A Brief Guide to Writing ARGUMENTATIVE Essays
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 folks are always surprised when others don’t agree with them because their logic seems so 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. Want to know what you think about something? Then write an argumentative essay. To be fair, however, you’ll find that one of the first things you must do is become an expert on the issue. 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 hottest 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,” or because your instructor is probably sick of reading about them and knows all the pros and cons by heart (this could put you at a serious disadvantage). 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. Features
1. So, what do you write about? Pick a well-defined, controversial issue. (Spend some time with the latest copies of several news magazines, watch 60 Minutes, 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. 2. 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 space station.” Using the first person weakens your argument. Say “Funding for the space station is imperative to maintain America’s competitive edge in the global economy.” The thesis can be modified elsewhere in the essay if you need to qualify your position, but avoid hedging in your thesis. 3. 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 nonbiased, 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. 4. 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.
THE STRUCTURE OF ARGUMENT ESSAYS
Purpose and design
The structure of a simple argument essay is more than just a collection of parts or stages, like a thesis, a preview, paragraphs with topic sentences and a conclusion. An argument essay, and in fact any coherent text, is a series of strategic moves, like making a claim and backing it up with evidence, or elaborating on a point, or making a concession. I have also tried to show how the parts of a text are linked together by chains of key-words. The introduction paragraph
The introduction paragraph tells us what the essay is about, what the writer thinks is true, and what kind of evidence the writer is going to give. In this example essay, the writer gives a thesis, or central claim, and then
backs up the thesis with general and then specific evidence. The list of specific evidence is a preview of the rest of the essay. Making a claim and backing it up with evidence
Everything in the essay is designed to convince us that the thesis is true. The preview is a short summary of the evidence that the writer is going to give in the body of the essay. Later, the KEY-WORDS in the preview will create a link between the thesis and each paragraph in the essay.
Introduction: The dangers of smoking are now well known in medical science. Although smokers claim that it helps them to relax and release stress, the negative aspects of the habit outweigh the positive. Smoking is an expensive habit and it should be banned because it is a health hazard for both smokers and non-smokers and is also also addictive.
Concession and elaborations
This essay is about the negative aspects of smoking, but the writer also mentions that smoking has some positive aspects. This shows that the writer understands the opposite point of view and makes the argument stronger. This move is called concession.
The writer gives some general evidence for the thesis: smoking has negative aspects which are stronger than its positive aspects. This is elaborated, or expanded, into a list of specific evidence. The KEY-WORDS help to link these sentences together and later they will link this preview to the rest of the essay. Making a link from Thesis to each Body-Paragraph
The writer takes the first item of evidence from the preview and elaborates or expands it in the first paragraph. The writer tells us what the first paragraph will be about in the topic sentence. The writer uses the KEY-WORDS “health problems” to link the topic sentence back to the preview.
. The dangers of smoking are now well known in medical science. Although smokers claim that it helps them to relax and release stress, the negative
aspects of the habit outweigh the positive. Smoking is an expensive habit and it should be banned because it is a health hazard for both smokers and non-smokers and is also also addictive. .. Thesis – Your Argument
Preview – Main supporting Points
Linking the other body paragraphs to the Preview
The writer takes each item of evidence in the preview and elaborates or expands it into a complete sentence. These sentences become the Topic Sentences of each paragraph. The KEY-WORDS in the Preview are used to create a link with each Topic Sentence. Later, the key-words in the Topic Sentences will create a link to the sentences and ideas in each paragraph. Thesis/preview
Topic Sentence Parag 1
Topic Sentence Parag 2
Topic Sentence Parag 3
Smoking is an expensive habit and it should be banned because it is a health hazard for both smokers and non-smokers are also also addictive. Paragraph 1
Cigarette smoking causes a number of health problems which are expensive to treat. Another reason for banning smoking is that cigarette smoke affects the health of non-smokers and unborn babies. Finally, the nicotine which is found in cigarettes is highly addictive.
