Writing an Argumentative Essay

Writing an argumentative essay is a great skill to have for a successful academic career, but it will also serve you well over the course of your entire life. You may be required to write an argumentative essay in a placement exam or some other situation where the stakes are high, and whether your career path leads you into politics, marketing, or education, you will continue to use those skills you used to write a solid argumentative essay. 

Writing an Argumentative Essay Writing an Argumentative Essay

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Table of contents

    Argumentative Essay Structure

    An argumentative essay is written with the goal of persuading the audience to agree with the validity of a claim on a particular topic. Sometimes, though, it’s even more difficult than it sounds; you might be making a claim that you know to be highly controversial or opposed, so your goal is to present an argument in which your audience can find little to no fault.

    That means you need to know how to write a quality argumentative essay.

    The structure of an argumentative essay is similar to other essay types, and it looks like this:

    I. Introduction

    A. Hook

    B. Introduce the topic

    C. The main claim (thesis)

    II. Body Paragraphs (number of paragraphs included and organized to suit your needs)

    A. Topic sentence (mini claim)

    B. Evidence

    C. Concession

    1. Counterclaim/ rebuttal

    III. Conclusion

    A. Summarize main points

    B. Restate thesis

    C. Call to Action

    In addition to the basic elements found in most essay structures (i.e. a hook in the introduction, body paragraphs, a call to action in the conclusion, etc.) an argumentative essay must include a few necessary pieces.

    The Main Claim & How to Support it

    Writing An Argumentative Essay Support StudySmarterFig. 1 - Your main claim needs support to hold it up, much like a pillar holds a roof.

    Remember that it is the goal of an argumentative essay to persuade an audience of something. That something will be your main claim about the subject. Once you know the assigned topic, you’ll want to do a little digging—whether that’s research online, in a book or text, or perhaps through your own knowledge of the subject.

    Your claim should be an assertive statement that can either be proven or disproven.

    The main claim for your argumentative essay cannot be wishy-washy. In other words, you have to take a stance that has a counterpoint, or can be argued in the opposite way.

    A statement as simple as “Foreign language education should begin at an early age,” is a decent main claim for an argumentative essay because it is disputable. There will be some people that might argue that there are reasons to delay foreign language education until later in life.

    You also need to make sure you can support your main claim with evidence of some kind. Is it possible to support the claim about early foreign language education? Yes, there is plenty of scientific research to suggest the benefits of children learning multiple languages from the very first years of language development.

    Good support for a claim includes:

    • Scientific research

    • Opinions/ findings of experts in the field

    • Examples that illustrate your point

    You might have noticed that the main claim sounds a lot like a thesis statement, as found in other types of academic essays. Nicely done! The main claim of an argumentative essay is essentially the same as a thesis statement.

    Whether you’re writing an argumentative essay or not, a thesis statement is the writer’s position on the subject about which they’re writing. An essay without a thesis is difficult to follow, because not only does it communicate the writer’s stance, but it also provides a roadmap for where the essay is going. In an argumentative essay your thesis statement, or main claim, must include some support. Sometimes the supporting points fit inside the statement itself, and other times they will have to come in the following sentences.

    Take the example of children learning multiple languages. The statement is assertive, can be opposed, and can be supported by evidence and perhaps a few techniques to suggest that it is a realistic expectation.

    Children should be taught multiple languages as early as 1-2 years old because the benefits to the child’s brain development far outweigh the difficulties of the task. There are many ways to incorporate multiple languages into the home environment, which greatly improves the probability that the language(s) will stick with the child.

    This is a solid main claim and could be argued by supporting it with specific evidence such as research on children’s cognitive development—perhaps including statistics on the benefits of multiple language acquisition—and simple strategies for incorporating language development into the home.

    Writing an Argumentative Essay Plan

    Before you begin the writing process for an argumentative essay, it is important to draft an essay plan.

    An essay plan helps you organize your thoughts so you can write the most convincing and articulate essay possible. An essay plan is perhaps never more important than when writing an argumentative essay. If your argument is on shaky ground, you’ll loose your audience’s attention right away.

    If all you know is your topic, and you don’t have a clear point to argue yet, start by doing some pre-writing exercises to come up with ideas for your thesis.

