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Humanities Libertexts

10.1: How Argument Analysis Essays are Structured

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    In some humanities classes in college, you may be asked to write a kind of paper that goes further than a summary, an assessment or a response paper in describing another writer's argument. Such an argument analysis, also called a rhetorical analysis, asks you to describe what the other writer is up to, not just in terms of ideas but in terms of all the strategies they used to make the argument convincing. You become a kind of detective, piecing together the moves the writer made and the reasons for them and their likely effects on readers.

    In such an essay, you will need to analyze and evaluate the quality of the logical reasoning, as we learned to do in the chapter on “Assessing the Strength of an Argument.” But you will also need to describe and evaluate how the writer seeks to affect readers' emotions and gain readers' trust. How well are the author's appeals to trust and emotion likely to work? Will readers likely respond as the writer imagines?

    The introduction should include the title of the argument you analyze and several sentences that summarize the argument. Imagining an audience unfamiliar with the argument will encourage you to choose your words carefully and offer full explanations. After introducing readers to the content of the argument, you can state your thesis: your assessment of how convincing the argument is and what its weaknesses are, if any.

    There is a lot to cover in such a paper since you will need to summarize and analyze the ideas as well as identifying various strategies the author has used and discussing how readers will respond to each. With so many points to discuss, you may wonder how you can create a cohesive thesis. The key is to focus on what you consider to be most important in propelling the argument forward or sinking it. A thesis can pick two or three important aspects of the argument and identify them as strengths or weaknesses. The more you can group several different strategies together under a common theme, the more focused and memorable your thesis becomes. For example, if a writer uses “we” to refer to Latinx people, inserts Spanish phrases, and tells a moving story of a family’s immigration to the U.S. from Mexico, you could refer to all three of those aspects of the argument at once in your thesis by noting that the writer “appeals to readers’ Latinx identity.”

    Each body paragraph can focus on just one aspect of the reasoning or on an argumentative strategy. In the above example, you could develop one paragraph about the use of “we” to refer to Latinx people, another paragraph about the use of the Spanish language in the argument, and another about how the writer introduces a Spanish-speaking immigrant story. Your transitions could refer to what these paragraphs have in common--a reference to Latinx identity. To support your ideas in each body paragraph, you can use evidence in the form of quotations and paraphrases from the argument analyzed.

    The conclusion should provide some assessment of the overall effectiveness of the argument. You can make a prediction about how most readers will respond in the end. Given the combination of logical strength or weakness and appeals to trust and emotion, how convinced will readers likely be? Are there any lessons we can learn from the successes or failures of this argument?