How To
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How to Write an Argumentative Essay [Guide and Tips]

William Ellis

August 2, 2022

When one thinks of an argument, they tend to think of two people shouting at one another and finding no sense of common ground. However, the truth is that arguments can be healthy and productive, with the argumentative essay being the most effective form of arguing.

An argumentative essay, whether for academic purposes or mass publication, is an effective form for positing an opinion because it mitigates any potential shouting and allows for maximum clarity of meaning. If you need to write an argumentative essay, the following information will help you create one that communicates your point.

What makes a good argumentative essay?

Before understanding what makes an argumentative essay good, you need to understand what makes one bad. After all, having a basic grasp of what pitfalls you might face in an argument allows you the room to think through your stance thoroughly.

The first sign of a problematic argumentative essay is if it is only a series of nay-saying statements about the opposing side of the debate. Not only would that make for a short essay, but it is also not very effective in changing the opposition's mindset or getting your point across, which is the main purpose for your argumentative essay writing to begin with.

The most successful essays do not just offer criticism. The least a good argumentative essay should do is submit a counter-argument; at best, it should offer solutions. For each of your speaking points, you should have at least one thought-out and realistic solution to the problem you are bringing to light.

Above all, a good argumentative essay should supply the reader with pertinent and credible information that can allow them to see your point of view and help them form their own.

How do you outline an argumentative essay?

You should gather your thoughts and put them in a simple-to-follow structure that gets your main argument across to the readers. Here are the main sections for an argumentative essay outline.

Introduction paragraph

Starting with your introductory paragraph, outline your main claim with some background information, but don't provide too much detail on evidential points as these will be covered soon.

Thesis statement

Your thesis statement is a short and to-the-point sentence-long summary that allows the reader to see what side of the argument you are on within the introductory paragraph.

Body paragraphs

The body of your argumentative paper should consist of at least three body paragraphs supporting your claim. Each body paragraph should have a topic sentence that covers different angles and evidence of your argument. The body is where you will provide citations, stats, and other research to back up your claim.

Conclusion paragraph

As with most essay writing, the conclusion is where you will rephrase your thesis and topic sentences from your intro and body. You don't want to provide new evidence, which you should add to the body paragraphs above. Instead, close out with some persuasive writing that helps to win the readers over towards your main point while wrapping everything up is the goal of the conclusion.

How do you begin writing an argumentative essay?

Before you write a single word of your essay, you need to know your stance on the topic at hand. This may sound simple, but you want to write it down, whether in a notebook or document file, before you start trying to persuade someone that your stance is correct.

Roughing out your main argument in note form can help you begin to articulate your stance, as often, what is clear in our heads may not necessarily be apparent when first writing it out. This will also allow you to better consider the structure that you use in your essay.

There's a reason we tend to go over arguments after the fact while alone and always seem to come up with better “comebacks” than we did at the moment. You are allowing yourself the time to thoroughly think through the essay in the third-party mindset that writing will enable you to hone your thought process and find holes that your opposition can use.

How do you structure an argument?

It needs to be said first that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to structure an argumentative essay. An argument is judged solely on its ability at least to highlight the logical reasoning behind one side of the argument. However, while there is no one correct way to structure an argument, you need to consider that there is a right or wrong way to structure your specific argument.

There is a notion that the lack of one correct singular structure means that one can abandon structure entirely. It would be easy to start free-writing your stream-of-conscious arguments. But, it would also likely, not lead to a very persuasive (or articulate) essay. Your argument may have some good points, but it will be easily picked apart without the proper structure.

Are you trying to defend someone? Convince a person to change a political stance? Are you trying to justify a difference in opinion? Different approaches can be taken to build your argument that has been proven time and time again to work effectively. The simplest means to structure an argument is as follows:

  • Lay out the problem – Present the subject at hand and the two sides featured in the argument.
  • Present your stance – Make clear to the reader the position that you have taken.
  • Support your stance – This is where you present the relevant evidence that supports your perspective.
  • Restate your stance – This is where you sum up your argument succinctly.

