Mrs. Kinney, English 11 Writing an Argumentation Paper Find a Good Topic



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Mrs. Kinney, English 11

Writing an Argumentation Paper

Find a Good Topic

To find good topic for an argument essay you should consider several issues that will have two conflicting points of view or very different conclusions. As you look over a list of topics you should find one that really sparks your interest.

While a strong interest in a topic is important, it's not enough to be interested. You have to consider what position you can back up with reasoning and evidence. It's one thing to have a strong belief, but when shaping an argument you'll have to explain why your belief is reasonable and logical.

As you explore the topics, make a mental list of points you could use as evidence for or against an issue.



Consider Both Sides of Your Topic and Take a Position

Once you have selected a topic you feel strongly about, you should make a list of points for both sides of the argument and pick a side. One of your first objectives in your essay will be to present both sides of your issue with an assessment of each. Of course, you will conclude that one side (your side) is the best conclusion.

In the planning stage you will need to consider strong arguments for the "other" side. Then you'll shoot them down!

Gather Evidence

When we think of arguments we might picture two red-faced people speaking quite loudly and making dramatic gestures. But that's because face-to-face arguments often become emotional. In fact, the act of arguing involves providing proof to support your claim, with or without emotions.

In an argument essay you will have to provide evidence without providing too much drama. You'll explore two sides of a topic (briefly) and provide proof as to why one side or position is the best one.

Writing Stage

Once you've given yourself a solid foundation to work with, you can begin to craft your essay. An argument essay should contain three parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The length of these parts (number of paragraphs) will vary, depending on the length of your essay assignment.



1. Introduce your topic and assert your side

As in any essay, the first paragraph of your argument essay should contain a brief explanation of your topic, some background information, and a thesis statement. In this case, your thesis will be a statement of your position on a particular controversial topic.

Example introductory paragraph with thesis statement:

Since the turn of the new century, a theory has emerged concerning the end of the world, or at least the end of life as we know it. This new theory centers around the year 2012, a date that many claim has mysterious origins in ancient manuscripts from many different cultures. The most noted characteristic of this date is that it appears to mark the end of the Mayan calendar. But there is no evidence to suggest that the Maya saw any great relevance to this date. In fact, none of the claims surrounding a 2012 doomsday event hold up to scientific inquiry. The year 2012 will pass without a major, life-altering catastrophe.

First impressions are so important. How many times have you heard that? It is true that the first impression—whether it’s a first meeting with a person or the first sentence of a paper—sets the stage for a lasting opinion.

The introductory paragraph of any paper, long or short, should start with a sentence that piques the interest of your readers.

In a typical essay, that first sentence leads into two or three sentences that provide details about your subject or your process. All of these sentences build up to your thesis statement.

The thesis statement is the subject of much instruction and training. The entirety of your paper hangs on that sentence. But its function is to be informative and direct.

This means it’s not normally very exciting.

Your First Sentence

To get your paper off to a great start, you should try to have a first sentence that engages your reader. Think of your first sentence as a hook that draws your reader in. It is your big chance to be so clever that your reader can’t stop.

As you researched your topic, you probably discovered many interesting anecdotes, quotes, or trivial facts. This is exactly the sort of thing you should use for an engaging introduction.

Consider these ideas for creating a strong beginning.



Surprising fact: The pentagon has twice as many bathrooms as are necessary. The famous government building was constructed in the 1940s, when segregation laws required that separate bathrooms be installed for people of African descent. This building isn’t the only American icon that harkens back to this embarrassing and hurtful time in our history. Across the United States there are many examples of leftover laws and customs that reflect the racism that once permeated American society.

Humor: When my older brother substituted fresh eggs for our hard-boiled Easter eggs, he didn’t realize our father would take the first crack at hiding them. My brother’s holiday ended early that particular day in 1991, but the rest of the family enjoyed the warm April weather, outside on the lawn, until late into the evening. Perhaps it was the warmth of the day and the joy of eating Easter roast while Tommy contemplated his actions that make my memories of Easter so sweet. Whatever the true reason, the fact is that my favorite holiday of the year is Easter Sunday.

Quotation: Hillary Rodham Clinton once said that “There cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard.” In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi became the nation’s first female Speaker of the House, one woman’s voice rang out clear. With this development, democracy grew to its truest level ever in terms of women’s equality. The historical event also paved the way for Senator Clinton as she warmed her own vocal chords in preparation for a presidential race.

Finding the Hook

In each example, the first sentence draws the reader in to find out how the interesting fact leads to a point. You can use many methods to capture your reader’s interest.



