There are various types of essays; this course will make use of what is called an argumentative (sometimes called persuasive) essay. This is a basic overview for what is expected in an argumentative essay. The following is based on material initially available at http://www.santarosa.edu/philosophy/essaytutorial.htm and http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/argument.html
See also creating viable Thesis Statements
Arguments are everywhere. You may be surprised to hear that the word "argument" does not have to be written anywhere in your assignment for it to be an important part of your task. In fact, making an argument—expressing a point of view on a subject and supporting it with evidence—is often the aim of academic writing.
Most material you learn in college is or has been debated by someone, somewhere, at some time. Even when the material you read or hear is presented as simple "fact," it may actually be one person's interpretation of a set of information. In your writing, instructors may call on you to question that interpretation and defend it, refute it, or offer some new view of your own. In writing assignments, you will almost always need to do more than just present information that you have gathered or regurgitate facts that were discussed in class. You will need to select a point of view and provide evidence (in other words, use "argument") to shape the material and offer your interpretation of the material.
Greater vs. Lesser truths. By definition, an argumentative essay must have an argument and not just a summary of points; you must stake out a position and argue it with evidence. Most argumentative essays do not make the case between the truth on one side and the lie on the other; i.e, it's usually not a matter of black and white. As is usually happens, there are various degrees of truth or shades of gray. Thus the challenge is for you to make the case for what you consider to the greater truth vs. the lesser truth in your argumentative essay. The introduction of your exam essay, therefore, needs to contain a clear thesis statement that lays out what you consider to be the greater truth on the matter at hand.
Argumentation is not just what your instructors do. We all use argumentation on a daily basis, and you probably already have some skill at crafting an argument. The more you improve your skills in this area, the better you will be at thinking critically, reasoning, making choices, and weighing evidence.
Making a claim. What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a "claim" or "thesis statement," backed up with evidence that supports the idea. In the majority of college papers, you will need to make some sort of claim and use evidence to support it, and your ability to do this well will separate your papers from those of students who see assignments as mere accumulations of fact and detail. In other words, gone are the happy days of being given a "topic" about which you can write anything. It is time to stake out a position and prove why it is a good position for a thinking person to hold.
Debatable & non-debatable statements. An argumentative essay is built around a specific statement known as the thesis or conclusion that is debatable within the field in which you are studying. In other words, at the center of an argumentative essay is a statement with which your readers may disagree. Your essay will need to support that statement in a manner that convinces your readers of its truth.
> Example of debatable statements: Statements with which other people might or might not agree . These are sometimes called "arguments," "assertions," "propositions," "claims," or "conclusions." Solar energy is the best way of meeting California's energy needs in the 21st century.
> Example of non-debatable statements: Statements with which no-one would normally disagree or argue. These are sometimes called "facts". eg. Coal and oil are the main sources of energy in the United States in the 20th century.
Claims can be as simple as "Protons are positively charged and electrons are negatively charged," with evidence such as, "In this experiment, protons and electrons acted in such and such a way." In either case, the rest of your paper will detail the reasoning and evidence that have led you to believe that your position is best.
When beginning to write a paper, ask yourself, "What is my point?" For example, the point of this section is to help you become a better writer, and the main argument is that an important step in the process of writing effective arguments is understanding the concept of argumentation. If your papers do not have a main point, they cannot be arguing for anything. Asking yourself what your point is can help you avoid a mere "information dump." What you need to be able to demonstrate are two things:
> Proof that you understand the material, AND
> A demonstration of your ability to use or apply the material in ways that go beyond what you have read or heard.
Evidence. Do not stop with having a point. You have to back up your point with evidence. The strength of your evidence, and your use of it, can make or break your argument. You already have the natural inclination for this type of thinking, if not in an academic setting. Think about how you talked your parents into letting you borrow the family car. Did you present them with lots of instances of your past trustworthiness? Did you make them feel guilty because your friends' parents all let them drive? Did you whine until they just wanted you to shut up? Did you look up statistics on teen driving and use them to show how you didn't fit the dangerous-driver profile? These are all types of argumentation, and they exist in academia in similar forms.
Providing Support for Debatable statements (or Conclusions). You now know that debatable statements are not statements of fact but are statements or conclusions* with which other people may or may not agree. When you are writing an argumentative essay your aim is to make your readers agree with your debatable statements or conclusions. You need to convince your readers of the value or truth of your conclusions. But by themselves, they are not convincing - they need support.
Be consistent with your evidence. Unlike negotiating for the use of your parents' car, a college paper is not the place for an all-out blitz of every type of argument. You can often use more than one type of evidence within a paper, but make sure that within each section you are providing the reader with evidence appropriate to each claim. So, if you start a paragraph or section with a statement like "Putting the student section closer to the court in the Dean Dome will raise player performance," do not follow with your evidence on how much more money the university could raise by letting more students go to games for free. Information about how fan support raises player morale, which then results in better play, would be a better follow-up. Your next section could offer clear reasons why undergraduates have as much or more right to attend an undergraduate event as wealthy alumni—but this information would not go in the same section as the fan support stuff. You cannot convince a confused person, so keep things tidy and ordered.
Counterargument. One way to strengthen your argument and show that you have a deep understanding of the issue you are discussing is to anticipate and address counterarguments or objections. By considering what someone who disagrees with your position might have to say about your argument, you show that you have thought things through, and you dispose of some of the reasons your audience might have for not accepting your argument.
Once you have thought up some counterarguments, consider how you will respond to them—will you concede that your opponent has a point ("Lessert Truth") but explain why your audience should nonetheless accept your argument ("Greater Truth")? Will you reject the counterargument and explain why it is mistaken? Either way, you will want to leave your reader with a sense that your argument is stronger than opposing arguments.
Showing you are aware of both sides of the issue.