    Argumentative Essay Pre-Writing Exercises

    There are a few different strategies for coming up with ideas for the main claim of an argumentative essay. The goal here is to get to the heart of the topic—what are the existing issues or talking points for the subject, and what might you have to add to the conversation?

    You can use all of these exercises or just one—whatever is helpful to you.

    1. Brainstorming - narrows down the topic by asking yourself questions such as, “What is already known about this topic? Are there any controversies? What might my audience’s position be?”

    2. Freewriting - allows you to uncover your opinions, thoughts, and beliefs about a subject by lowering your inhibitions. Keep writing, non-stop, for 5-10 minutes about the topic and see what comes out. The key is to not overthink what you write.

    3. Lists - provide a structure for the more visual writers/ thinkers. Try to list important ideas and concepts about the topic, organizing everything that comes to mind in list form with bullets.

    4. Clustering - similar to lists, provides a visual representation of the topic. Write the topic in the center of a page, circle it, and begin drawing relevant main points that connect to the subject by a line. Draw lines that connect those main points to sub-points, and so on, until you have exhausted your topic (see image below).

    WritingAnArgumentativeEssayStepsStudySmarterFig. 2 - Clustering, also called mind mapping, is a helpful pre-writing exercise for argumentative essays.

    After completing at least one of these exercises you should have come across an opinion you hold on the topic of your argumentative essay. Whatever you stance is, that is your main claim.

    Now it’s time to research. You are mainly looking for what the experts or voices of authority have to say on the matter.

    An expert is a person who has extensive knowledge and experience with a particular subject.

    Why can you trust the validity of your argumentative essay to experts? Simply put, because your audience will. If you follow up a fact about linguistic development with a quote from Noam Chomsky (a well-known linguist) that supports it, then your audience is much more likely to take that fact as authoritative truth.

    Now that you have your claim and your basic pieces of evidence, you need to decide on how you want to argue your point. Not all arguments can be made by the same means, so there are three modes of argumentation.

    Types of Argumentation

    The three modes of argumentation are Toulmin, Rogerian, and Aristotelian.


    This mode of argument is highly logical and relies heavily on evidence in order to prove (or disprove) an argument surrounding a complex issue. With this method, arguments are broken into three main parts: the claim, the grounds, and the warrant. The claim is the conclusion drawn by the speaker or writer. The grounds are the premise, or evidence you provide. The warrant is the connection between the claim and the grounds.

    Use this method when you're discussing a complex issue.


    This method appeals to the common ground between two opposing arguments. It bridges the gap when two parties are unlikely to come to a consensus. You can do this by pointing out the validity of each argument, and finding facts and ideas that both parties can agree on.

    Use this method when you're discussing a highly sensitive issue where the opposing views are polarized.


    The classic model for argument—also called Aristotelian after the Greek philosopher—appeals to the audience either by way of their emotion, logic, or appreciation for the speaker’s authority. These are known respectively as pathos, logos, and ethos.

    Use this method when your audience's reaction is the main focus.

    Which mode you use will depend on your argument as well as your audience. It will also affect how you organize your essay, so now is the time to make that decision before you begin writing.

    Steps to Writing an Argumentative Essay

    As with most other types of essays, argumentative essays include an introduction, at least two body paragraphs, and a conclusion. In each of these sections of your essay, you must express your claim and the evidence you have found to support it.

    Before you can begin to write, remember to use pre-writing exercises to narrow your focus and come up with a claim. Don't forget to research your topic and specific claim to find evidence that will support your main point. With this information, and based on your intended audience, you can decide on a method of argumentation.

    Once you know your topic, your main claim about the topic, how you plan to support that claim, and how you plan to organize your argument, it's time to begin writing!

    Writing an Introduction for An Argumentative Essay

    An argumentative essay needs to begin with a hook that is connected to the topic of discussion in some way.

    A hook is an attention-grabbing statement or question that pulls the reader into the discussion. A hook could be an alarming statistic, an anecdote, an interesting question, a metaphor, or anything you believe to be “catchy” enough to grab your reader. Example: "The average parent knows that screen time can affect their child’s brain development, but how much is too much screen time?"

    After the hook grabs the reader’s attention, you need to move on to introducing the specific topic you plan to discuss in your argumentative essay. Next, you’ll introduce your main claim, or the thesis statement.

