The art of argumentation is not an easy skill to acquire. Many people might think that if one simply has an opinion, one can argue it effectively, and these individuals are always surprised when others do not agree with them because their logic seems correct. Additionally, writers of argumentation often forget that their primary purpose in an argument is to "win" it--to sway the reader to accept their point of view. It is easy to name call, easy to ignore the point of view or research of others, and extremely easy to accept one's own opinion as gospel, even if the writer has not checked his or her premise in a couple of years, or, as is the case for many young writers, never questioned the beliefs inherited from others.
When you pick a topic, you should avoid writing about issues that cannot be won, no matter how strongly you might feel about them. The five most popular topics of our time seem to be gun control, abortion, capital punishment, freedom of speech, and probably the most recent, euthanasia, or the right to die. If possible, avoid writing about these topics because they are either impossible to "win." The topics may be fine reading material, however, because most people are somewhat aware of the problems and can then concentrate on understanding the method of argument itself. But care should be taken that if you read one side, you also read the other. Far too many individuals only read the side that they already believe in. These issues cannot be won for good reason: each touches on matters of faith and beliefs that for many people are unshakable and deeply private.
Structure of an Argumentative Essay
- So, what do you write about? Pick a well-defined, controversial issue. (Spend some time with the latest copies of several news magazines, the Washington Post, the New York Times, or watch 60 Minutes, CNN, or listen to National Public Radio to generate ideas.) Readers should understand what the issue is and what is at stake. The issue must be arguable, as noted above. After stating your thesis, you will need to discuss the issue in depth so that your reader will understand the problem fully.
- A clear position taken by the writer. In your thesis sentence, state what your position is. You do not need to say: "I believe that we should financially support the War in Iraq." Using the first person weakens your argument. Say "The War in Iraq is imperative to maintain America's safety." The thesis can be modified elsewhere in the essay if you need to qualify your position, but avoid hedging in your thesis.
- A convincing argument. An argumentative essay does not merely assert an opinion; it presents an argument, and that argument must be backed up by data that persuades readers that the opinion is valid. This data consists of facts, statistics, the testimony of others through personal interviews and questionnaires or through articles and books, and examples. The writer of an argumentative essay should seek to use educated sources that are non biased, and to use them fairly. It is therefore best to avoid using hate groups as a source, although you can use them briefly as an example of the seriousness of the problem. Talk shows fall into the same category as they are frequently opinionated or untrue.
- A reasonable tone. Assume that your reader will disagree with you or be skeptical. It is important, therefore, that your tone be reasonable, professional, and trustworthy. By anticipating objections and making concessions, you inspire confidence and show your good will.
- Decide on a topic. Make sure it is one you are interested in and that it is not too broad or too narrow to analyze adequately.
- Begin your library research. Start with the card catalogue or computer subject headings. Use the periodical index. Your best bet may be to find a few general books on the subject, and then study the bibliographies in the back of the books. Oftentimes, the very best sources are found this way. You may note, as you read, that one person may be quoted repeatedly in several articles. This should tell you that this person may be an authority. (See if their name is in the catalogue.) If you run across the mention of an article while reading another article or book, go find it. Use encyclopedias, reference books, newspapers, microfilm, the librarians, the World Wide Web, and other professors' advice. Research is a back-and-forth, in-and-out process, rather like the strategy of a good card game.
- As you scan possible sources, make a list of sources you won't use, sources you might use, and sources you will definitely use. Make bibliography cards for the latter two right away. Photocopy all material that you might or will use--even pamphlets and personal books. This will save you time later, should you need to return to the library. If you conduct a good deal of research, the first list will help you keep up with sources you've already checked (unless you enjoy checking them three and four times). Use appropriate APA citation.
- After acquiring some knowledge of your subject matter, it is time to decide on your personal interview and/or questionnaire, should you choose to use one. Write the interview questions and prepare the survey. Be careful to word both objectively. Your research is only as valuable as the interview or questionnaire.
- Write the outline, rough draft, and the final paper. Then rewrite it to make it sound as professional as possible.
Essay Paragraph Outline
To analyze something, divide it into parts. Since you are writing about a problem, the body of your paper might look something like this:
Paragraph 2-3: History of the problem (including, perhaps, past attempts at a solution). Sources needed
Paragraph 4-6: Extent of the problem (who is affected; how bad is it, etc.). Sources needed.
Paragraphs 7-8: Repercussion of the problem if not solved. Sources needed.
Paragraphs 9-10: You should have led up to a conclusion that your argument is sound. Pull it all together by connecting your argument with the facts. Anticipate objections and make concessions.
Paragraph 11: Conclusion: Restatement of thesis and summary of main ideas.