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The Argument

Almost every type of academic essay hinges on one important component—the argument. Developing a persuasive argument in different contexts is an essential skill for any writer to have, but most especially in persuasive or argumentative essays. While there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to crafting the argument of your writing, there are a few keys to presenting your audience with a well-thought-out, logical point of view and who knows, maybe even changing a few minds along the way.

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The Argument

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Almost every type of academic essay hinges on one important component—the argument. Developing a persuasive argument in different contexts is an essential skill for any writer to have, but most especially in persuasive or argumentative essays. While there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to crafting the argument of your writing, there are a few keys to presenting your audience with a well-thought-out, logical point of view and who knows, maybe even changing a few minds along the way.

The Importance of Argumentative Writing

So what is “the argument” and does it really matter? An argument is a reason for either supporting or challenging a topic under discussion.

With a few exceptions (such as expository essays, which simply explain something), every type of essay is founded on an argument. Without an argument, you’re simply stating facts. You can do all the research in the world on a subject, but without taking a stance of some kind, you’re likely missing the bullseye on the assignment.

An effective argument is key to not only sharing your point of view but persuading your audience that your stance is actually the best or most accurate.

How to Start the Argument

If you’ve already drafted a thesis statement, then great! You already have the foundation of your argument.

The thesis statement acts as a blueprint for your essay; it is a single statement that tells the reader what to expect, so it should be placed in the introduction of the essay. In your thesis statement, you will not only present the topic of your essay but also the main point you hope to communicate. Your main point should be a claim about the topic—this is the basis of your argument.

Here's an idea of a pretty good thesis statement:

Social media is one of the most important inventions of the twenty-first century, because it is a means of uniting the world by fostering new and old friendships, quickly sharing news, and spreading trends in technology.

The argument of the essay is right there in the thesis; you’d be arguing that social media is one of the most important inventions of this century, and you can develop this claim throughout the body of the essay. This is a good argument for several reasons and is easily defended with the supporting details within the thesis (fostering friendships, and so on).

The Argument Writing an Argument StudySmarterFig. 1 - Writing an Argument

Examples of Arguments

Before you start thinking through your own argument, you might be wondering what a successful argument actually looks like. A good argument will have a few key features, which are:

  1. It is evidence-based

  2. Has a counterargument

  3. Contains little to no bias

An Argument Needs Evidence

An argument without evidence is not an argument at all; it’s telling someone what you think and that’s it. Evidence is often necessary to persuade the audience of your argument because it shows the reader that you're not just making up facts or speaking on your own authority. This often requires researching the subject in depth.

A note on researching an argument

To find support, or evidence, for your argument you'll likely need to go to a credible source that does have authority on the subject of discussion. A credible source is one that is written by someone who is an expert in their field, or else is a primary source.

A primary source is the best kind of source to use because it comes from a firsthand account or knowledge of a topic. This might be an original study or research article, literary work, or statistic.

When writing an essay with a time-restraint (like during an exam) the best source you have access to is the prompt itself and the given materials. The prompt might contain information directly from the primary source. Always refer back to any relevant information within the prompt or materials to support your argument.

Bad example: Seatbelts are actually quite dangerous.

Better Example: Statistics at the NHTSA show that seatbelts can cause injury upon impact, but that they save thousands of lives each year.

The first example is just someone’s opinion on seatbelts, which cannot stand alone as an argument. In the second example, the claim had to be reworked in order to comply with the actual evidence, which is that seatbelts can cause harm but ultimately save lives.

An Argument Needs a Counterargument

Likewise, an argument that doesn’t have a counterargument isn’t much of an argument. An opposing view is what engages the audience and pushes the writer to think beyond a single perspective. It’s important to craft an argument that will have an opposing viewpoint because otherwise, you’re just stating something that almost anyone would agree (or disagree) with.

Bad example: Everyone should be allowed to have an opinion.

Better example: The opinions expressed by public figures and entertainers are an expression of the democratic values prized in the United States, and the discussion of their personal opinions is a worthy use of their platform.

The first statement is a little obvious, don’t you think? No one could provide a valid counterargument here. The second example, however, is easily contestable. Others may not agree. Boom, counterargument.

An Argument Should Have No Bias

Lastly, your argument should contain as little bias as possible. It’s difficult to eliminate all bias from your writing—it’s ingrained in every person and every perspective—but it’s important to remove as much bias on the subject as possible. A few ways to remove bias are to avoid generalizations (example: Everyone hates rainy days); Always remain objective by focusing on the facts, and not the way you feel about them. When in doubt, and where possible, rely on the evidence.

Bad example: Teachers are the hardest working people in the United States of America.

Better example: Teachers wear so many hats and work such long hours, so they are some of the most hard-working people in the United States of America.

“Teachers are the hardest working people in the United States of America,” is arguably a true statement, and so it might feel like a good thing to argue—especially if you are a teacher or know someone who is. However, this statement shows a bias towards teachers. A better way to present this argument is to remove the passionate statement, "Teachers are the hardest working people," and add a statement that yields to other perspectives like "...some of the hardest working people."

Every “good” example above would be made even better with further explanation, of course. Below you will see how to construct the argument.

Argument Structure Examples

Generally speaking, there are five main components of a well-crafted argument.

  1. Introduction - Introduce your topic. Whether it’s a problem that needs solving or simply your point of view on a topic, your audience needs to know what you’re talking about.
  2. Narration - Explain the issue in detail by providing relevant background information.
  3. Confirmation - This is where you provide evidence that your stance is accurate or the best approach to the problem.
  4. Refutation/ concession - Address the opposing viewpoint(s) and refute them one at a time.
  5. Summation - Conclude your argument with a call to action, a discussion of the implications for the future, or something else that will urge your audience to give further thought to your argument.

