How to Write an Argumentative Essay
If you take any controversial question, you see that it can be viewed from at least two points. For example, a topic like euthanasia can occasionally pop up in your conversation with a friend. It may happen that you believe that allowing a hopeless patient to die or even facilitating it is an act of mercy, while your friend is convinced that a human life in itself is the most precious thing that cannot be taken away from a person by someone else under any possible condition. Of course, you want to convince your friend, because you know you are right. The problem is that so does s/he. The argument can become so fierce that you might even fight and never be friends again.
Conducting an argument in a civilized manner to reach a compromise conclusion is an art. The good news is that it can be learned. The best way to learn to formulate your thoughts in a logical and well-structured manner and back them up with solid evidence is to put them to writing. This is why your teachers and professors give you tasks to write argumentative or persuasive essays every now and then.
The two are not to be confused. While both argumentative and persuasive essays share the same goal of convincing the opponent in the rightfulness of your point of view, they use different methods to achieve that purpose. According to Aristotle, you can convince your opponent by employing one of the three techniques (or any combination thereof): ethos – appealing to the ethics and the sense of authority, pathos – appealing to emotion, and logos – appealing to the rationality by using facts and evidence. When tasked with writing a persuasive essay, you are expected to reason the opponent by using what both of you already know about the topic, without introducing any new facts or supporting evidence. So, in a persuasive essay, you use ethos and pathos. In an argumentative essay, on the other hand, you are supposed to prove your point with logic, i.e. using logos.
As we have mentioned, you can write an argumentative essay about any topic that suggests some controversy and that you have a strong opinion about. Here are some examples of possible argumentative essay topics:
- Is euthanasia a murder or an act of mercy?
- What should be the age of sexual consent?
- How accessible should recreational drugs be?
- Religion at schools: Is it about knowledge or do churches interfere too much?
- Does higher education ensure a happy life?
- How important are English language skills for a natural science student?
ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY OUTLINE
Now that we know what an argumentative essay is, it is evident that one cannot just sit down, grab a pen and paper, and write one. Since you have to deal with facts and logic here, you should take care that you are well prepared. Naturally, the most important part of preparing to write an argumentative essay is putting together a detailed and comprehensive outline. Overall, your argumentative essay will consist of three sections – the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion, – same as with most written assignments. However, the more detailed your outline will be, the easier and less stressful it will be for you to write the essay itself. We would like to share some pointers on writing each of these sections:
INTRODUCTION. It is common to begin the introduction to an argumentative essay with a hook sentence. It is literally meant to hook your reader, to get them engaged and interested to read your essay to the end. This can be rendered in the form of a rhetorical question or just an interesting statement with some shock value. For example: “Can it really be called a life when you are plugged into a life support machine, and you cannot remember what sunlight looks like not only because it was such a long time ago, but also because your reason and memory keep failing you ever more?” Regardless of your reader’s opinion on the point, you get them hooked and wondering what you have to say on the topic.
Now that your reader is hooked, you can go on introducing them to the argument by listing some historical or statistical facts that are related to your essay topic. Take care that they are explicitly connected to the subject of your essay, you don’t want your reader to stop to question the relevance of your writing. This gives your reader a better view of what lies ahead. They get a clearer understanding of what they should expect further as they go on reading your essay.
The final part of the introduction to your argumentative essay should be your thesis statement. This is the statement that you are proving in this writing, the core of your entire essay. This is why, it is crucial that your thesis statement is strong, straightforward, and to the point. Here are some tips for that:
- The statement should sound like a fact, not like an assumption or an idea. When you want to prove something, you should first demonstrate that you are convinced in what you are trying to prove.
- It has to signify that it is not just blind faith, but a definitive fact. The statement should directly inform the reader that there is supporting evidence to prove it.
- On the other hand, it should not sound as if you are looking down on your reader. The statements that are truly obvious do not make up for a good topic for an interesting argumentative essay. Since the topic for an argumentative essay is always a controversial one, your thesis statement should imply that the controversial nature of the topic results from the fact that it has not yet been given enough public attention and discussion. As for you – the author, your firm opinion comes from substantial research and careful reflection on the topic.
MAIN BODY. Sometimes, your teacher or professor will set the requirement as to how big your argumentative essay should be. Often, however, it will be up to you to decide how many words and paragraphs you need to cover your topic in full and leave no details unattended.
