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Humanities Libertexts

15.1: Why Write an Argument Essay?

When you hear the word “argument,” what do you think of? Maybe you think of a shouting match or a fist fight? Well, when instructors use the word “argument,” they’re typically thinking about something else. What they’re actually referring to is a position supported by the analysis that preceded its conception, not necessarily defending against antagonism.

More to the point, they’re talking about defending a certain point of view through writing or speech. Usually called a “claim” or a “thesis,” this point of view is concerned with an issue that doesn’t have a clear right or wrong answer (e.g., four and two make six). Also, this argument should not only be concerned with personal opinion (e.g., I really like carrots). Instead, an argument might tackle issues like abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research, or gun control. However, what distinguishes an argument from a descriptive essay or “report” is that the argument must take a stance; if you’re merely summarizing “both sides” of an issue or pointing out the “pros and cons,” you’re not really writing an argument. For example, “Stricter gun control laws will likely result in a decrease in gun-related violence” is an argument. Note that people can and will disagree with this argument, which is precisely why so many instructors find this type of assignment so useful—it makes you think.

Academic arguments usually “articulate an opinion.” This opinion is always carefully defended with good reasoning and supported by plenty of research. Research? Yes, research. Indeed, part of learning to write effective arguments is finding reliable sources (or other documents) that lend credibility to your position. It’s not enough to say “capital punishment is wrong because that’s the way I feel.”

Most of the papers students write in college are arguments. This should not be surprising. We are surrounded by them. Every time we watch television, surf the Internet or read a magazine, we are bombarded with ads. Ads are persuasive arguments trying to get consumers to buy or do something.

Here is an ad that uses an interesting twist to make its argument:


Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) - Kleenex Tissue Ad 1990- “Teach Them Not To Share”

  • Irony is “the use of words to convey one meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning” (“Irony”).
  • What is ironic about this ad?
  • What is the main argument of the Kleenex ad?
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