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Assignment Guide: The Argumentative Essay
For this assignment, you will be writing an argumentative essay–a piece of writing that requires you to take a position, what rhetoricians call a claim, on a debatable topic (that is, a topic with more than one side). Specifically, you will present a policy claim where you argue for or against a change of some kind. This claim should be supported by reliable, credible evidence (i.e. scholarly sources) backed by research. In addition to presenting your claim, you will also need to acknowledge the other side, which is called the counterargument. For this assignment, you may choose your own topic. Hint: browse topics that interest you in “Opposing Viewpoints” our article database accessed through the banner.
Length: This assignment should be at least 750 words.
Thesis: Underline your thesis statement or the main claim of your letter.
Supporting Points: Plan to develop at least three strong supporting points to accompany your thesis and at least one counter. Each supporting point should equate to at least one body paragraph.
Sources Needed: The essay should integrate at least 4 reliable and credible sources, to help prove the argument for or against a policy change. Be sure to use MLA guidelines for all in-text and Works Cited citations.
While we encourage you to acquire sources from Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints, you may access credible, scholarly sources from other resources. Tertiary sources, such as online encyclopedias, dictionaries and Wikipedia, are not scholarly sources, and should not be cited within your work; however, they may offer helpful foundational information as you develop your understanding of an issue. (For more information, please review Berkley University’s resource on scholarly and popular sources: “Evaluating Resources.”)
Page Formatting: See Appendix C – Formatting and Submitting Your Work. Please underline your thesis statement.
MLA Requirements: See Formatting your Essay: MLA 8th Edition
When we talk about argument writing, we are not talking about an emotional and heated argument, but one that is neutral in tone and uses evidence/facts to convince your readers of a claim. Your argument is your claim, or the point that you want to convince readers of–in this instance, you will be making a claim for or against a policy change. Because everything depends on the strength of this claim (and the supporting points that you use to scaffold it), the organizational structure of an argumentative essay is incredibly important to its success. Every idea, topic sentence, paragraph, and page should always align with your argumentative claim. Be sure that you use scholarly evidence purposefully to support the claim you are making and do not veer too much into exploratory or informative writing, which is trickier than it sounds. You’ll also need to think carefully about how to integrate researched evidence with your own ideas, to build a fully developed and supported stance throughout. Finally, you will want to acknowledge the counterargument in the body paragraphs, even if you cannot refute it entirely.
Remember that this is an argumentative essay: that means your goal is to prove your claim for or against a policy change to readers. This piece of writing should be aimed at convincing readers through the inclusion of a strong argumentative thesis, specific supporting points, acknowledgement of the counter, and carefully chosen scholarly evidence.
The argumentative essay is written for someone else–a community of readers that is most impacted by the policy you are proposing to change (or keep the same). In this instance, you are writing to argue for or against a change (and thus convince readers that a change should or should not occur). Keep this audience in mind by angling everything in your essay towards a strong argument that can appeal to a more general population.
This is a formal writing project, written in third-person, relying on strong organizational strategies, integrating researched evidence (the academic sources you choose), and following MLA formatting guidelines.
Choosing a Topic for Your Argumentative Essay
Selecting the right topic is an important step in ensuring your success in writing a Argumentative essay. You’ll want to choose a topic that has the following features:
Of interest to you
Narrow in scope
Academic or “scholarly” in nature
Topics to avoid, as they are either too complex to argue in a single essay, or not considered appropriate for an academic or scholarly essay, are as follows:
The death penalty
Euthanasia or self-assisted death
The (il)legalization of drugs (e.g. marijuana)
Religion or religious readings (e.g. existence of a higher order/being, or life after death)
Please do not select one of the above 7 topics, as your essay may be returned without grading, and you will be asked to rewrite it.
Need assignment ideas?
Take a look at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center for topic ideas and additional resources.
Mini-Lesson on ETHOS – PATHOS – LOGOS
Plan to use these appeals heavily throughout your Argumentative essay.
This is an ethical appeal. It relies on your reliability and credibility as the author.
Includes reliable sources
Is written from an unbiased perspective
Shows the writer’s expertise through the presentation of careful insight and research
This is an emotional appeal. It relies on the construction of careful connection between the claims presented and the emotions of the readers.
Includes the writer’s values and beliefs
Uses stories or examples that convey emotion
Contains broader appeal and focus
This is an appeal to logic and reason. It relies on facts and figures that can convince the reader of the claims.
Relies on fact and opinion
Focuses on reasonable claims and organization of ideas
Only includes relevant material with a narrow focus
Writing Tips: The Argumentative Essay
Budget your time. This piece of writing is time-intensive, with multiple steps that should not be skipped. Plan ahead for brainstorming, collecting sources, outlining, publishing, and proofreading & polishing.
Organize your research. Create a project-specific bookmarks folder in your web browser. Or check out Zotero, an excellent program that helps compile, organize, and cite research.
Outline. An argument is a network of interdependent elements; thesis, major claims, supporting research, and minor claims–all of these pieces of the puzzle need to fit together for the argument to work. Put differently, this type of writing is complicated; outlining will help you to see your argument simply.
Ensure your introduction catches your readers’ attention and uses a hook to keep it. Be specific about why your argument is worth your readers’ time and why the argument you have chosen is important.
Avoid arguments from personal experience. Mention nothing of your background, nor your expertise, though they might seem relevant–another convention of formal style. Likewise, avoid direct emotional appeals. Formal arguments are derived from shared histories and literature, from research and scholarship. A good rule to argue by is to only claim what your research lets you.
Be wary of mixing the argumentative purpose with that of informative writing. This is more difficult than many imagine. Only offer context when it is necessary to understand an essential part of the argument. Subject questionable passages to the simple litmus question: “Is this material either making or supporting a claim?” If the passage isn’t doing one of those two things, odds are, it’s purely informative, and it needs to go.
Develop at least three strong arguments for your thesis/claim, and develop them fully. Long body paragraphs are okay here–provided they are focused. As stressed in previous assignments: avoid writing body paragraphs that make multiple claims.
Do write a conclusion that includes a revisitation of your main claim and supporting points for or against a policy change. Don’t write a conclusion that is a verbatim repetition of what your reader has just read. The conclusion is your best opportunity to provide your “so what” for your claim (to convince your readers that your claim has merit). Offer your most powerful version of your argument. Ask an evocative question. Give your reader something to think about after they’ve put your writing down.
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