We all know what an argument is – people disagree about something, and they try to convince each other that their position is the right one. Sometimes an argument is not logical, is not based upon facts, and comes from emotion rather than rationality.
There is no consequence to these approaches unless, of course, you are writing an argumentative essay as an assignment. Then, you must set all emotion and illogic aside, and find the evidence to support your side of an argument. And, that’s just the first part of writing the essay.
In order for the argumentative essay to be coherent and fluent, you must also have a format for its structure. One of the biggest mistakes made when students write these types of essays is that they tend to ramble. They are excited to present their points, and, in that excitement, forget that those points must be carefully laid out in a sequential and organized fashion.
The Pre-Writing Steps
There are 3 important steps before you ever begin to prepare the structure, or format for your essay:
Pick a Topic and a Side
You will not write a good essay unless you choose a topic that is controversial and about which you have a strong opinion – LGBT rights, abortion, animal rights, immigration, college costs, the Iran nuke deal, etc.
Do the Research
Suppose you have selected college costs as your topic, and your position is that public higher education should be free. You know that you need to make at least 3 claims (or arguments) to present you “case,” so you are going to need to find out a number of things – how much have college costs risen over the past 20 years? What is the average student loan debt upon graduation? How do other developed (and underdeveloped) nations handle college costs? What do studies show regarding young people who do not go to college or who drop out of college due to the costs? What is the difference in lifetime incomes for students with a college education vs. those without one? Who in this country, or what groups, oppose free public college, and what are their arguments? You will need to present those arguments and refute them in your essay.
Organize that Research
What are the three most powerful arguments that you can make as a result of your research? List them and all of the evidence you have gathered for each one. Next, list the arguments of the opposing view and pick out pieces of research that will counter or refute those arguments.
The Outline – Do NOT attempt to write an Argumentative Essay without One!
You are now ready to set up the structure for writing you essay, and that must be some form of an outline. For purposes of example, the following outline structure in of the traditional variety. You may use a different structure if it works better for you, but adhering to this general format will give you a good “map.” Keeping with the topic of college costs and your opinion that public college should be free, an outline might look like this:
- Introduction – There will be two parts to your introduction
- Set the Stage: Open with some startling fact or an anecdote. An effective one here is that total student loan debt in this country is now at $1.5 trillion.
- Present your position as a strong thesis statement: Public college educations in America must be free to all students who can qualify for admissions. Such a condition will give true equality of educational opportunity, will allow America to complete globally, and will prevent a potential financial crisis. (You have stated your 3 claims right here).
- The Body
- Claim One: We are rapidly becoming “out-educated” by both developed and under-developed nations on the planet.
- Claim Two: Economic experts predict that student loan debt will be the next major national financial crisis.
- Claim Three: Unequal educational opportunities mean greater socio-economic inequality in the future.
NOTE: You must provide strong evidence to back each claim that you have presented. Use first-hand experiences or those of other students; use opinions of recognized authorities; use facts and figures from authoritative sources (the College Board, respected research organizations, testimony before state and federal legislatures, etc.). Without evidence, your opinion means nothing.
- Address the Opposing Arguments
- College students won’t appreciate their educations unless they pay for them. How will you refute this? Perhaps use the argument that, in most cases, when college educations are completely paid for, they are paid for by parents, not the students themselves. Use instances of students who have attended college on full scholarships and who have gone on to do great things.
- This is simply a furtherance of the “Nanny State.” Perhaps explain that individuals with college educations are far less likely to rely on governmental handouts as adults.
- Pell Grants already pay for college educations of poor students. Point out that Pell Grants only provide a portion of total college costs. If they actually paid for everything, poor students would not graduate with huge loan debt.
- It is too costly. Point out that the higher cost to the taxpayer for free higher education will be far less than the long-term costs of student loan debt, of uneducated people who cannot find jobs, and of loss of a leadership role in the world due to a less educated population.
- Conclusion: Here you may want to do any number of things:
- Explain why this issue is of such grave importance to our country’s financial and global health
- Explain why all Americans should care about this issue
- Provide your solution(s)
- Provide a “call to action” on the part of the reader
Your argumentative essay now has the structure and format it needs to be a scholarly piece of writing. Yes, it takes some work and, of course, some time.
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