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.
In a persuasive essay, you want to convince the reader to align with your viewpoint on an issue. You will need to develop a series of arguments in which you provide specific evidence to support your claim.
Writing a persuasive essay is much like talking to a friend and trying to convince them to see things your way. By putting it all in writing, you are attempting to sway the thoughts of anyone who is reading the essay. When writing a persuasive essay, you should be very strongly opinionated in one particular direction, whether positive or negative. You can be for or against an issue, but not in between. Sitting on the fence will only cause problems when it comes to trying to persuade people.
Preparing for the Essay
Before you even start writing, you have a lot of work to do on a persuasive essay. You can’t write one without some excellent points to make and it’s essential to include evidence to support those points. This means you’ll need to spend some time doing research and investigation before writing.
Start with a handful of points you want to make. If you’re not sure which points you will be using in the essay, write down as many ideas as possible, then start to research them. Only the most convincing ones will be used in the end.
Decide on your thesis statement, or the point you are trying to convince people of. Every main point in the essay will need to support this, so knowing what you want to convince them of will help you choose the top three arguments to use. Each point should have at least one or two pieces of evidence that will back it up.
Creating the Outline
Once you have your evidence, complete with reputable sources, it’s time to create an outline. Many people prefer to just write the essay flat out, but an outline will help you keep it structured and will make the writing flow.
An outline should include your main points, along with the supporting evidence below them. With a good outline, you can simply fill in the information for each section and you will have an amazing persuasive essay.
Create a Killer Introduction
The intro to your essay will be where you state your viewpoint. Catch the reader's attention with a well-crafted intro sentence and then explain the issue at hand. You will want to provide some context, so have background information that you can present. This is where the research you did prior to writing the essay will come in handy.
Within this first paragraph, share your thesis sentence, or what you want to convince the reader of in the essay. This will set the tone for the entire paper, so be concise and clear. There should be no doubt about what the essay is going to cover. Take a strong position for or against the subject and stick to it.
Remember that the intro paragraph should not be too long, so condense everything into 3-4 sentences if possible. You want to give the reader a reason to keep reading, rather than reveal everything right from the start.
Add Supporting Paragraphs
The body of the essay will contain information to support your thesis statement. Each paragraph should give the reader a reason to believe what you're saying and to show the reason behind what you are stating.
Most academic essays are created using the five paragraph essay format. This includes the introduction, conclusion and three main body paragraphs. It’s an easy format to follow and generally works very well for a persuasive essay.
Every paragraph should start with sentence that supports the thesis and provides an argument for your point of view. The remainder of the paragraph should offer evidence that will support the first sentence. Use quotes, scientific or educational studies, and news sources that are reputable to give wings to your argument. Your paragraphs should be made up of sentences that are short and stick to the main point. Going off on a tangent is never a good idea when you're trying to convince someone of something.
Wrap It Up in the Conclusion
The final paragraph of your essay should be a summary of everything you've covered in the body. Restate your thesis and the biggest supporting evidence to drive your point home. While this section should be relatively short, it is your last chance to make an impression and to convince people to see things your way.
Tips to Help Persuade
There are certain methods to help incline people to believe you. These include:
Social proof, where you use quotes from people, can help your readers feel that they need to consider your side of things to fit in socially. It's similar to peer pressure and very useful for an persuasive essay.
Repetition is also a time-honored method of convincing people to pay attention. When you repeat the same information over and over again (in this case, your thesis), it will eventually sink in.
Exposing the problem and then going into great detail about how bad it can be is another method of persuasion. Once you have gone beyond the usual and shown people how horrible the issue can become, you will be able to offer them a solution and your point of view. More will be interested in seeing the end result when they realize just how terrible things can get.
The final step in writing your essay is to proofread it. Let it sit for a day or two so you can look at it with fresh eyes or have a friend take a look at it. It's easier to catch mistakes when you haven't been working on the essay non-stop.
Writing an persuasive essay is a part of common core standards, so it’s an important skill to have. However, beyond academic purposes, writing a persuasive essay is a skill that can help you in life. When it comes to making a sale, asking for a raise, or even just suggesting an improvement in your workplace, a little persuasive writing can go a long way.