Smoking Should be Banned
The dangers of smoking are now well known in medical science. Although smokers claim that it helps them to relax and release stress, the negative aspects of the habit outweigh the positive. Smoking is an expensive habit and it should be banned because it is a health hazard for both smokers and non-smokers and is also addictive. Preview
Cigarette smoking causes a number of health problems which are expensive to treat. It is a major cause of respiratory diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and bronchitis. It also leads to heart disease. In spite of the money which the Government receives from taxing cigarettes, the cost of medical treatment for these diseases exceeds this income. As a consequence, non smoking taxpayers are forced to pay for the health costs of smokers. This is a very unfair situation. Paragraph 2
Another reason for banning smoking is that cigarette smoke affects the health of non-smokers and unborn babies. Non-smokers soften suffer from eye and nose irritations, allergies and headaches as a result of inhaling second-hand smoke. There is also evidence to suggest that passive smoking may cause lung cancer. Smoking during pregnancy can hinder to growth of the foetus and may even result in death. Paragraph 3
Finally, the nicotine which is found in cigarettes is highly addictive. Other addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin are illegal. The fact that tobacco remains legal is an anomaly. Conclusion
Thus, in summary, smoking causes numerous illnesses which are expensive to treat. It disturbs non-smokers and is an unhealthy addiction. Therefore, cigarettes should definitely be so as to make the world a better place for everyone.
You Just Don’t Understand
Passage taken from “You Just Don’t Understand,” by Deborah Tannen, in Mosaic Two, Blass, Laurie and Meredith Pike-Baky, The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., New York, 1996, p. 50, 51 Experts and nonexperts alike tend to see anything women do as evidence of powerlessness. [The language of the media is replete with examples of how difficult it is for women to be regarded as beings with authority and power. The attitude follows women in power everywhere, but]…
nowhere is the conflict between femininity and authority more crucial than with women in politics. The characteristics of a good man and a good candidate are the same, but a woman has to choose between coming across as a strong leader or a good woman. If a man appears forceful, logical, direct, masterful, or powerful, he enhances his value as a man. If a woman appears forceful, logical, direct, masterful, or powerful she risks undercutting her value as a woman.
As Robin Lakoff shows in Language and Woman’s Place, language comes at a woman from two angles: The words they speak, and the words spoken about them. If I wrote: “After delivering the acceptance speech, the candidate fainted, “you would know I was talking about a woman. Men do not faint; they pass out. And these terms have vastly different connotations that both reflect and affect our image of men and women. Fainting conjures up a frail figure crumpling into a man’s rescuing arms, maybe just for dramatic effect. Passing out suggests a straightforward fall to the floor. An article in Newsweek during the 1984 vice presidential campaign quoted a Reagan aide who called Ferraro [Geraldine Ferraro- a 1984 vice presidential candidate] “a nasty woman” who would “claw Ronald Reagan’s eyes out.” Never mind the nastiness of the remark and of the news magazine’s using it to open its article. Applied to a man, nasty would be so tame as to seem harmless. Furthermore, men don’t claw; they punch and sock, with correspondingly more forceful results. The verb claw both reflects and reinforces the stereotypical metaphor of women as cats. Each time someone uses an expression associated with this metaphor, it reinforces it, suggesting a general “cattiness” in women’s character.
In his book The Language of Politics, Michael Geis gives several examples of words used to describe that undercut her. One headline called her “spunky” and “feisty.” As Geis observes, spunky and feisty are used only for creatures that are small and lacking in real power; they could be said of a Pekinese but not a Great Dane, perhaps of Mickey Rooney but not of an average-size man. It’s not that journalists, other writers, or everyday speakers are deliberately, or even unintentionally, “sexist” in their use of language. The important point is that gender distinctions are built into
language. The words available to us to describe women and men are not the same words. And, most damaging of all, through language, our images and attitudes are buttressed and shaped. Simply by understanding and using the words of our language, we all absorb and pass on different, asymmetrical assumptions about men and women.