The Argumentative Essay

Assignment Guide: The Argumentative Essay

Assignment Prompt

For this assignment, you will be writing an argumentative essaya piece of writing that requires you to take a position, what rhetoricians call a claim, on a debatable topic (that is, a topic with more than one side). Specifically, you will present a policy claim where you argue for or against a change of some kind. This claim should be supported by reliable, credible evidence (i.e. scholarly sources) backed by research.  In addition to presenting your claim, you will also need to acknowledge the other side, which is called the counterargument. For this assignment, you may choose your own topic or select one from the list below.

Assignment-Specific Requirements:

Length: This assignment should be at least 750 words. 

Thesis: Underline your thesis statement or the main claim of your letter.

Supporting Points: plan to develop at least three strong supporting points to accompany your thesis and at least one counter. Each supporting point should equate to at least one body paragraph. 

Sources Needed: The essay should integrate at least four reliable and credible sources, to help prove the argument for or against a policy change.  Be sure to use MLA guidelines for all in-text and Works Cited citations. 

Page Formatting: See Appendix C – Formatting and Submitting Your Work

MLA Requirements: See Formatting your Essay: MLA 8th Edition

Rhetorical Mode

When we talk about argument writing, we are not talking about an emotional and heated argument, but one that is neutral in tone and uses evidence/facts to convince your readers of a claim. Your argument is your claim, or the point that you want to convince readers ofin this instance, you will be making a claim for or against a policy change. Because everything depends on the strength of this claim (and the supporting points that you use to scaffold it), the organizational structure of an argumentative essay is incredibly important to its success. Every idea, topic sentence, paragraph, and page should always align with your argumentative claim. Be sure that you use scholarly evidence purposefully to support the claim you are making and do not veer too much into exploratory or informative writing, which is trickier than it sounds. Youll also need to think carefully about how to integrate researched evidence with your own ideas, to build a fully developed and supported stance throughout. Finally, you will want to acknowledge the counterargument in the body paragraphs, even if you cannot refute it entirely. 

Rhetorical Considerations

Purpose:

Remember that this is an argumentative essay: that means your goal is to prove your claim for or against a policy change to readers. This piece of writing should be aimed at convincing readers through the inclusion of a strong argumentative thesis, specific supporting points, acknowledgement of the counter, and carefully chosen scholarly evidence. 

Audience:

The argumentative essay is written for someone elsea community of readers that is most impacted by the policy you are proposing to change (or keep the same). In this instance, you are writing to argue for or against a change (and thus convince readers that a change should or should not occur). Keep this audience in mind by angling everything in your essay towards a strong argument that can appeal to a more general population. 

Form:

This is a formal writing project, written in third-person, relying on strong organizational strategies, integrating researched evidence (the academic sources you choose), and following MLA formatting guidelines. 

Additional Resources:

Suggested Topics:

  • Physician-assisted suicide should/should not be legalized
  • The drinking age should/should not be lowered to 18
  • Colleges should/should not use proctoring for exams
  • Weedkiller should/should not be illegal
  • Self-driving cars should/should not be legal
  • College athletes should/should not be paid as employees
  • The U.S. should/should not switch to a single-payer healthcare system
  • Drug possession should/should not be decriminalized 
  • The minimum wage should/should not be increased across the U.S.

Writing Tips: The Argumentative Essay

  • Budget your time. This piece of writing is time-intensive, with multiple steps that should not be skipped. Plan ahead for brainstorming, collecting sources, outlining, drafting, and proofreading & polishing. 

  • Organize your research. Create a project-specific bookmarks folder in your web browser. Or check out Zotero, an excellent program that helps compile, organize, and cite research. 

  • Outline. An argument is a network of interdependent elements; thesis, major claims, supporting research, and minor claimsall of these pieces of the puzzle need to fit together for the argument to work. Put differently, this type of writing is complicated; outlining will help you to see your argument simply.   

  • Ensure your introduction catches your readers attention and uses a hook to keep it. Be specific about why your argument is worth your readers time and why the argument you have chosen is important.

  • Avoid arguments from personal experience. Mention nothing of your background, nor your expertise, though they might seem relevantanother convention of formal style. Likewise, avoid direct emotional appeals. Formal arguments are derived from shared histories and literature, from research and scholarship. A good rule to argue by is to only claim what your research lets you. 

  • Be wary of mixing the argumentative purpose with that of informative writing. This is more difficult than many imagine. Only offer context when it is necessary to understand an essential part of the argument. Subject questionable passages to the simple litmus question: Is this material either making or supporting a claim? If the passage isnt doing one of those two things, odds are, its purely informative, and it needs to go. 

  • Develop at least three strong arguments for your thesis/claim, and develop them fully. Long body paragraphs are okay hereprovided they are focused. As stressed in previous assignments: avoid writing body paragraphs that make multiple claims. 

  • Do write a conclusion that includes a revisitation of your main claim and supporting points for or against a policy change. Dont write a conclusion that is a verbatim repetition of what your reader has just read. The conclusion is your best opportunity to provide your so what for your claim (to convince your readers that your claim has merit). Offer your most powerful version of your argument. Ask an evocative question. Give your reader something to think about after theyve put your writing down. 

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