The Argumentative Essay A good argumentative essay includes three basic components: an introduction (beginning), a body that develops your claims (middle) and a conclusion (end). All three are crucial in the successful construction of a strong and clear paper. It might be useful to think of the essay as being similar to the process that lawyers employ to make their “case” (introductory statements, evidence and closing remarks). If we extend this metaphor further, you can then think of me as the judge or jury who will decide whether your argument is convincing enough.
This is the first part of your paper—it is the portion of the essay that introduces a number of elements to your reader: your topic, the works being used or consulted and, most importantly, your opinion (or argument or thesis statement in relation to the topic). The introduction should be more than a few sentences, but not more than a paragraph in length, and should establish the focus, scope and purpose of your entire paper.
The Thesis Statement (keep it clear and concise!):
If the essay topic asks a direct question, then your thesis statement will simply be a brief and direct answer to that question, along with an indication of some of the examples that you will appeal to for support throughout the rest of your essay. Sometimes, the essay topics that I provide will not be in the form of a direct question, but may ask you to take a side, to explore some issues surrounding a topic, or to compare certain texts. In these cases, your introduction will clearly define the means and ends of your particular approach to the topic. Do not just aimlessly compare or explore examples, define a purpose or argument that justifies your appeal to these examples.
A thesis should exemplify conviction, pertinence and precision. The more specific the wording of the thesis, the better the thesis. Think of it as a miniature “road map” of the essay itself that tells your reader where you are going and what route you are going to take to get there.
Determining a thesis should be the first thing that you do when writing the essay. Like a directional compass, it will help you to stay on a particular argumentative course while composing your essay and can serve as a useful editing tool to assess whether the finished essay has remained focused.
Your initial “working” thesis that you use during composition is malleable and might change a bit during the writing of the essay. However, the thesis that you eventually provide in the final version of your essay’s introduction must be precise, direct and obvious to the reader.
The thesis statement should appear at the end of your introductory paragraph. While different instructors have varying preferences about the ideal location of the thesis, placement of the thesis statement at the end of the introduction focuses and prepares the reader for the specific support and clarification that the body of the essay will provide.
A thesis statement is a “spoiler”. Appearing in the introduction, it tells your reader what conclusion the entire essay will demonstrate.
The body of the essay provides detailed support for the thesis or central idea of your paper. Each paragraph should ideally examine a single idea or piece of evidence in relation to your central argument. Further, an effective paragraph should be composed as if it were a “mini-essay” and should include a topic sentence, supporting evidence, commentary on that evidence, a concluding sentence and transitional sentences. (Refer to the Middle Paragraphs of Essays handout for more information.) You need to appeal directly to evidence from the text and interpret that evidence by discussing why it is significant in relation to your topic. (Refer to the I3 handoutfor more information.)
Please keep in mind your audience (me!) while writing. As I have already read the works that you’re discussing, I do not need to have the story or poem retold (or paraphrased) to me. You do need to provide a specific reference to the parts of the text that you want to discuss, though.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good conclusion. A conclusion does not consist of a rearranged introduction or a one-sentence restatement of the thesis. As suggested above, think of the conclusion as a lawyer’s closing argument: it is an opportunity to draw upon the whole discussion to re-emphasize the importance and validity of your main topic/idea/thesis. A powerful conclusion does reiterate the thesis, summarizes some of the main arguments and offers commentary on the paper as a whole.
Your essay is not only an opportunity to organize and present your ideas in a convincing and logical manner; it is also a representation of yourself and your professional capabilities. Think of the essay as a formal document. In the future, some of you might be submitting business proposals, formal letters or reports to an employer. Think of your academic papers as the opportunity to develop and practice good presentation habits. A well-presented essay should include the following:
A thoughtful title that catches a reader’s attention
Pertinent details such as name, student number, course number and instructor on the first page or on a title page
Page numbers (preferably in the upper right hand corner)
Double-spaced, 12-point font
1-inch (2.5 cm) margins
Indented first lines for each new paragraph (no need for extra lines between paragraphs)