The argumentative essay contains arguments that support the main conclusion. They also contain arguments that oppose the main thesis/conclusion. It is important to include opposing arguments to show your reader that you have considered both (or more) sides of the argument; and you are able to anticipate and criticize any opposing arguments before they are even stated. Ways of showing that you are aware of the opposing opinion could include:
argued that... However,... asserted contended maintained claimed said
When you are summarizing opposing arguments, be charitable. Present each argument fairly and objectively, rather than trying to make it look foolish. You want to show that you have seriously considered the many sides of the issue and that you are not simply attacking or caricaturing your opponents.
It is usually better to consider one or two serious counterarguments in some depth, rather than to give a long but superficial list of many different counterarguments and replies.
Audience. Audience is a very important consideration in argument. A lifetime of dealing with your family members has helped you figure out which arguments work best to persuade each of them. Maybe whining works with one parent, but the other will only accept cold, hard statistics. Your kid brother may listen only to the sound of money in his palm. It's usually wise to think of your audience in an academic setting as someone who is perfectly smart but who doesn't necessarily agree with you. You are not just expressing your opinion in an argument ("It's true because I said so"), and in most cases your audience will know something about the subject at hand—so you will need sturdy proof. At the same time, do not think of your audience as clairvoyant. You have to come out and state both your claim and your evidence clearly.
Assume that someone else across the hall in another classroom is reading your essay, and that way you'll be sure to explain what you are talking about. Do not assume that because the instructor knows the material, he or she understands what part of it you are using, what you think about it, and why you have taken the position you've chosen.
Critical reading. Critical reading is a big part of understanding argument. Although some of the material you read will be very persuasive, do not fall under the spell of the printed word as authority. Very few of your instructors think of the texts they assign as the last word on the subject. Remember that the author of every text has an agenda, something that he or she wants you to believe. This is OK—everything is written from someone's perspective—but it's a good thing to be aware of.
Take notes either in the margins of your source (if you are using a photocopy or your own book) or on a separate sheet as you read. Put away that highlighter! Simply highlighting a text is good for memorizing the main ideas in that text—it does not encourage critical reading. Part of your goal as a reader should be to put the author's ideas in your own words. Then you can stop thinking of these ideas as facts and start thinking of them as arguments.
When you read, ask yourself questions like "What is the author trying to prove?" and "What is the author assuming I will agree with?" Do you agree with the author? Does the author adequately defend her argument? What kind of proof does she use? Is there something she leaves out that you would put in? Does putting it in hurt her argument? As you get used to reading critically, you will start to see the sometimes hidden agendas of other writers, and you can use this skill to improve your own ability to craft effective arguments.
SAMPLE ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY
Sample Introductory Paragraph of an Argumentative Essay: "Euthanasia Is Wrong"
"Whose life is it, anyway?" Euthanasia is the taking of a person's life and that is wrong even if the person desires to die. Voluntary euthanasia can be defined as the person asking someone to take his/her life. It is a crime to take someone's life. Who has the right to take another person's life? Who should be allowed to state whether a person should die? Who can determine whether taking a person's life is for the benefit of the person who dies? These are questions that should be addressed by both sides of the debate. Many people state they want to die because their pain is so severe or they feel so depressed. However, as long as a person lives the hope of a better tomorrow is always there. Euthanasia is wrong according to the law and even the natural law of the creator. [Clearly stated "greater truth" or thesis]
This sample paragraph of an argumentative essay begins with asking whose life it is to decide to die. It defines what euthanasia means. The questions show the structure the paper would take. The questions are addressed to both sides of the issue. The paper gives the writer's assertion that euthanasia is wrong. The next step would be a literature review and this has been started with the quote at the beginning the paragraph. The final statement of the writer is that euthanasia is wrong.
Sample argumentative essay: A University in Every Town
The Turkish government is planning to open 15 new universities in developing provinces of Turkey. This is a response to pressure coming from local MPs who in turn voice the demands of their constituencies. However, while the already existing 85 universities are wrestling with financial and academic difficulties, it does not seem to be a good idea to add new universities to the system of higher education.
First of all, the new universities will experience staffing problems. That is, they will have difficulty finding faculty that is qualified to teach in these budding universities. In our country the number of academicians who meet the academic requirements is limited. New universities will have two choices: either to draw from the existing pool or to employ under qualified people. To attract those instructors from other universities they will have to offer attractive incentives . However, since these will be state universities they will not have the necessary funds and most academics will be unwilling to go to small town universities where academic and life standards are below par. The only venue open to these universities will be to employ local professionals or under qualified instructors. The inevitable result will follow: a drop in the quality of education.
In addition to recruitment problems, small town universities will have financial difficulties. The funds allocated to them by the state will not be enough to build from scratch all the facilities that make a university a "real university". A university is more than a few classrooms. Students will need dorms, gyms, cafeterias, sports facilities, labs and computers for their academic and social development. How many new universities can claim to have only a few of these facilities on their campuses? The result will be a small town "university" which consists of a sole building that houses classrooms and offices, and nothing more.
It is argued that the establishment of a university in a developing town will contribute to the development of local culture, community and economy. However, if a university is wrestling with staff recruitment problems, or if it cannot solve its financial difficulties it means that it cannot be of any help to the local community or economy either. It will only employ a few locals, provide substandard education to a few local youth, and it will not fulfill the the aim for which it was initially established.
Universities are institutions of higher education and they need to provide education to satisfy certain standards. In order to provide such quality education they need to have qualified teachers and must provide minimum social and academic facilities. Since funds are limited, we should raise the standard of our existing universities first. Only after that, should we invest in establishing new ones.
Click here for the grading criteria/abbreviations used
For more information click on http://www.santarosa.edu/philosophy/essaytutorial.htm and http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/argument.html