How to Write an Argumentative Essay

Argumentative Essay
Writing Guide

What Is An Argumentative Essay?

An argumentative essay is an essay which purpose is to present evidence to support an idea. For example, you might write an essay arguing that military service should be mandatory. You would do research exploring the benefits of mandatory military service in the acountries that enforce it. Though you will be taking a side on the issue, you would also acknowledge the opposing side. The main thrust of an argumentative essay is that all information presented be supported by facts and evidence.

Three Argument Types

There are lots of different ways to approach an argumentative essay.

  1. The most common way is the Classical approach. This approach involves the following layout:

    Classical Approach to Argumentative Essay

    • An introduction with a thesis statement.

      Example: Except for in extreme circumstances, Child Protective Services should seek to maintain children in their biological homes.

    • Background on the subject. Background on this subject can involve early studies on children in adoptive environments and the long-term effects separation from the family had on them.

    • Main arguments - Some time should be spent elaborating the main arguments. For this subject, the arguments could include things like: the sense of alienation some children feel when put in foster homes at an older age and the danger of facing even worse abuse or neglect through the foster system.

    • Refutation - The opposing side should be briefly presented and refuted as not valid.

      Example: Some believe that government intervention is always beneficial to children in precarious home situations. There is overwhelming evidence, however, that taking children out of their home environment when there is no sign of continuous abuse or neglect, and putting them through government foster care can cause greater long-term damage to a child than allowing them to remain in their home environment.

    • Conclusion - The conclusion may present a summary of the main arguments or suggest solutions or studies that should be conducted in the future.

  2. Another approach is the Rogerian approach. This approach is useful when the topic is highly polemical. For example, the question of whether or not global warming is caused by human activity or if it is a natural cycle.

    Rogerian Approach to Argumentative Essay

    This approach does not have a specific structure that needs to be followed. It’s more of an approach when presenting information. In the Rogerian approach, the author recognizes and is sympathetic to both sides of the argument, though he/she favors one. On the issue of global warming, the author could state:

    Though detractors say that human activity has no effect on global warming, human industrial activities and other activities have proven to have detrimental large-scale effects on the environment in the past, from the elimination of species due to large-scale agriculture, pollution of rivers and the onset of life-threatening diseases to the population in proximity of certain areas.

    It’s important to concede that the opposing side may also be valid:

    Though it’s difficult to know today what exactly is causing such drastic shifts in temperature, more research should be done to determine if human activity is, in fact, having an impact.

    The Rogerian method also benefits from taking a wide-scoped view of a subject, “This research will afford us not only the ability to identify the cause, which we may then have time to change, but will also give us a chance to apply technology to adapt to the earth’s own natural rhythms, if that is, indeed, the source of global warming.”

    This method gets to the heart of the problem: the earth is warming. It doesn’t necessarily care how to solve it, rather its main interest is in exploring the compromise between the two sides to arrive at a solution, any solution, to a pressing problem.

  3. The Toulmin approach is another strategy that’s useful in polemical arguments. This strategy seeks to find common ground within an argument and eliminate superfluous arguments. For example, if the topic were “should drugs be legal?” the Toulmin approach would explore the most essential issues on both sides of the argument.

    Toulmin Approach to Argumentative Essay

    On the pro side, the argument could be that legalizing drugs eliminates some of the most dangerous behaviors related to drugs and weakens the power of drug cartels. On the con side, the argument could be that legalizing drugs would see an increase in drug use and an inability to minister repercussions for irresponsible use and abuse. By the end of the essay, these two sides need be reconciled with an argument that concedes the validity of both sides.

    Example: Though there are obvious benefits to society by legalizing drugs in terms of eliminating the violent crime associated with them and allowing for treatment of addiction, some regulations should be implemented to limit their consumption and sale in order to ensure safer and more responsible use.

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Steps on Writing Your Argumentative Essay

Step 1 - Choosing A Topic

Whichever style of argument you choose, you will still need to choose an appropriate topic for an argumentative essay. An argument essay is best served by a topic that can be argued strongly either for or against. For example, if you want to write an essay on the fact that you really like hamburgers, that’s not a very good topic, since there’s no strong counter-argument. Your teacher may have already assigned you a topic, but if they haven’t, consider this curated list of argumentative essay topics. Choose a topic that you already know something about and one that you already have an opinion about. That will make it easier to research and to write.

Step 2 - Research

Look for material (books, articles, blogs, documentaries) by credible sources and experts. Read broadly and take note of the most common issues argued over this topic. When writing your essay, it’s important to cover the most important and pressing issues, however, look for unique angles that may not have been thoroughly explored yet. Teachers will like that you took the initiative to include something original.

Step 3 - Write an Outline

A good outline will help you heaps when it comes to the writing process. If you take time to write a well-crafted one, all you’ll have to do is fill it in.

Here’s what an outline for an argumentative essay can look like:

Argumentative Essay Outline

Introduction - Give some background on your topic so the reader knows what you’re going to talk about. Try to address some of these questions in your introduction: why is this topic important? How does it affect me? What can be done about it? For example, if the topic is gun control you could cite a statistic about the number of deaths by firearms in the US per year or a quote from a parent who lost a child in a school shooting.

The introduction should also include your thesis statement where you take a side on the issue. For example, your thesis statement could be: The best way to reverse this trend is to implement stricter gun control legislation.

Supporting Paragraph 1 - Present a main argument that supports your thesis. For example, Stricter gun laws will reduce access to firearms. You could cite cases where people with criminal records or mental illnesses were sold firearms and went on to use them.

Supporting Paragraph 2 - Present a second argument to support your thesis. For example, In X study, stricter gun laws reduced homicide by firearms by x %.

Counterargument - Present the counterargument. In this case it could be that limiting gun access could strip innocent people of their right to defend themselves against violent criminals who could still obtain guns through illegal ways. You should also refute the counterargument: By introducing stricter laws that specifically limit the sale of guns to criminals and those with mental illness, the number of gun-related homicides would be reduced.

Conclusion - Summarize the main points made in the body of the essay and suggest next steps, further research or possible legislation that could support your thesis.

Step 4 - Fill In the Blanks

If you’ve done your job in the previous step and wrote a well-developed outline, now all you have to do is fill in the blanks with relevant research details. Consider which of the strategies, Classical, Rogerian or Toulmin, that you’re using and adapt your tone and arguments to reflect it.

Step 5 - Edit

Once you’ve finished your essay, take some time before you go back to edit it. When you’re ready to edit your argumentative essay, pay close attention to the following issues:

  • Is your thesis a statement that someone could argue for or against?
  • Are your arguments clearly worded?
  • Have you used your best examples and research to back them up?
  • Have you successfully presented and refuted the counterargument?
  • Does the conclusion present a compelling idea for the future of this topic?

A successful argumentative essay isn’t hard to achieve. Doing your research, choosing your argument style, writing a well-developed outline and going through the editing checklist can help you write a great essay. Good luck and Happy Writing!

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