As one might expect, the degree of controversy of possible argumentative essay topics may vary. This determines the volume of your essay body because some facts are easier to prove than others. Often, a thorough research is necessary to validate a point. This research will need to be demonstrated in detail in your essay if you want to stick to the goal of convincing your reader that what you are stating did not come from nowhere.
As for the argumentative essay structure, it goes as follows:
- Topic passage. This is the ignition point of your essay’s main body. It may be as brief as just one sentence. It can be a paraphrased version of your thesis statement but put in a way that it sounds more like the cold fact that definitively supports your point. We have mentioned on several occasions that argumentative essays only cover a controversial topic. Therefore, there is no need to be afraid to sound too harsh or cynical. You are absolutely positive that you are right, and this is the only thing that matters. For example: “Euthanasia helps to relieve the terminally ill patients of their pain in an economically effective way to spare the resource and effort in favor of those patients that can still be beneficial to the society.”
- Analysis of the main argument. After you familiarize your reader with your point, you can move on to explaining why exactly you are right. Once again, you are only using logos here; you are not interested in ethos or pathos. Therefore, you speak only in cold facts, leaving all emotion and morals behind. For example: “The national and state healthcare system spends the estimated amount of XXX, XXX, XXX.XX USD per year to support the terminally ill patients. This money would be enough to cover (some) medical university’s research project on HIV treatment and (or) a nation-wide education and prevention campaign.”
- The backup evidence. No argument will be authentic without supportive evidence; this is why now is the high time to back up your statement with a solid proof. You should not only prove that you are right, but also that what you are talking about is of urgent importance.
- For example: “The State of California spends $XX, XXX.XX USD per year to support the life of a terminally ill patient. The State is literally getting rid of the money instead of getting rid of the finance-sucking black hole.”
- Topping the counterargument. The controversial nature of an interesting argumentative essay topic dictates the existence of counter-arguments that may be equally strong. Your task is to use their strength for your benefit by recognizing them (as a side effect, this will also paint you as a sophisticated thinker as opposed to a blind fanatic). When you address your counterarguments, you are free (and welcome!) to formulate them in a way that benefits your side. You acknowledge a (seemingly) rational counter-argument, and then you use logic to demonstrate that your argument is stronger.
- For example: “It is true that the medical science develops rapidly and patients who were deemed hopeless just a few years ago are successfully treated today. Still, hoping for a scientific breakthrough is essentially but a gamble. The scientists might come up with an effective treatment in the nearest future, but might as well not. Meanwhile, we keep spending quite real amounts of money in hope of a miracle instead of investing them directly into the future benefit of our society and mankind.”
- Concluding passage. Once you have made your point and successfully topped the opposing side, it is time to confirm your victory with a finishing passage. In this passage (which might as well amount to just one sentence), you do not give any new information, but rather summarize the main body of your essay into a concentrated statement. It goes without saying that this concluding passage should be brief and to the point.
For example: “To crown it all, sustaining the life of a terminally ill individual is not justified from an economic or any other standpoint. The funds and effort invested in this artificial extension can surely be put to better use.”
CONCLUSION. Once the main body of your essay is ready, all that is left to do is to sum it all up in the final section of your argumentative essay – the conclusion. Basically, you just restate all the previous information in brief form. This includes the thesis statement and the key points. No new information should be put here.
First, you paraphrase your thesis statement in a straightforward and comprehensive manner. Then you list your supportive facts and arguments. And finally, you talk about the importance of your topic and the conclusions that you have made.
You can also speculate about how your findings can be implemented and what can come out of it. It is a good way to show that you did not write this argumentative essay just because you teacher or professor gave you such an assignment. Instead, you relate to the topic and believe that it should be approached in the manner that you have described with the common good in mind.
EDITING AND PROOFREADING
Once you are done writing, you can relax a little bit, but it does not mean that your argumentative essay is ready. You see, when you write about something that matters to you, the content often easily prevails over the form, and it is easy to overlook some small details, such as grammar and style. It is also easy to get self-centered and start thinking that what is obvious to you is obvious to everybody else, including your reader. Therefore, it is a good idea to have your first draft ready a few days before you have to submit it, then lay it aside and forget about it for a few days, and then give it a fresh look.