Key parts of an argument paper
If you are writing an academic paper to present or develop an argument, it must have certain key elements
A debatable thesis
This is a single, clear statement, usually expressed in a single sentence and placed at the end of your first, introductory paragraph, which answers the question
presented or implied by the assignment task and presents your position
on the topic. For instance if the essay title you were discussing was “Fast food is not harmful”
the implied question is “Is fast food harmful?”
and your thesis statement needs to answer this implied question with a clear position statement (which must allow a possibility of disagreement
between reasonable people
) This is sometimes called the claim.
Example of a non-debatable thesis statement: Excessive takeaway food is always harmful
This thesis statement is not debatable, since excessive means "too much" and too much of anything is, by definition, a bad thing. Therefore it is not suitable for an argument paper.
Example of a debatable thesis statement: Eating takeaway food more than once a week is likely to be harmful given the quantities of fat and salt it contains.
This is debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it – they might argue that quantities of salt and fat are such that takeaway food twice a week is fine, for instance, or that different people have different metabolisms, and a reasonable fast food intake will therefore vary.
Information gathered from a variety of sources that support the claim made in the thesis with examples, illustrations and so on. The most usual types of evidence are:
statistical evidence – number based evidence gathered from research studies, conducted by you or other people e.g. in a study of 1000 patients exhibiting abnormally high sodium levels, 78% were found to consume takeaway food 3 or more times per week.
anecdotal or observation evidence - stories based on observation or personal experience, e.g. : When I was eating takeaways every other day, I often suffered indigestion and other symptoms, like shortness of breath, which have disappeared since I gave up eating fast food
authority evidence opinions from specialists in the field e.g. you might give evidence from a prominent nutritionist: Dr J.B Green says that the average takeaway contains 16.5 times the fat content advisable in a single meal.
hypothetical evidence generally used where the types of evidence above are not available, to present a scenario that sets out the point you are making e.g. if a person with a normal metabolism, which burns around 2500 calories a day were to eat one normal size takeaway meal from an outlet like McDonalds, KFC or Burger King every second day, they would be likely to to gain around 15lb every year. This type of evidence is generally used for arguments which cannot reasonably tested - the effects of a 26 tonne meteorite landing in the sea 5 miles off the coast of California, maybe. Where real evidence exists, it’s better to use that.
Warrant or explanation:
A connection between the evidence presented and your claim – you must show HOW your research supports your point of view. Even if it seems obvious to you why it’s harmful to take in significantly higher than recommended levels of fat and salt, you need to make explicit in your argument what the harmful effects of doing so are.
Attention to the views that counter your thesis, and evidence to show why these views are in error, e.g. Many people claim that carrying a little extra weight is not harmful, but obesity is linked to a number of illnesses including type 2 diabetes … or, if they aren’t in error, why they don’t make any difference to your argument e.g. Fast food does, indeed, provide a convenient, tasty hot meal - something a single working mother might struggle to achieve every night, but the option is so loaded with nutritional disadvantages that it can never be a desirable option.
Including a clear warrant is vital to writing a good argumentative essay. If you just present your audience with data that you believe supports your position, but don't make clear what the connection is, and how it supports, your audience may not connect the evidence to the argument or may interpret it differently to the your interpretation and come to different conclusions.
It is also absolutely essential that you don't avoid the opposing side to your argument. Find out what the other side is saying and respond to it within your own argument. Each alternative view or counterclaim should be examined, and refuted – this shows that you have considered all sides of the argument and have come to your conclusions through thought and reasoning – failing to include alternative views makes you look at best, biased, and at worst ignorant and uninformed.
Putting that together, you might come up with something like:
Claim: Eating takeaway food more than once a week is likely to be harmful given the quantities of fat and salt it contains
Evidence 1: Fast food contains 16.5 times the fat and content advisable in a single meal
Warrant 1: High levels of fat in the diet lead to obesity, which has been directly related to a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart failure and asthma.
Evidence 2: 78% of patients with elevated sodium levels were found to consume takeaway food 3 or more times per week
Warrant 2: The consumption of fast food can be directly related to conditions like kidney failure, which can result from high sodium levels in the blood.
Evidence 3: People suffering from symptoms of ill health saw those symptoms disappear when they gave up fast food.
Warrant 3: Without making any other lifestyle changes, eliminating fast food from the diet will show immediate health benefits
Refutation: Many people claim that fast food provides most convenient and tasty option for working families on a budget, but while this may be true, the health impacts of this type of diet are such that it would be better to serve the family sandwiches in place of the burger. These might not be as appetizing or satisfying, but will do less damage.
Organizing your argument effectively
How you organise your argument will affect how convincing it is, and there are a several organisational options depending on a number of factors.
You might choose (after your introduction) to begin by examining the opposing
side and refuting its claims, then present your own argument, and come to a conclusion – this has the benefit of leaving your reader with the positive side of the discussion, and works particularly well where the argument is quite even on both sides e.g.:
Alternatively, you might present your own argument first and then follow with counter claims and refutation –this is most effective where your opponent's argument is weak, and you can really blow it out of the water, leaving your audience with an impression that you have disposed with the opposing ideas strongly e.g.
Finally, where there are clear counter claims for each of the pieces of evidence you present you make you might like to examine them together with that evidence eg:
These examples are not
supposed to indicate that all argument essays will have 3 pieces of evidence or refutations – there are no formulae
, and your essay will contain as many evidence items as you have key points and as many refutations as there are alternative/counter claims to your position.