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15.5: How to Write an Argument Essay

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  • First, you need to determine what kind of argument you are writing. Are you writing a position paper? Sample topics would include illegal immigration, wolf protection programs, paying college athletes. Or, are you writing a solution paper, solving a problem? Sample topics include bullying, homelessness, pollution. Next, identify what you already know about this topic. Write a brief outline establishing what you want to argue on this topic. Establish the purpose of your argument. Establishing this before you start researching the topic will make it easier for you to determine what you need to cite in your paper. Next choose an appropriate format.

    Organizing the Argument Essay

    The two most common organization methods for the argument essay are as follows:

    1. Block
    2. Rebuttal Throughout - only works with pro/con topics


    1. Introduction & Thesis Statement
    2. Background information - this section is necessary for solution arguments but sometimes unnecessary for position arguments.
      1. Define key words and terms that will help to define the parameters of your argument
      2. Provide background information. If I want to solve global warming, I first need to explain what it is and how it works, so I can show readers how my solution will fix it.
      3. Establish the severity of the problem. In real life, solutions cost money. If you want taxpayers to pay for it, you need to clearly establish that the problem is severe and must be addressed.
    3. First claim: For death penalty because it will stop overcrowding
      1. Give statistics on overcrowding
      2. Give statistics on future problems if no solution is provided
      3. Explain how the process will help
      4. Explain how if appeal process is limited this will further help the situation
      5. Transition
    4. 2nd claim: For death penalty because it will stop repeat offenders
      1. Give statistics on repeat offenders who commit murder
      2. Give statistics if this is not stopped
      3. Explain how process would work if implemented
      4. Explain how this would also stop overcrowding because repeat offenders would not be imprisoned
      5. Transition
    5. 3rd claim: for death penalty because it costs less money
      1. Give statistics on the cost of housing
      2. Compare that to the cost of a limited appeal process
      3. Explain how this will work if implemented
      4. Explain how this too relates to previous info
      5. Transition
    6. Rebuttal: Rebuttal of antideath penalty arguments
      1. List a few of the opposition's counterarguments (three)
      2. Take each one, one at a time, and supply statistics to prove it wrong, example would be to prove that innocent people won’t be executed
      3. #2 Rebuttal: No other democracy uses it, their side, your side with statistics to prove them wrong
      4. #3 Rebuttal: Death penalty cheapens value of life: their side, your side with statistics to back it up.
      5. Transition
    7. Conclusion

    Rebuttal Throughout

    1. Introduction and thesis
    2. First Rebuttal -Death penalty is barbaric
      1. Opposition’s side
      2. Your rebuttal argument
      3. Statistics to support your side and prove them wrong
      4. Explanation of how this will help society
      5. Transition
    3. 2nd rebuttal - death penalty no other democracy
      1. Opposition’s side
      2. Your rebuttal argument
      3. Statistics to support your side and prove them wrong
      4. Explanation of how this will help society
      5. Transition
    4. 3rd rebuttal - killing innocent people
      1. Opposition’s side
      2. Your rebuttal argument
      3. Statistics to support your side and prove them wrong
      4. Explanation of how this will help society
      5. Transition
    5. Conclusion

    From Prewriting to Rough Draft

    The argument is often the most difficult of essays for students to begin. We are many times as unsure of our positions as we are of our reasons for our positions on controversial topics. “Because that’s what I believe” is only the starting point. Explaining why you believe in your position is the task of the argument. In exploring a topic for a strong argument, solid reasons and sound evidence are keys to convincing your audience of your position. The following steps should help you work through the process of moving from belief to argument.

    Step One

    Choose a topic that you can argue either a position or a solution. For example, to argue a position would be to argue for or against something, like the death penalty. To argue a solution is to argue how to solve something, like how to solve the air pollution problem in Phoenix.

    Example: The Effects of Political Correctness on Higher Education

    Step Two

    On a blank sheet of paper, write your topic down and at least five reasons in support of and five reasons against your topic. Or, if you are writing a solution paper, look at least five different solutions for the problem.

    Step Three

    See how the pros and cons relate. Decide which you want to write about. Do you want to focus on the pros or the cons? Pick the one you feel offers the most possibilities for exploration. Or, choose the solution that seems the most logical, the most doable.

    Step Four

    Freewrite. Look at Chapter 1 and follow the prewriting process.

    Step Five

    Transform your chosen topic into a “Guiding Question” and write it down. What is the main question that your essay will answer?

    Example: What are three main effects of Political Correctness on Higher Education.

    Step Six

    Find a variety of initial sources to help you answer your guiding question. You must use these sources in your work either in a quote, paraphrase and/or summary.

    • Use database sources and web pages. Be sure and turn in copies of your resources with your final paper. Print and annotate them. And keep them handy: many instructors will not accept any paper without the sources turned in as well.
    • Create a Works Cited page from your sources.

    Step Seven

    Now that you have gathered your information and collected new information, create an outline of your paper.

    Step Eight

    Answer your “Guiding Question” directly with your thesis statement.

    Example: Why are literary works being banned when their overall theme is positive? Because of over-zealous proponents of Political Correctness, once celebrated literary works like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are being banned despite their important universal themes.

    Step Nine

    Check your outline. Place your thesis at the top of the outline followed by the causes and/or effects: I. II. III. Under each main point, place two main specific points that will support the general topic sentence and the thesis. Use capital letters for the specific points.

    Step Ten

    Write the rough draft.

    Step Eleven

    Revise the rough draft using the tips in Chapter 4. If your instructor schedules a peer review, be present. You may also visit your college’s writing center and work with a tutor. Revise again and edit your draft until you have a solid, well developed and unique argument.

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