The argumentative essay answers the question "how did you reach that conclusion?" The paper sets forth a premise and then takes the reader -- in sequence -- through the writer's thought process to show how the writer arrived at his or her conclusion. Your instructor seeks clear, convincing evidence that you have thought through the matter at hand.
Choose a topic that is controversial, yet well-defined and not too broad. It should be an issue about which you can find sufficient research. Check newspapers, news magazines, TV news, interview, and debate shows (such as the newsmaker shows on Sunday mornings), the nonfiction book bestseller list, and Internet news and blog sites for current and interesting topics.
To write an effective argumentative essay, you must develop expertise on the issue you're writing about, including the side of the issue that does not represent your view. This is a time to question your beliefs because your argumentative essay will be effective only if you've clearly researched and presented both sides. Be sure to maintain a professional, even-handed, not vitriolic or hysterical, tone in your paper.
Support your arguments with:
Acknowledge and address opposing arguments in your essay. Indicate underlying reasons that opponents hold their opinions. You can agree that there is some validity to the opposition's point but that those points are not strong enough to negate your argument. You can also make a case for complete disagreement with the opposing argument or that it is irrelevant.
Various approaches are possible with argumentative essays, including induction, pro and con, cause and effect, and analysis of alternatives. The following shows effective ways to structure argumentative essays based on which approach you take:
Pro and Con
Cause and Effect
Analysis of Alternatives
The argumentative essay has its roots in the world of logic; thus, the more you know about such logic term as syllogisms premises, and valid deductions, the better you will be at argumentation. Learn more about logic terms and their use at Logic in Argumentative Writing from the OWL at Purdue University.
Experts caution against these pitfalls with the argumentative essay:
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She is also Creative Director and Associate Publisher at Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.