How to Write an Argumentative Essay

Most college and some high school students must write argumentative essays. They are not difficult to do, as long as one keeps these simple ideas in mind.

Yes, argumentative essays are more difficult to write than, say, personal essays. But being able to argue one's side in this type of essay is a valuable skill to learn. Students will use this technique all through school (and possibly on the job in later life). Once a student learns how to write this type of essay, future essays are not as difficult. Here are some of the basic elements of the argumentative essay.

What is a Claim?

The thesis of one's argumentative essay is a debatable claim. An essay is not an argumentative essay if it does not have a debatable claim. A claim is an assertion of something, but it must also be debatable. In other words, someone cannot assert the claim that "dogs make the best pets" for an argumentative essay, because that claim is simply opinion. It is not a topic that can be debated. It revolves around one's personal tastes.

A debatable claim is a topic that clearly has two sides. Each side can be debated, which is why the claim is debatable. For example, "English should be the official language of the United States" is a debatable claim, and there are two sides to the issue.

What is an Appeal?

The writer of an argumentative essay will make appeals to her audience. There are three types of appeals:

  • Appeal to reason. The writer, appealing to her reader's sense of logic, tends to make her argument citing facts, statistics, and-in general-tends to rely on the reader's using his sense of reason when reading her essay.
  • Appeal to emotion. When using this approach, the writer will appeal to her audience's emotional side. Are there things about the argument that could make the reader upset or angry in a way that will make him understand the writer's argument?
  • Appeal to character. The writer must convince her reader that she is reliable and trustworthy. If she wants her readers to believe her argument, she must make them understand, through her writing, why she is credible.

Writers can use one or all of these appeals, and usually the most effective essays will use all three, even if one is used more than the others.

Who Cares What the Opposing Side Has to Say?

The writer should care what the opposition says (because the reader certainly will). If the writer simply ignores the other side, his argument will be dismissed.

Often, the best way to put together one's essay is to look at the pros (arguments for the topic) and the cons (arguments against). No matter what the writer's viewpoint, it's best for him to understand both sides. Then, as he begins to construct his own argument, he can be sure to argue for his side and against his opposition. As he refutes the other side, his argument naturally grows stronger.

It's also wise to address the opposition because it shows the credibility of the author. If the writer simply ignores the other side, readers will not take him seriously.

Why Write an Argumentative Essay?

Many times English instructors will assign this type of paper because a student must research a topic. More than that, though, the student must fully explore what she believes and then map out an argument of why she believes what she does. It causes a student to deeply ponder her beliefs and consider others when constructing her argument.

With an argumentative essay, students must analyze and then defend their viewpoints. Other types of essays-reflective essays, for example-do not lend themselves to this kind of thought and exploration.

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