Argumentative Essay Writing - Tips for Students


Everyone loves to argue.

Oh, come on, you know it's true. We love to get into debates and prove each other wrong. And yet when the professor assigns an argumentative essay... how many of us have frozen, convinced we had no idea how to write one? What is an argumentative essay, anyway? And how are you supposed to argue anything when nobody's arguing back at you?

Don't worry. An argumentative essay is just a paper where you argue a point. The hardest part about one of these is anticipating what responses your audience might have, but we'll get to that later. The first thing you need to do when writing an argumentative essay is pick your position. That's position, singular. Whatever your position is, even if it's a shades-of-gray one, you have to make sure you can defend it, without contradicting yourself. Many people will tell you that you can argue both sides of a situation. You can, but only to a certain degree. You can't, for example, argue that abortion is bad and good. It's just logically impossible. You can, however, argue that abortion is bad unless the mother's life is in trouble. Or something like that. (It's an example. Please stop writing me angry letters.)

Once you have your defendable position, it's time to delineate your reasoning. Set it all out, make your points. Write an outline if you have to. In fact, that's not such a bad idea. Make your argument in bullet points, so that in the heat of the moment, when you're describing the horrors of animal testing, you won't forget that the next point you were going to make involved that lab in Milwaukee. (I made that up. Stop trying to Google or Bing it; I'm not doing your research for you.) As far as your argument goes, include enough reasoning that you, yourself, would be convinced if you were arguing the other side.

A good argumentative essay does, in fact, acknowledge the other side. And here's the tricky part. You have to acknowledge that the other guy has a good point, without agreeing with him. They key here is anticipation. As you are making your argument, anticipate any disagreements that your hypothetical opponent might have. Then, acknowledge that disagreement. "Some may say that requiring students to read Shakespeare takes their time away from other books not written by dead white guys. Although this may be possible, students who study Shakespeare understand other books better. So there." Okay, maybe "so there" isn't the best way to end an argument, but you get the idea. Acknowledge the other guy's opinion, validate the thought, then prove why your opinion is better.

Whenever possible, use statistics to validate your point. Depending on the topic, your statistics maybe actually numerical, or alternatively, they may be quotations taken from an established critic or scholar. Your objective, when writing an argumentative essay, is to leave as few holes in your argument as possible. The fewer opportunities you present for someone to prove you wrong, the better. Citing others keeps people from being able to ask, "Who says?" When you are writing an argumentative essay, you need to back up your statements. You need to answer the Why question: WHY is abortion wrong/right? WHY is animal testing immoral/necessary? Et cetera.

When you write an argumentative essay, you are arguing to an audience. You are trying to convince them to accept your point of view. Talk them into it. Take the most important test for an effective argumentative essay: If you were the reader, what else would YOU need to hear to be convinced?

It's fun to be right. You know it. Flaunt it!

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