Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writing an Argumentative Essay: Basic Terminology

Will Your Argument Hold Water?


When your professor asks you to write an argumentative essay, he or she is neither picking a fight nor asking you to write about your finest comeback in a recent argument you had with your roommate about the mountain of dirty clothes in the hall. What your professor is asking you to do in an argumentative essay is defend your conclusion about an issue by providing reasons and evidence in support of that conclusion.

Three Parts of an Argument

There are some very specific terms a writer must understand in order to understand argumentation or how to write an argumentative essay.  An argument is a unit made up of three pieces: the issue, the conclusion, and the premise or premises, which are also known as reasons and evidence.  Without any one of these three pieces, your argument will have a hole, and it will not hold water.

Issue - A Question about the Topic

An issue is complexity or uncertainty about a topic.  An issue causes inquiry or questioning about a topic, which results in research.  An issue is often introduced in the form of a question, although there is never just one answer to that question.  The terms used when a writer is defining an issue or asking a question must be exact and specific in order to effectively guide the writer’s research and construction of a conclusion with premises: The writer must write the question before beginning his or her research.  In the final draft of the paper, the question might or might not appear in the introduction.  


  • Issue: What is the best way to prevent plagiarism in an introductory composition course?



  • Issue: Should college students be required to take general education courses?


Conclusion - The Thesis or Enthymeme

A conclusion is a writer’s educated, researched, and careful response to an issue.  Other words for conclusion are position or claim, the writer's answer to his or her posed question.  A writer’s conclusion about an issue is generally stated as a thesis in an essay.  When the conclusion is stated in the same sentence as a reason in support of the conclusion, we call this special type of thesis an enthymeme.  Keep in mind, a thesis or enthymeme cannot be written until the writer has completed his or her research and has generated a thorough, supportable answer to his or her question.


  • Conclusion (Thesis): The best way to prevent plagiarism in an introductory composition course is to teach a unit in the beginning of the course on proper paraphrasing, summarizing, quoting, and citing.



  • Conclusion (Enthymeme): College students should be required to take general education courses because those courses prepare the students for success in not only their program courses, but in life.


Premises - Topic Sentences and Evidence

Another way to think of a premise is as a reason or a piece of evidence.  A premise tells the reader why he or she should accept the writer's conclusion about the issue.  Premises support the thesis and are placed in the body of an essay, either as topic sentences or as supporting details.  Premises can be based on empirical facts, values, comparisons, or definitions.  A writer should strive to include the most credible premises possible when supporting a conclusion.  Reasons and evidence that come from sources must be cited.


  • Premise (Evidence Based on Observation): When I began teaching composition courses, 33% of my students were committing unintentional plagiarism.  After speaking to several students about the problem, I realized they were plagiarizing because they had never been taught to recognize plagiarism or how to incorporate source material into original work.  After adding a unit about plagiarism and proper source inclusion to the second week of my course, the number of students committing unintentional plagiarism dropped to 0%.



  • Premise (Value Statement): We must do all we can to help prepare students for success in both their college coursework and in life.


Writing an Argumentative Essay

In conclusion, when writing an argumentative essay, a writer must begin with a research question based on an issue within a topic.  Then, the writer must brainstorm and research multiple sides to the issue in order to come to a decision about which side he or she will support.  Only then can a writer come to a conclusion about the issue and create a thesis statement or enthymeme.  Once the thesis or enthymeme is written, the writer can complete an outline, draft supporting paragraphs, and complete a final draft of the essay.



Read a Sample Argumentative Essay



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