The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.
Argumentative Essay and Persuasive Essay Writing: Building a Logical Argument
The argumentative essay, also called the persuasive essay, is an essay in which you try to convince readers to accept the argument you make. Through writing facts that back up your opinion or stance, you attempt to get readers to agree with your thinking. It often involves answering a question by taking one position over another.
Writing an argumentative or persuasive essay is about selecting a topic that has two clear sides or positions. You approach the topic by investigating it and collecting, generating and evaluating supporting evidence. The actual essay lays out your position concisely.
The building blocks of a well-written argumentative essay include the following:
- Well-established facts supported through research when necessary
- Values that are both relevant and clarified to give your readers perspective
- An argument that is sequenced by the priority of facts and the level of importance
- Conclusions formed throughout the paper and stated at the end
- Persuasion that establishes facts your readers agree with and values they share
- Confidence to communicate effectively with persuasion
- Inclusion of hot-button issues that evoke an emotional response
The structure of an argumentative or persuasive essay includes the following sections:
- An introduction with a clear thesis statement
- At least two body paragraphs with supporting evidence (the five-paragraph essay format is often used)
- A conclusion the ties the evidence in with the thesis statement and concludes the argument
Argumentative essay structure
The structure of an argumentative essay is important because it lays out the specifics and evidence of your argument and allows you to conclude it effectively. Before writing, make sure you have a narrow and clearly defined thesis, a working outline and the facts to back up your argument.
The introduction of the argumentative essay should do several things:
- Provide background information and introduce your topic
- Explain your point of view to readers by highlighting the importance of the topic or the reason readers should care
- Include a well-defined, concise and clear thesis that highlights at least two main points, with three preferable
- Stay engaging to make readers want to continue reading your essay
- Contain a transition into the body paragraphs
- Create an attention-grabbing lead into the argument
The body paragraphs contain the supporting evidence that backs up your position. The opposing positions should also be clearly stated and defined. Keep the following guidelines in mind when writing your body paragraphs:
- Stick to one main point per paragraph.
- Make sure to establish a logical connection to the thesis statement in each paragraph.
- Explain the connections to the thesis with respect to how and why.
- Devote at least one paragraph to the opposing viewpoint.
- Use evidence to support your points.
- Keep in mind that sources provide authority to your position, and cite any sources used.
- Avoid summarizing information because body paragraphs develop the ideas, not conclude them.
The evidence that supports your thesis statement might include facts, personal anecdotes, statistics or logic.
The conclusion re-introduces the thesis, but it is more than a simple rewording. Instead, it involves synthesizing the evidence from the body paragraphs with the thesis statement. Never add new information in your conclusion. Review the essay as a whole while clearly concluding the argument persuasively. This is your last chance to convince someone of your position, so make it count by using sound logic.
Including the opposing view in the argumentative or persuasive essay
Including the opposing view(s) in the body paragraphs of an argumentative essay is necessary. You want readers to draw the same conclusions you do, but you cannot in good conscience expect someone to take a position without at least some understanding of the opposing viewpoint. When including this information, shy away from simply stating that the position is wrong. Instead, explain why the position does not align with your thesis. Maybe the basis of the viewpoint is outdated. Maybe it is a viewpoint that is based on misinformation.
Whatever it is, present the opposing viewpoint fairly, objectively and accurately. Let readers draw their own conclusions; if you write a strong and convincing argument that is well-written and easy to follow logically, you can persuade your readers with open minds to see your viewpoint.
After writing your first draft, always go through the revision process, including proofreading and editing. The basic premise of writing an effective argumentative essay is in writing a persuasive and logical argument, so make a complete argument. With one, your essay’s intent or argument stays clear to readers. As a final note, follow any specific instructions you receive with the assignment, including writing under official style guides.