Making your essay flow

Argumentative essay writing

Arguably the most important element of how you structure your argumentative essay is the way that the essay flows. Instead of writing disjointed paragraphs that correlate with your argument, your paragraphs should instead build upon your argument and have logical transition points. Those transition points make it easier for the reader to follow your argument's logic.

Present the subject of debate

One of the biggest mistakes one can make with an argumentative essay is assuming that the reader is familiar with the subject. You must present the subject of the debate to them as though it is the first time they are encountering it.

This does not mean that you treat the subject like an idiot or a small child. It merely means that you give them the basics of what they need to know to understand the source of conflict. Keep your information clear and opinion free. You aren't trying to convince anyone of anything yet. You are simply explaining the chess pieces involved.

Let the essay’s body serve as where you present your argument. The only thing you need to convince the reader of in the initial presentation is that the topic at hand is serious and worth consideration. If you cannot convince them of the topic's importance, then you will likely not be able to convince them of your argument.

Presenting your argument

Getting the reader invested in the problem at large is the first step towards getting them invested in reading your side. Once they understand the debate, you need to present your actual side of the argument. The best way to show your side of the argument is with a clear and concise statement followed by elaboration. 

Trying to present the whole of your argument in a single sentence would be a logistical nightmare. Instead, it is better to present your argument in smaller, easy-to-process pieces to give the reader maximum clarity and insight to your side of the debate.

Know your reader

The purpose of an argumentative essay is clear: persuade the reader that your side of the argument is correct. To do that, you need to know who your target reader is. Are you writing a research paper for a class or an expository essay for broad publication? This can help you discern the tone that you can take in your essay and how best to appeal to their sensibilities.

You should almost always go with a more formal writing style when writing for academic purposes. If you are writing for a more specific type of reader, you may have some leeway to write in a more relaxed tone.

Establish credibility

If you want readers to take your side of an argument, then you need to establish credibility with them. You will first need to find credible sources to support your side of the argument, making Wikipedia and other open-community curated sources out of the question.

One of the quickest ways to lose credibility is to have information from questionable sources. You want to be sure that the information you have is accurate, so always be sure that the reputation of your source is sound. For example, if your source is a well-established newspaper such as the New York Times, you are probably in the clear. However, if your source is the tabloid, The National Enquirer, you need to find new sources.

It is also important that your sources be accessible to the reader. Having information behind the lock and key of a subscription you purchase but the reader does not have may not damage your credibility, but it certainly loses you the goodwill of the reader.

Not only should the reader be able to check your sources, but you should do your best to make it easy for them to do so. The reader should never have to take your word on any topic that you present. The writer must check and provide sources and informative links in the essay. After all, you aren't in the right because you say you are; you're in the right because you can prove you are.

Look for your argument's weaknesses

You need to know and understand your argument inside and out. That means you also need to know any potential weaknesses that your argument may have. Knowing your argument's weaknesses allows you to both strengthen it and form solutions for the problems it may face.

Instead of trying to avoid the weak points of your argument, you will also be able to assemble rebuttals to potential counter-arguments that could be created from those weak points. This gives you a chance to get ahead of the game and create an air-tight argument.

One of the best ways to find the weaknesses of your argument is to find any prior works written from the opposing side's viewpoint. This will not only show you potential fallacies in your writing but can also serve as an empathetic experience that enriches your own understanding of the argument as a whole.

Acknowledge good points from the other side

While it may seem antithetical to acknowledge that the other side of the argument has a good point, it actually serves two purposes. First and foremost, it establishes that you are arguing in good faith rather than simply trying to put down the other side. This isn't a round of fisticuffs; you're trying to change minds and hearts.

Acknowledging the positives of the other side of the argument goes hand in hand with finding the weaknesses in your side of the argument. By recognizing the positives, you are better positioned to highlight the negatives. Understanding the areas in which your opponent is likely to have spent the most time will allow you to better isolate the cracks and flaws in their stance and use them as footholds to boost your viewpoint.