Example of the Structure of a Real Argument

Introduction

  • Statement about the importance of individualism
  • Introduce the topic of school uniforms as they relate to the individualism argument
  • Thesis: School uniforms are the better choice because they simplify students' clothing choices, influence students to act responsibly, and foster equality.

Narration

  • Background information about school uniform argument
  • Discuss why uniforms became widely used

Confirmation

  • Uniforms reduce students' clothing options, actually simplifying their lives
  • Uniforms influence students to act responsibly
  • Uniforms create a sense of equality among students

Refutation

  • Refute the argument that uniforms eliminate individualism

Summation

  • Schools should require uniforms because it will actually create a healthier environment for students, setting them up for success in life.

Types of Arguments

Not all subjects can be argued the same way, however, and this general structure may not be the best way to get your point across.

There are three basic types of arguments, and each makes a claim but approaches it differently. It is helpful to know the different kinds of arguments so that you know which one will be most effective in persuading your audience.

Classic or Aristotelian Method

The “classic” style of argument is probably the most common and uses the basic argument structure seen above.

This method is also known as the Aristotelian method because the philosopher, Aristotle, posed three possible ways to present an argument: ethical, emotional, or logical. These terms are also known as ethos (ethical), pathos (emotional), and logos (logical).

The Argument Aristotle Argument StudySmarterFig. 2 - Aristotle is the father of classical logic.

Ethical Argument (ethos)

In this appeal to the audience, the writer attempts to establish him or herself as:

  • trustworthy

  • credible

  • informed

  • fair

As a result, the audience is made to feel as if they should heed the writer’s word on the subject. To disagree would seem unethical, or wrong on some level.

Emotional Argument (pathos)

An emotional approach to an argument appeals to the audience’s, you guessed it, emotion on the topic. The writer attempts to persuade the reader by establishing a connection to how they feel. This can be a very powerful and effective way to present an argument but should be used with sensitivity.

Logical Argument (logos)

This approach to an argument uses logical thinking to appeal to the audience; this often means heavy use of evidence (because it is illogical to argue with facts and data, right?) and well-outlined claims.

Use this method when: you believe your audience might hold the opposing viewpoint; you want to convince them that your claim is most accurate. Depending on the audience and your connection to the subject, you’ll want to decide whether an emotional, ethical, or logical approach will be best.

Toulmin Method

Developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin, this method focuses on assembling the strongest evidence to support your claim. It is constructed around the following three fundamental pieces of an argument: the claim, the grounds, and the warrant.

The claim - the main argument (or thesis)

The grounds - the evidence and data that support the claim

The warrant - the connection that can be drawn between the claim and the grounds

This method really focuses on stating the facts plainly and using them to support your claim.

Use this method when: discussing an extremely complex topic where there is very little common ground.

Rogerian Method

This method of argument was introduced by psychologist Carl Rogers. It places itself on the middle ground between the writer and the audience and is often the best way to construct an argument when the opposing viewpoints are so extreme that you’re unlikely to convince the opposition to change their mind.

The Rogerian method is structured similarly to the classic method but will place more emphasis on an acceptance of the argument in opposition to the writers. This means you can still structure your argument around the introduction, narration, confirmation, refutation and summation format but the refutation section might be little more like a "concession" section. Instead of refuting opposing viewpoints, you would concede to the validity or importance of those opposing ideas.

Use this method when: the best case scenario is to identify some kind of consensus, instead of converting the opposition to your point of view.

The Impact of a Good Argument

When you write an argument, the goal is either to persuade the audience to agree with your point of view or at least to agree that it is valid. A good written argument will make the reader consider his or her own perspective, and how it compares to the one you presented.

You can be sure that you presented a good argument if you provided plenty of evidence to support your claim(s) from credible sources; included little to none of your own bias; included a discussion of the opposition, and tailored your style of the argument according to the audience and the discussion at hand.

The Argument - Key Takeaways

  • The argument is an essential part of any type of essay, but most importantly in persuasive and argumentative essays.
  • A well-structured argument will always have the possibility of a counterargument, contain no bias, and be evidence-based.
  • Your thesis statement is the basis for the argument of your essay.
  • An argument typically consists of 5 main parts
    1. Introduction
    2. Narration
    3. Confirmation
    4. Refutation
    5. Summation
  • There are three types of arguments
    • Classic (Aristotelian) - uses ethos, logos, and/or pathos
    • Toulmin - assembles a claim, grounds, and a warrant. The main focus is facts.
    • Rogerian - looks for the middle ground of an argument

Frequently Asked Questions about The Argument

An argument is a reason for either supporting or challenging a topic under discussion.

Argument in writing means that a writer poses a claim to his or her audience and uses one or more argument styles to persuade the audience of that position.

The 3 types of arguments are Classic (or Aristotelian), Rogerian, and Toulmin.

Structure an argument with the following basic 5-step format:

  1. Introduction
  2. Narration
  3. Confirmation
  4. Refutation
  5. Summation

To write an argument, first choose a stance or decide on a claim to make about the subject, then choose an argument style (Aristotelian, Rogerian, or Toulmin) based on the audience. Include evidence to support your claim and avoid personal bias.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

According to Aristotle, which of the following is NOT a way to present an argument

Which other type of argument would be most closely related to logos?

Which of the following is not a necessary component of a good argument?

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