Argument

An argument:

  • Makes a claim that is controversial to prove that something is the case.
  • Supports that claim with logic and evidence.

In a nutshell, an argument has two parts: reasons and a conclusion. The conclusion of an argument is your belief. The reasons of an argument explain why you believe the conclusion. Sometimes reasons will be called premises or warrants.

For example, "The university should implement a new Internet policy because the current one is not working" is an argument because it is making a claim ("The university should implement a new Internet policy"), which is supported with a reason ("the current one is not working").

What is not an argument?

Contextualizing an Argument

The Confirmation

Considering the Opposition

Pro and Con Chart

Organizing an Argument

What is not an argument?

An argument is not a report. A report only conveys information about a subject without taking a position on the subject. For example, the information found in an encyclopedia is a report.

An argument is not an unsupported assertion. An unsupported assertion only states a belief. These assertions can be parts of arguments, but they are not arguments by themselves. For example, "The death penalty is wrong" is an assertion of belief but is not an argument. This statement could be a premise or conclusion of an argument though.

An argument is not a conditional statement. A conditional statement is an if... then... statement. These statements might be parts of an argument, but they are not arguments by themselves. For example, "If I were rich, then I would be happy" is a conditional statement but is not an argument. This statement could be a premise or conclusion of an argument though.

An argument is not an illustration. An illustration provides an example. An example might be used as a premise in an argument, but a single example is not an illustration. For example, the following is an illustration but is not an argument: "Rich people are happy. Just look at celebrities and their lives."

An argument is not an explanation. An explanation shows why something is true, but an argument proves that something is the case. For example, "I ate because I was hungry" is an explanation. The speaker intends NOT to prove that "I ate." The speaker only wants to explain why he or she ate.

Contextualizing an Argument

Contextualizing an argument involves doing enough research and reading about a topic to have a sense of what the issues are and what the arguments about those issues are on all sides. You will need to contextualize the argument for your audience so that they can understand the controversy and place your argument or position in a broader framework.

Since your audience's understanding of your argument is dependent on their understanding of the issue, contextualizing an argument is something you do towards the beginning of an argument essay and is something you do bearing in mind your audience's previous knowledge of the subject. For example, there is no need to explain what Ramadan is, if you are writing to a generic audience in the Arab World. If in doubt about your reader's knowledge of the subject, remember that it is better to have extra background information than have your reader left guessing.

While contextualizing your argument you may:

  • provide background information (if the subject is not familiar to the audience).
  • define key terms and ideas.
  • explain why the subject is debatable.
  • indicate thesis, which is the main conclusion or belief proven by the entire essay.

The Confirmation

The confirmation section of your essay is where you explain why you believe in your thesis. This section consists of several supporting claims—reasons you support your thesis (points), each of which is supported with evidence (facts, examples, testimony, definitions and so on.).

Each supporting claim should be clearly stated in the topic sentence of each body paragraph. Focus on only one claim in each body paragraph and support each claim using:

  • facts and statistic
  • research studies
  • credible authorities on a topic
  • logic

Considering the Opposition

When writing an argument essay, you should be aware that there will always be an active opposition to your claim. It is not enough for you to explain and support your claim in order to win acceptance. You must also anticipate and overcome objections that the adversaries might raise through either refuting claims or conceding them.

Refutation (counter–argument) is dealing with the arguments opposed to your own. Refutation is designed to make your audience reject your opponent's arguments and adopt your way of thinking. It is perhaps the fundamental skill in rhetoric (the art of persuasion) and may come at the beginning, middle or end of an argument.

Making a Concession is acknowledging that your opponents are right about a particular point or issue. A concession shows your audience that you have listened to your opponent's arguments and considered them carefully; it shows your audience that you are open minded and reasonable. A concession can occur anywhere in an essay, but often occurs before a refutation.

Making a pro and con chart for your proposition before you start writing the essay will allow you to get a clearer picture of the reasons in support of all sides of an issue.

For example:

Pro and Con Chart

Proposition: Everyone applying to college should be interviewed by an admissions officer.

For (Pro)

Certain things can only be seen in an in-person meeting like:

  1. The way a person talks
  2. The way s/he answers questions on the spot
  3. The way s/he reacts to certain pieces of information
Against (Con)
  1. Admissions officers can learn all that is needed about an applicant from his/her written application
  2. Time consuming
  3. Open to interview bias

Organizing an Argument

An argument essay's organization resembles a trial. A lawyer presents an opening statement to the jury that briefly tells why there is a trial at all, what he will prove during the trial and how he will prove it. A writer does the exact same thing in the introduction paragraph. Then a lawyer presents evidence to prove each claim he made in his opening statement. A writer supports the conclusion presented in the introduction by explaining all the reasons and providing evidence in the body of the essay. A lawyer then sums up his presentation before the jury deliberates. A writer uses the conclusion paragraph to sum up too.

There are some traditional approaches to organizing an argument essay that use this argument strategy. The following table shows three traditional approaches to the argument essay using the five-paragraph essay as an example. These argument strategies can be used for longer papers too by expanding each paragraph into more than one paragraph and explaining the reasons in more detail. 

 

  Thesis/Antithesis   Classical   Rogerian
Introduction Paragraph Define the debate. Explain why this subject is important to discuss and why there are competing sides to the issue.   Define the debate. Explain why this subject is important to discuss and why there are competing sides to the issue.   Define the debate. Explain why this subject is important to discuss and why there are competing sides to the issue.
Paragraph Thesis: Present your argument. Provide the evidence to support your position. Explain how the evidence supports your position. _ Background: Provide any background information on the subject. This information should not be debatable; it should be factual or historical. _ Describe Counter Argument: Provide the evidence to support the counter argument. Explain how the evidence supports the counter argument. Suggest that the counter argument is not the best position on the issue.
Paragraph Antithesis: Present the counter argument. Provide the evidence to support the counter argument. Explain how the evidence supports the counter argument.   Proposition and Proof: State your position. Present your argument. Provide the evidence to support your position. Explain how the evidence supports your position.   State Your Position: Present your argument. Provide the evidence to support your position. Explain how the evidence supports your position.
Paragraph Synthesis: Explain why the reasons in support of the counter argument are not as good as those in support of your position. Question the evidence and/or challenge the logic of the counter argument. Make concessions or propose compromises, if appropriate.   Refutation of Counter Argument: Provide the evidence to support the counter argument. Explain how the evidence supports the counter argument. Question the evidence and/or challenge the logic of the counter argument. Make concessions or propose compromises, if appropriate.   Compare Your Position with Opposing Views: Explain why your argument is better than the counter argument. Question the evidence and/or challenge the logic of the counter argument. Make concessions or propose compromises, if appropriate.
Conclusion Paragraph Predict future results if your thesis is accepted.   Summarize your argument and make final emotional appeals to convince the audience to accept your argument.   Show how your thesis would benefit people or that something would be made better by accepting your argument.

 

Remember that the number of paragraphs in an essay should be related to your content and development and that the above is just a scaled down example.