What is an argumentative essay?
An argumentative essay is an essay in which the author researches a controversial topic, takes a stance, and attempts to persuade the audience to agree with his or her position based on the evidence he or she has uncovered. This type of essay is carefully planned and usually takes several days of researching, pre-writing, writing, and proofreading before a final version is ready to distribute.The argumentative essay is a longer, more detailed, and better researched version of the expository essay. Expository essays also attempt to persuade, but they are typically much shorter and based on limited research. For example, essay exam questions in college courses or on standardized tests are expository essays. Because the student has limited time to take the test, the expository essay is often based on personal experience and evidence that the student can remember offhand versus an organized research effort.
The structure of the argumentative essay
Argumentative essays open with an introduction. The introduction provides an overview of the controversial topic about which the author is about to make an argument. The introduction should capture the interest of the audience and make them want to read more. An author might use one of several strategies for the introduction, including presenting a scenario, providing startling facts, or opening with a relevant quote. The introduction should also explain the author's stance. This is accomplished by providing a clear, concise thesis statement that tells the audience the author's position. Providing the thesis statement in the first paragraph gives the audience a solid background about what to expect as they read the rest of the essay.
The body of the essay should have well-developed points that support the author's argument. For example, if the author's thesis is that universities should provide more financial assistance for needy students, their main points might include the fact that tuition has risen above the rate of inflation, that more students are working as well as going to school, and that increasing tuition costs are placing an unreasonable financial burden on students in the form of excessive student loan debt. Each of these points should be placed in its own paragraph and developed using supporting evidence that the author has uncovered during his or her research.
The research should be credible to help establish the author's ethos, or credibility. Credible sources include books, newspaper articles, journal articles, and well-regarded Internet sources such as sites that end in .gov, .org, or .edu. Students should avoid the overuse of sources that have a clear bias because these sources may not be seen as credible by the audience, and they may not present well-balanced or accurate information. In addition, students should beware of using Internet sources that are not from credible sources, such as wikis and blogs that are authored by non-experts on the topic. These sources often contain erroneous information which can mislead the reader and damage the credibility of the author.
Toward the end of the argumentative essay, the author should include a paragraph that presents the opposition's argument and then refutes it using evidence. This section is known as the "counterargument" and its role is to address and then lay to rest any lingering doubts or "what ifs" that the audience still has in mind after reading the author's argument. For example, in an argumentative essay that attempts to persuade the audience that gun control is a good idea, the counterargument might present the popular anti-gun control argument that gun control only serves to disarm law abiding citizens, while leaving guns in the hands of the criminals. The author would present this point, but then refute it, perhaps citing evidence from countries with strict gun control laws but a low incidence of crimes involving the use of guns.
The argumentative essay should end with a strong conclusion that wraps up the essay and reiterates the main points in the author's argument, using the evidence the author found. The conclusion should not simply restate the thesis; it should be an expanded summary that reinforces the main ideas and key pieces of evidence that the author has presented.
The introduction, main points, and conclusion should also have clear and effective transitions between them. Each paragraph should begin with a strong topic sentence that identifies the main idea. These sentences cue the reader as to what he or she can expect as they read the paragraph and helps them follow the main thread of the argument. The one exception to the use of strong topic sentences is the introduction, which may begin with a quote or another rhetorical strategy to catch the audience's interest.
The paragraphs should also have strong transitions that help guide the reader through the main points of the essay. For example, cue words such as "first," "next," and "last" tell the reader that they are moving on to a different point. Using words like "in conclusion" tell the reader that the author is going to wrap up the essay. These transitions may be more subtle, especially in argumentative essays written for upper level university classes.
Making a complete argument
After the author has presented his or her points, it is important to make sure that nothing has been omitted. For example, each point should be developed thoroughly, and there should be a solid introduction and conclusion. The essay should flow logically from one point to the next, and the reader should have no questions or lingering doubts after he or she completes the essay.
The five paragraph essay
Many introductory university-level composition classes use a five paragraph structure for the argumentative essay. The five paragraphs include an introduction, three main points, and a conclusion. This structure is useful for teaching students who are new to writing argumentative essays because it provides a clear format for them to follow. However, upper-level composition courses often abandon this format, allowing more points to be made or for more complex points to be made that may span more than one paragraph. In addition, the counterargument may require its own paragraph in a complex argumentative essay.
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