    Writing Body Paragraphs for An Argumentative Essay

    Now that your audience knows your intention for the argumentative essay, you can begin supporting your claim. You’ll do this with the evidence you found in the research phase.

    Each body paragraph of an argumentative essay will address a particular piece of evidence. Begin a body paragraph by introducing the idea for that paragraph, or topic sentence. Each topic sentence is like a mini claim that supports your main claim.

    Within the body paragraphs, you’ll need to address the counterclaims, or claims in opposition of your own. Now is the time to present your rebuttal to these counterclaims, which allows you to produce a more complete and nuanced argument.

    In your rebuttal, look for ways that the counterclaims are inaccurate or wrong. How is their logic faulty? Is it missing information? Address that here.

    The number of body paragraphs depends on the amount of evidence you have to provide in order to thoroughly support your claim.

    Writing a Conclusion for An Argumentative Essay

    The conclusion of an argumentative essay is much like that of other types of essays. You should summarize your argument, explaining how you thoroughly supported your claim.

    Restate your thesis, along with the evidence you provided to support it.

    Lastly, an excellent way to close out an argumentative essay is a call to action. This is a statement or question that encourages the audience to consider their place in the discussion, and even say or do something about it.

    It is up to parents, and even those without children yet, to consider the importance of their children’s cognitive development and invest their own time in learning an additional language so that they can give their children the gift of bilingualism.

    This is a great call to action because it wraps up the discussion by asking the reader to think about how they can act to benefit their own children (or future children). This drives home the writer’s thesis and helps convince the reader of the main claim.

    Tips for Writing an Argumentative Essay

    WritingAnArgumentativeEssayTipsStudySmarterFig. 3 - Remember, an argumentative essay should contain a main claim and two or more pieces of support.

    You don’t have to follow the given format for an argumentative essay exactly as provided here. For example, you could introduce your opponent’s argument first, discussing the errors you find in it and use those to introduce your own claim.

    Also remember that argumentative and combative are two different things! It is unwise to openly bash any opposing views, and instead it’s better to simply point out any flaws in those arguments.

    Lastly, you’ll typically want to avoid the first person perspective to present your claims (i.e. “I think,” “I believe,” etc.) in an argumentative essay. Although you are writing from your own point of view, your focus should be on including your audience and bringing them to share your belief in your claim. The use of first person language is also repetitive because the claims in the essay will be from your perspective.

    Writing an Argumentative Essay - Key Takeaways

    • An argumentative essay is written with the goal of persuading the audience to agree with the validity of a claim on a particular topic.
    • The main claim of an argumentative essay is essentially the thesis statement—it is the main idea.
    • The body paragraphs of an argumentative essay represent the individual pieces of support for the main claim.
    • An argumentative essay should conclude with a call to action to bring the discussion into the reader's world.
    • You can support your claim with:
      • Scientific research

      • Opinions/ findings of experts in the field

      • Examples that illustrate your point

    Frequently Asked Questions about Writing an Argumentative Essay

    What is the second step in writing an argumentative essay?

    After conducting pre-writing exercises and identifying your main claim, the next step is to come up with support for your claim.

    What is the purpose of writing an argumentative essay?

    The purpose of writing an argumentative essay is to persuade the audience to agree with the validity of a claim on a particular topic

    How to start writing an argumentative essay?

    Start writing an argumentative essay by conducting pre-writing exercises such as brainstorming, freewriting, clustering, or making lists so as to develop a main idea for your argument.

    When to write an argumentative essay?

    Write an argumentative essays whenever you need to convince your audience of a particular fact or idea.

    What are the key elements of writing an argumentative essay?

    The key elements of writing an argumentative essay are:

    • choose a defendable main claim
    •  choose the appropriate method of argumentation (Rogerian, Toulmin, or Aristotlean) based on your audience
    • use the topic sentences of the body paragraphs as mini-claims of support for the main claim
    • conclude with a call to action.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: If you know the subject to be highly controversial, it's okay to get combative in your argumentative essay.

    Fill in the missing element in the argumentative essay structure:1. IntroductionHookIntroduce the topic_____________

    Fill in the missing element in the argumentative essay structure:2. Body paragraphs____________EvidenceConcession

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