirical evidence instead of opinions whenever possible.
6. Create the Conclusion
The conclusion essentially rehashes the thesis statement in light of all the evidence and points presented. Don’t forget to do this! It doesn’t have to be particularly emotional or impassioned – a good argumentative essay has already done such a good job of making its points that the conclusion feels more like a coup de grâce.
7. Go Through A Final Proofing Session (That Includes Someone Else)
When you have completed your essay, it’s time for a final pass to review your points and watch for any ways you can strengthen your argument.
This is also the time when you need to have someone else read your essay. This is particularly important for argumentative essays because others can bring valuable perspectives to your work. Other people will also be able to spot logical problems or confusing parts in your essay that you may have missed. If you are a student, try to find another student to exchange essays with during this final phase.
Remember, your first argumentative essay doesn’t have to be your last. This is a skill that can improve with time if these types of pieces are going to be a regular part of your blog, website, or writing life.
Examples of Argumentative Essays
If you want to delve deeper into crafting an argumentative essay, there are three popular types of argumentative structures that are used today. Following one of these structures may be especially helpful if you are new to the process and need some help learning what potential techniques you can use:
1. Classic or Aristoleian
This is a very simple argument structure that’s a good pick for simpler topics. It sets out the classic Introduction, Body, and Conclusion structure, but adds an extra section inspired by Aristotle’s writings: It adds a Counter-Argument, a section that explores arguments against your position, and offering evidence about why counter-arguments are wrong.
The Counter Argument section can be useful but also takes skill: It can be tempting to put counterarguments in a bad light just to strengthen your argument, but a good counterargument section will try to argue as honestly as possible while also giving the reader an opportunity to learn about both sides of the argument so they can benefit from increased knowledge.
2. The Toulmin Model
The Toulmin model is a very structured version of the argument that divides the argument into six parts:
- Claim: This is the central thesis of the essay.
- Grounds: This refers to all the facts and evidence used to back up the thesis.
- Warrant: This is the logical explanation that ties the evidence to the thesis.
- Backing: This is any additional support the essay may use for the argument (personal experiences, for example).
- Qualifier: This additional makes sure the reader understands that the position or “claim” the essay is making may not always be true, or that certain exceptions can exist. It’s an important section for more complicated arguments, or arguments that would otherwise feel specious.
- Rebuttal: This part is designed with the intention of carrying on a dialogue where counter-arguments are accepted and worked through. In most argumentative essays this would simply be the Counter Argument section, unless you are actually having a back-and-forth “conversation” with someone using the essay as a tool to do so.
3. Rogerian Argument
The Rogerian method is about finding a compromise between two different points of view, which makes it more applicable for real-world arguments that need to end in some kind of resolution.
In a Rogerian argument, the essay would be written as before, but an Opposing Position would be cited (essentially the same as the Counter Argument but less hostile), and during the conclusion, the essay would offer some middle ground, a position designed for both sides to agree on. The overall design focuses on acknowledging the other side and trying to reach an agreement.
This model is very useful for some topics and largely useless for others. Not every argument makes middle ground possible, but if the goal is for all sides to reach a final decision, it can be a valuable approach.
FAQs on Writing an Argumentative Essay
Is An Argumentative Essay Different From a Persuasive Essay?
They may be used interchangeably, but from a technical perspective, they are different. An argumentative essay is designed to be grounded in evidence and logic. Topics for argumentative essays are often chosen because they have lots of potentials when it comes to research and data.
A persuasive essay is more likely to rely on tone, wording, and appeal to emotion to try and win its argument. Persuasive essays may employ tools that argumentative essays would consider underhanded or ruinous to the argument, including logical fallacies made to support a certain position.
These essays are sometimes used to practice writing skills, practice writing propaganda or marketing content, or tackle a topic that’s more related to emotion or opinion than it is to facts.
What Structure Should My Argumentative Essay Have?
As I mentioned above, the classic essay is divided into an intro/thesis, a body of main points with supporting evidence, and a conclusion that repeats the primary thesis. Other sections, like a counterargument, may also be possible.
This is a broad guideline: In practice, every argument is different. Writers will also have to decide what evidence or explanations are best for their position, and what information may be distracting or unnecessary for their points. Through the research and outlining process, the structure of the essay should start to become clear before you even begin writing it.
How Long Should It Take to Write an Argumentative Essay?
This can depend on the topic chosen, the level of skill involved, and the general purpose of the essay. Some argumentative essay assignments are designed to be completed in an afternoon of work and are relatively short. Some argumentative essays may be the sum of a whole semester of work and months of research.
What If I Have to Argue a Position I Don’t Believe?
This is very common, and many argumentative essays will assign a position to argue, just as they are when studying debate. That is a valuable exercise for writers: It helps expand understanding, practice empathy, and explore the viewpoints of others – all valuable things when writing characters, for example. Even if you don’t believe a position, make sure you stick to facts and evidence that support it.
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