Developing rebuttals

You must be ready to supply a rebuttal when you find the good points for arguments against your essay's stance. Instead, a good rebuttal is more than simply saying that the other side, or counter argument, is wrong. A good rebuttal highlights the flaws of the opposing argument and shows why your position solves or prevents those problems.

An important factor in developing a rebuttal is keeping in mind that the other side of a debate brings an entirely different perspective. Something that may seem like a con to their opinion of you may be a pro for them. Developing a rebuttal requires understanding the opposing agrument so that you can highlight potential flaws in that viewpoint without them trying to spin it into a win for their side.

The persuasive conclusion

Now that you have formed the body of your essay, you need to sum it up briefly and persuasively. A persuasive conclusion is where you can thoroughly drive home the entire thesis of your essay. Like a good rug in a room, your compelling conclusion should tie the piece together.

Make sure your grammar is correct

Check grammar in essay writing

When you have finished writing your essay, you must begin what is arguably the most critical step: proofreading. There is nothing that can torpedo your essay's credibility quite like having grammar and spelling mistakes.

Spelling and grammar may not seem like too big of an issue, but they can make you seem careless at best and uneducated at worst. If you are writing an essay for a class, then not properly proofreading your work could also lead to a lesser grade.

There are several methods you can use to proofread. The quickest and easiest way to proofread your work is to have another person read your essay and highlight mistakes that they find. Another method that has been proven time and time again as one of the best is the implementation of Grammarly.

Grammarly is a proofreading tool that will detect any spelling and grammar problems in your work. Its base features are free to use, while it also has pay-to-use services that can help you improve your work. In addition, other programs such as Copyscape can help detect any accidental cases of plagiarism in your work.

Keeping the (good) faith

Always argue in good faith, which may not necessarily be obvious to all writers. When you choose to insult the other side of an argument, you usually end up damaging some of the credibility and goodwill you have earned from readers.

You need to also be sure to avoid resorting to straw man arguments. A straw man argument is when one takes a person's opinion in an argument and then exaggerates and distorts that person's statement to mean something that they did not. 

Straw man argument essay

A straw man argument intentionally misrepresents what the other side has stated and is usually used as little more as a diversionary tactic to make the argument about the statement rather than the actual topic at hand. Here is an example of a straw man argument:

“I think people should not drive drunk.”

“Oh, I see. So you just want to ban all driving, right?”

The follow-up statement distorts the meaning of the initial statement. The goal is to get the person arguing to defend themselves by saying that what the responder implied was not their intended meaning. It may seem more difficult to utilize a straw man argument in writing. Still, you can use it to manipulate the reader into not taking the other side's opinion seriously, especially given that the other side cannot respond immediately to what is written.

Additional tips for writing an argumentative essay

Here are some additional tips that can help you create an argumentative essay that is professional and persuasive:

Keep it nice

Avoid insults at all costs. When you resort to insulting the opposite side of your argument, you not only look petty, you damage your credibility. On the other hand, taking a respectful, even-handed tone never causes the readers to question your intentions or rationality.

Keep it calm

It also needs to be said that you should avoid letting your passion for the topic devolve into ranting. When you turn an argumentative essay into a rant, you lose the even-handedness and clarity that is necessary for the essay format.

Keep it simple

Strive to simplify your strong argument for the reader, even if the argument at hand is rooted in a complicated topic. This does not mean dumbing down the topic but instead putting the necessary information in terms that are easy to understand and process. This means avoiding unnecessary tangents and avoiding overly flowery writing.

Final thoughts on how to write an argumentative essay

Remember above all that the point of an argumentative essay, almost more than winning an argument with persuasive writing, is to educate. If you cannot persuade the reader to your side of the argument then you should at least leave them with enough information to form their own opinion. Doing this will ensure that the reader will still feel that your essay was a worthwhile read.

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