Argumentative essays often strike fear deep into the heart of even the most dedicated students; there really is no need. Let’s face it, we all like a good argument every now and again! Everyone’s at it: politicians, news broadcasters, lawyers, and solicitors… even that noisy couple next door who can’t seem to agree on whose turn it is to take the garbage out! But topping the list of supporters of the argumentative form simply has to be teachers and professors. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, the chances are that, at some point during the school year, you will be asked to write an argumentative essay.
Well, fear not, our essay editors have put together just the guide for you, and in a few minutes’ time, you will have the confidence and knowledge to go forth and argue!
So what exactly is an argumentative essay and how angry do I need to be?
It’s a harsh fact of life that human beings do not always agree. Even the most educated, wise and honest members of society suffer from differences of opinion every now and again, and there really is nothing wrong with that. Argumentative essays are important in the land of academia because they offer students an opportunity to develop an argument that is presented in a measured and considered manner. When you write an argumentative essay, you are not angry; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. You are putting forward your opinions in a calm manner that is aimed at convincing others to adopt your stance.
What Should I Argue About?
Quite often your professor will allow you to choose your own topic for your argumentative essays. If so, this is good news, and you will shortly see why. The most important thing you need when composing your essay is the desire to win. Your main objective is to change the opinion of the reader and, to do this, you need to be very, very convincing. To be convincing, you need to be knowledgeable. For this reason, you should have two things in mind when selecting a topic:
- It must be possible to actually win the argument in the first place. It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel about something, if you address issues that are highly contentious then you will find it very hard to emerge the victor. Try and stay away from topics like abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research etc. because your teacher will probably have come across essays on these topics a million times before and you will find it difficult to present new arguments.
- You need to know your stuff. To write a strong argument, you need to have the knowledge required to present all the facts and address all the pros and cons. If you have never tried water skiing, then you are not qualified to write argumentative essays that claim water skiing is the best possible form of getting fit. Choose a topic that you are an expert in and, preferably, one that you find interesting.
I Have a Topic, Now What?
There are several steps to writing great argumentative essays:
I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed! -William Shakespeare
Yes, dull as it is, you need to read, read and read some more. To write effective argumentative essays, you need an advanced knowledge of the subject matter because, if you don’t know all the facts, you risk looking like a fool. For some great tips on researching papers, see our free tips for essay writing.
State Your Proposition.
Before you start writing you need to have a focus. The best way to achieve this is to define a short proposition or thesis statement. This is important as it will help you to concentrate on the topic in a productive manner. You may find that your proposition changes as your thought process develops; this is completely normal. Just ensure that you revise your proposition as you progress to ensure that it adequately reflects your thinking.
You should always ensure that your statement makes a debatable assertion. A proposition that states something like “social network sites should be banned,” is far too weak and broad and it doesn’t really inform the reader of what the essay will cover. Stay away from vague generalizations and try and be as precise as possible. For example, you may wish to revise the statement as follows: “Use of social network sites during classroom hours should be banned because they prevent students from concentrating.” Now the reader will know what to expect from the essay and will have a good understanding of the main points of the argument.
Think about the opposition.
The key to writing a good argumentative essay is to remember that someone, somewhere will disagree with your opinion. If not, then there’s no need for the essay in the first place. Your objective when writing argumentative essays is to anticipate what someone who is opposed to your argument may say, and to subsequently counter and overcome their objections. Ask the following:
- Who may disagree with me?
- What points will they disagree with?
- How strong will the opposition be?
- How can I refute their opinions?
- Which points are the most debatable?
By asking questions such as these, you can really understand whether you have a chance of winning the argument and can anticipate the crucial points that could determine your success or failure.
Structure Your Argument.
Think of your essay in terms of paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a separate element of the argument. A useful structure may look like this:
- Introduction. Set up and establish your proposition. Try and make it interesting and draw the reader into reading your argument.
- Background. Provide a brief background of the topic under discussion. Explain key theories and terms.
- Supporting evidence paragraphs. Create one or more paragraphs that present your argument and supports it using the information you have found during the research process.
- Counterargument paragraphs. Create one or more paragraphs that address potential opposing views to the arguments you have given. Refute these arguments using hard facts.
- Conclusion. Sum up your argument and assert that you have achieved your objective of successfully arguing the facts.
One final point, argumentative essays do not need to be boring. Choose a topic that you’re interested in, and you may just find that writing essays can actually be fun!
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Can I ask rhetorical questions in persuasive essays? How will the reader answer the question?
Rhetorical questions in persuasive essays are a great idea.
A question which is posed without the expectation of an answer is called a “rhetorical question.” Obviously, readers can’t answer the question to you, but they might answer the question to themselves. That’s the purpose of a rhetorical question. The root of this meaning is from the word “rhetoric” which is the art of making arguments. Rhetoric used to be one of the main areas of study before the modern school was invented. If you were in school in England in 1850, it would have been an important subject. In those days it was believed that the ability to discuss ideas was the most important thing for students to learn since education wasn’t valued for its practical aspects. It was for gentlemen who didn’t sully themselves with practical matters left to the lower classes. But I digress.
Dropping a rhetorical question into a persuasive argument is often a powerful form of persuasion. You present several facts and build up to a conclusion, drawing the conclusion out of the reader. For example, if you were trying to persuade the reader to support universal health care, you might ask “What kind of a country doesn’t ensure its citizens have access to health care?” For a reader to disagree with you, they would have to do some mental gymnastics in order to identify the underlying assumptions of the question–that universal health care is the only way to ensure all citizens have access to health care, or that if you disagree with the premise, you support an inferior version of the country.
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Rhetorical questions in persuasive essays as an introduction
Rhetorical questions can be one of the great ways to write an essay introduction. In my Essay Writing blog, I have a very popular article on 5 Great Essay Introduction Ideas. For example, in a persuasive essay on gun control, you might start by asking “Are homes with guns safer than those without guns?” In a persuasive essay on abortion, you could ask “What would you do if you were poor, single, and suddenly found yourself pregnant?”
Beginning a persuasive essay with a rhetorical question allows you to provide the answer. You can answer the question with a fact and citation. This gives your argument some weight. Later, you will need to provide a counter argument. Even that part can be improved with the use of a rhetorical question. “Why would someone believe XXX?” Then you provide some information and show that it’s not as reliable or valid as the argument you are putting forward.
You wouldn’t want to fill up your persuasive essay with rhetorical questions. It is one technique, to be used sparingly. But it can be very effective, and who wouldn’t want that?
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About Peter J. Francis
Peter J. Francis is owner and operator of HyperGraphix Publishing Services (HGPublishing.com). He has over 30 years of professional writing and editing experience. He holds a BA (Honors) degree in English (1987), a B. Ed. degree from SFU (2005) and a certificate in Special Education from SFU (2011). He teaches high school and offers editing services as time is available.
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