The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.
Characteristics of different types of Essay
Note: With all the types of rhetorical strategy mentioned below, we are not talking about essay "types", but about rhetorical styles which writers use for particular purposes. Some essays ask for a more expository than argumentative style, and for particular strategies within those styles. As we shall see later, authentic essays actually require you to use a combination of these styles.
"Exposition" is a rather formal term which really means either "information" or "explanation", modes of communication we might use to write a manual, offer instructions on how things work or where to find things, or recount what happened during a revolution, etc.
Below we have identified 4 types of expository essay found in university curricula:
Science-related essays often require background description: of a thing, process or state of affairs - analyzing it into its parts. This can be done chronologically, serially, hierarchically, etc. It is a test of your ability to select and synthesise factual information.
This approach is asked for in essay looking for an account of reasons or causes in relation to perceived effects or results. In most Social Science disciplines, you will be asked to draw on theory to support your explanation. Your interpretation demonstrates how well you understand the relevant theories.
This could be fairly descriptive, but illustrations need to be relevant and appropriate, and written with explicit reference to the theoretical point being supported.
This could apply to experimental data, or to an argument or text. It is the process of breaking down something into its component parts, often in order to analyse patterns or categories based on a theoretical position.
In more general terms it refers to a more subjective style of writing, where writers engage in defining their terms or interpreting and evaluating the views, evidence or data very clearly from their own perspective or viewpoint.
Essays which expect a strong defining component are common in philosophy, but also feature in Sociology.
A question may look factual- e.g. Do we have free will? , but the way to answered it is by careful definition of what is meant by the concept of free will.
In Sociology, in particular, competing definitions often need to be explored at length, particularly in essays on social stratification or social class.
Some essays require you to pass judgement or make an assessment, according to stated criteria. In cases when you could say Well, it depends what you mean by (X) ... , it is important that you define theterms by which you apply or explore these criteria. Terms, such as "success" or "effectiveness", are often value-laden.. Basically, you may be asked to judge how good or bad something is, or how far it is true.
E.g.: Evaluate the contribution of political parties to the development of
Note: Interpretation + Evaluation:Critical Review Essays typically combine these processes and styles of writing
|In all argumentative essays, you are expected to|
|||consider all sides of an issue before taking a stand, and then to|
|||argue for the validity of your own position|