Suggestions for Writing an Argument

What is an argument?

The word "argument" often suggests a confrontational or aggressive encounter between two individuals. In most cases, however, an argument is nothing more than a "point of view presented through careful reasoning," as Elbow and Belanoff say (277). When you make a claim that brown sugar is less harmful to the body than cane sugar, and you offer the reasons and the evidence for your claim, you are creating an argument. When you observe that the United States' intervention in Iraq has affected tourism around the world, and then you analyze the number of attacks on Americans in foreign cities as evidence of your claim, you have created an argument.

Your assignment for project three is to construct an argument in writing. By now all of you have identified an issue or concern about which you could create an argument. Your issues or concerns may be light hearted: Buying a second backpack and packing it with only the books and supplies you need for certain days places less stress on your back. Or they may be challenging: Under the right circumstances, it is possible to argue that a woman can rape a man. They may be political (The plan to revise California's state representational arrangement will result in a less effective state government.) or they may be social (Required worships do little to promote spirituality, and may, in fact, contribute to a less spiritual environment on campus.).

Either way, when you make an observation or a claim or you take a position on an issue and then you explore your reasons for making or holding this observation, claim, or position, you have constructed an argument.

How should you go about writing your argument:

Elbow and Belanoff offer three strategies for analyzing an argument. These strategies will serve you well in writing your argumentative essay.

First, remember that by now you know what your argument is. You've been in to talk about your argument with me and we settled on something you would like to write about. If, by chance, you've forgotten your argument, give me a call (471-3172) or email me and I'll remind you. With your argument in mind, follow these steps:

  1. Outline all the reasons you can think of which you lead you to your observation or claim or position. List them.

  2. For each reason identify support you might use. Suppose you want to say that successful students plan their time carefully. One reason you offer is that learning to manage time encourages management of study habits as well. Now, you have a claim and a reason, but where is your support? For support you might decide to explain how the cause of managing your time results in the effect of managing other study skills.

    Here are some types of support you might consider:

    • Tell a story which illustrates a point you want to make or helps to explain your experience with the issue or problem.

    • Define what you mean by a certain term or word. Remember, words don't mean the same thing to everyone.

    • Describe some aspect of your topic. What does it look like? What does it feel or smell like?

    • Offer an example of the thing you're talking about.

    • Explain a process. How did something happen or come to be or how do you go about doing something?

    • Compare your topic with something similar or explain how it is different.

    • Classify your topic into various categories.

    • Analyze the causes of an event or situation, or review the results.

    • Ask a question, then answer it.

    • Quote an authority.

    • Provide a statistic or fact.

  3. Explore your assumptions for holding the believe you do. What do you assume is true. If you want to argue that coeducational dorms at Andrews University would be beneficial, it might help you to understand what you assume is true about male-female relationships. Perhaps you assume that marriages fail because participants don't know enough about each other before they marry. Or suppose you assume that the best way to get to know someone is to live with them, and you see a coed dorm as being the best way to accomplish this fact. Knowing your assumptions will help you develop your argument more effectively.

  4. Think about your readers or your audience. What will they believe about your topic or your issue or your perspective? What counter evidence are they likely to offer? How would you respond? What sort of evidence would work best for the readers or audience you presume will read your work? Remember that there are three general types of readers:

    • Readers who respond to emotional arguments; for these readers you can use support that appeals to fear or greed or affection.

    • Readers who respect you as a person. For these readers you can build on your own reputation; you can advance yourself as a scholar or an expert who should be believed.

    • Readers who expect to be intellectually challenged. These kinds of readers want you to put together your evidence logically, avoiding emotion and relying on reason. They will care more about your reasons than about your personality.

  5. Once you've gathered your evidence, put it together into an essay that help your reader understand exactly why you believe what you do or hold the position you hold. How will that look? Well, it's hard to say because arguments come in many shapes. You could create a letter to the editor. Your could write an opinion column that might appear in a newspaper. You could create a typical school essay. What is clear is that when your reader reads (in this case me) your work, he (I) should easily find your claim stated and I should be able to follow your line of thinking so that I understand how you arrived where you did.

How will your argument be assessed?

When I read your argumentative essay and evaluate it, I'll look for the following characteristics: