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- How to write an argumentative essay | Examples & tips
How to Write an Argumentative Essay | Examples & Tips
Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on December 6, 2021.
An argumentative essay expresses an extended argument for a particular thesis statement . The author takes a clearly defined stance on their subject and builds up an evidence-based case for it.
Table of contents
When do you write an argumentative essay, approaches to argumentative essays, introducing your argument, the body: developing your argument, concluding your argument, frequently asked questions about argumentative essays.
You might be assigned an argumentative essay as a writing exercise in high school or in a composition class. The prompt will often ask you to argue for one of two positions, and may include terms like “argue” or “argument.” It will frequently take the form of a question.
The prompt may also be more open-ended in terms of the possible arguments you could make.
Argumentative writing at college level
At university, the vast majority of essays or papers you write will involve some form of argumentation. For example, both rhetorical analysis and literary analysis essays involve making arguments about texts.
In this context, you won’t necessarily be told to write an argumentative essay—but making an evidence-based argument is an essential goal of most academic writing, and this should be your default approach unless you’re told otherwise.
Examples of argumentative essay prompts
At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response.
Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.
- Don’t just list all the effects you can think of.
- Do develop a focused argument about the overall effect and why it matters, backed up by evidence from sources.
- Don’t just provide a selection of data on the measures’ effectiveness.
- Do build up your own argument about which kinds of measures have been most or least effective, and why.
- Don’t just analyze a random selection of doppelgänger characters.
- Do form an argument about specific texts, comparing and contrasting how they express their thematic concerns through doppelgänger characters.
An argumentative essay should be objective in its approach; your arguments should rely on logic and evidence, not on exaggeration or appeals to emotion.
There are many possible approaches to argumentative essays, but there are two common models that can help you start outlining your arguments: The Toulmin model and the Rogerian model.
The Toulmin model consists of four steps, which may be repeated as many times as necessary for the argument:
- Make a claim
- Provide the grounds (evidence) for the claim
- Explain the warrant (how the grounds support the claim)
- Discuss possible rebuttals to the claim, identifying the limits of the argument and showing that you have considered alternative perspectives
The Toulmin model is a common approach in academic essays. You don’t have to use these specific terms (grounds, warrants, rebuttals), but establishing a clear connection between your claims and the evidence supporting them is crucial in an argumentative essay.
Say you’re making an argument about the effectiveness of workplace anti-discrimination measures. You might:
- Claim that unconscious bias training does not have the desired results, and resources would be better spent on other approaches
- Cite data to support your claim
- Explain how the data indicates that the method is ineffective
- Anticipate objections to your claim based on other data, indicating whether these objections are valid, and if not, why not.
The Rogerian model also consists of four steps you might repeat throughout your essay:
- Discuss what the opposing position gets right and why people might hold this position
- Highlight the problems with this position
- Present your own position , showing how it addresses these problems
- Suggest a possible compromise —what elements of your position would proponents of the opposing position benefit from adopting?
This model builds up a clear picture of both sides of an argument and seeks a compromise. It is particularly useful when people tend to disagree strongly on the issue discussed, allowing you to approach opposing arguments in good faith.
Say you want to argue that the internet has had a positive impact on education. You might:
- Acknowledge that students rely too much on websites like Wikipedia
- Argue that teachers view Wikipedia as more unreliable than it really is
- Suggest that Wikipedia’s system of citations can actually teach students about referencing
- Suggest critical engagement with Wikipedia as a possible assignment for teachers who are skeptical of its usefulness.
You don’t necessarily have to pick one of these models—you may even use elements of both in different parts of your essay—but it’s worth considering them if you struggle to structure your arguments.
Regardless of which approach you take, your essay should always be structured using an introduction , a body , and a conclusion .
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Like other academic essays, an argumentative essay begins with an introduction . The introduction serves to capture the reader’s interest, provide background information, present your thesis statement , and (in longer essays) to summarize the structure of the body.
Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.
The body of an argumentative essay is where you develop your arguments in detail. Here you’ll present evidence, analysis, and reasoning to convince the reader that your thesis statement is true.
In the standard five-paragraph format for short essays, the body takes up three of your five paragraphs. In longer essays, it will be more paragraphs, and might be divided into sections with headings.
Each paragraph covers its own topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Each of these topics must contribute to your overall argument; don’t include irrelevant information.
This example paragraph takes a Rogerian approach: It first acknowledges the merits of the opposing position and then highlights problems with that position.
Hover over different parts of the example to see how a body paragraph is constructed.
A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.
An argumentative essay ends with a conclusion that summarizes and reflects on the arguments made in the body.
No new arguments or evidence appear here, but in longer essays you may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your argument and suggest topics for future research. In all conclusions, you should stress the relevance and importance of your argument.
Hover over the following example to see the typical elements of a conclusion.
The internet has had a major positive impact on the world of education; occasional pitfalls aside, its value is evident in numerous applications. The future of teaching lies in the possibilities the internet opens up for communication, research, and interactivity. As the popularity of distance learning shows, students value the flexibility and accessibility offered by digital education, and educators should fully embrace these advantages. The internet’s dangers, real and imaginary, have been documented exhaustively by skeptics, but the internet is here to stay; it is time to focus seriously on its potential for good.
An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.
An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.
At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).
Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.
The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .
The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.
In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.
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How to Write a Good Debate Essay
When the word “debate” occurs in an essay title, you are being asked to examine a subject in which there are opposing views. The aim is that your essay will lead to support for one side, based on clear argument, effective judgement and justification for the decisions presented and arguments presented. The foundation of a good debate essay is effectively completing research combined with being able to refer to facts and credible information. The biggest challenge is to remain unemotional, whilst still persuading your audience of the validity of the arguments you are making in support of your chosen side.
Writing your debate essay
Your introduction should ensure that your reader understands what topic is being debated and encourage them to read more. One effective way to start is with a question, which sets the stage for you to state your position on the subject (your thesis statement). For example, “Does online learning creates laziness in students?”.
The aim is that your readers will have an immediate answer to the question, and this then drives the arguments you are presenting. An alternative approach is to refute a statement, framing the subject negatively, for example, “There are studies which suggest online learning creates laziness, however, studies have shown that online learning actually increases motivation”. In this case you are encouraging the reader to support your argument. In both cases, you have set a foundation with your introduction which needs to be built on by effective arguments and evidence.
The body text of your debate essay should be separated into paragraphs, each one of which will cover a different reason / rationale for the viewpoint you set out in your introduction. For each point you should provide back-up information from credible sources, which demonstrates that you have evaluated evidence before drawing a conclusion and opinion. Each paragraph should introduce your argument for or against, depending on your perspective, and include where appropriate, statistical evidence, illustrative data and clearly referenced sources. A good tip with a debate essay is to also present the counterargument for your point and refute it with viable sources to demonstrate why it is incorrect, demonstrating your understanding of the subject. The structure of the body text should be logical, moving from one argument to another with effective connections such as “Furthermore”, “Notwithstanding”, “Moreover” or similar to ensure coherence of argument.
The conclusion to your debate essay should be a summing up of all the positive points you have made, reaffirming your stance on the issue and should refer back to your thesis statement or original question. This enables you to demonstrate that you have effectively provided a strong justification for your point of view and in so doing, persuaded the reader of the accuracy of your perspective and opinion.
Key Words for a Debate Essay
- In the same way
- On the other hand
- On the contrary
- In consequence
Tips For Writing A Debate Essay
An argumentative paper depends on various aspects that can either build the conversation or break it. Here is how to write a debate essay step by step and get your point through in a convincing manner:
- Choose the topic wisely. Make sure it is a controversial topic that can have a debate both ways. You can pick any topic from child education to medicinal marijuana. The topic itself needs to have a compelling pull to keep the audience involved.
- Once the topic is decided, figure out which side you are on. For topics like domestic violence, most people will be against it, but you can still create an argument around it confidently.
- Make sure you have done your research to articulate the facts and stats which go both in favour and against the topic. Your opponents may have a different perspective than you, but if you have solid grounds that can prove your stance, you can make them agree with you.
- Know your audience. The readers of your essay will be very crucial to you building your argument. If you are writing a term paper, you may focus more on sentence building, structuring, and formatting. But if you are drafting for a competition, you need solid supporting research which can be cited and argued.
- Have your facts ready. Without figures and numbers, a paper loses credibility. It becomes more of an opinion-piece than a debate essay grounded in facts.
- The last, the most important factor. Select an issue you are most passionate about. If you feel strongly about it, you will be able to express your thoughts and also be able to research it with dedication.
Consider these tips combined when you think about how to make a debate essay convincing and interesting. Don’t forget, your opponent may not agree at all with your verdict, but at least you would present your vision with strong arguments and leave a good impression on the readers.
You might be assigned an argumentative essay as a writing exercise in high school or in a composition class. The prompt will often ask you to argue for one of two positions, and may include terms like “argue” or “argument.” It will frequently take the form of a question. Example: Two-sided argumentative essay prompt
A good argumentative essay should follow this structure: 1. Introductory paragraph. The first paragraph of your essay should outline the topic, provide background information necessary to understand your argument, outline the evidence you will present and states your thesis. 2. The thesis statement. This is part of your first paragraph.
Writing your debate essay Introduction Your introduction should ensure that your reader understands what topic is being debated and encourage them to read more. One effective way to start is with a question, which sets the stage for you to state your position on the subject (your thesis statement).