Curiosity: A duck’s quack doesn’t echo. Some people might find a deep and mysterious meaning in this fact …

Definition: A homograph is a word with two or more pronunciations. Produce is one example …

Anecdote: Yesterday morning I watched as my older sister left for school with a bright white glob of toothpaste gleaming on her chin. I felt no regret at all until she stepped onto the bus

End With a Good Beginning

Once you complete a first draft of your paper, go back to re-construct your introductory paragraph. Be sure to check your thesis statement to make sure it still holds true—then double check your first sentence to give it some zing.



Don’t be afraid of controversy.

In an argumentative essay, a thesis is a declarative sentence that takes a stance. If you feel strongly about a social issue and you believe you can back it up, then go ahead and do it. Just be sure you back up your stance with facts and not opinions. Don’t use cruel or insulting statements, just the facts.

Be aware that there will always be someone who disagrees with your stance. That’s what makes life interesting. That’s also what makes essays interesting!

Don’t be ambiguous.

You may decide to take a stance, but you can’t find facts to back up your argument. If so, you might be on the right track, but you just need to focus a little more.

For instance, you might want to argue that music classes should be mandatory for all students. You may believe this, but can you back it up?

First, do a little research. You may find evidence that children who study music at a very young age tend to do well in math and science later in life. Based on this research, you may want to narrow your thesis to reflect this more narrow argument.



Do re-visit and re-write your thesis, when necessary.

Your thesis sentence should be flexible, until you are finished with your research and your writing. It is not unusual for writers to revise the thesis sentence several times. As you research your topic, you may be frustrated to find some fascinating research that fits just outside the boundary of your thesis.

This is difficult. You can decide to exclude this research or you could decide to change your thesis. If you include it, be sure it is strong enough to support an entire paragraph.

The best approach is to collect all the research you can, first. Then sort the facts into categories—either on paper or in your head. These categories will become your paragraphs.

Narrow and revise your thesis as you go. Once you’ve completed your essay, check a final time to see that your thesis fulfills the following roles.


  • It makes a clear and specific statement.

  • It indicates the direction of your thoughts.

  • It sets a stage.

  • It provides structure.

  • It is supported by the body paragraphs.

Reminder: If you make a final change to your thesis, always double-check your concluding paragraph. It might need adjustment, as well.

2. Present both sides of the controversy

The body of your essay will contain the meat of your argument. You should go into more detail about the two sides of your controversy and state the strongest points of the counter-side of your issue.

After describing the "other" side, you will present your own viewpoint and then provide evidence to show why your position is the correct one.

Select your strongest evidence and present your points one by one. Use a mix of evidence types, from statistics, to other studies and anecdotal stories. This part of your paper could be any length, from two paragraphs to two hundred pages.

Re-state your position as the most sensible one in your summary paragraphs.

Types of Evidence

Before you make a choice, review the points you made and decide if your statements can be backed up by evidence. Types include:



  • Statistics

  • Examples

  • Expert opinions

  • Anecdotes

  • Observations

  • Precedence

  • Consequence

Addressing the Opposition

Even though you choose one side as the strongest for your argument, you must be able to demonstrate that you understand both sides of your issue. Keep this in mind as you construct your argument essay, and use the strengths that you listed for the opposite side:



While it is true that boys and girls should be treated equally, it would be a mistake to use makeup as a measuring stick for equality. It is widely known that cosmetic makeup is traditionally associated with females.

WRITE UP


a)The Classic 5-Paragraph Essay

The 5-paragraph essay is a good model for an argument paper.

******

Paragraph 1: Introduction



Introduce your topic, moving from broadest issues to your specific argument. This is a good place to note differences of opinion among experts or crucial background information. Finish by going to the most specific point -- your thesis. This transitions you from the broad world of the subject to the specific problem you have been asked to address.

Paragraph 2-4: Body paragraphs

Each paragraph should be arguing for your support and how it proves the strength of your argument.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion

Go backwards. From the specific and how you constructed your argument with a reiteration of your main points, to the general as to why this argument is important.

******


b)Outline

A paper written from an outline is more coherent and on track.

Using your thesis and the 5-paragraph style as a guide, write out your thesis statement and topic sentences for your body paragraphs and conclusion. A topic sentence is either the first or second sentence in a paragraph and introduces the main purpose of that paragraph. In addition, consider how these topic sentences will transition the reader from one point to the next but still keep them connected to the argument.

Next, find evidence (at least two sub points) to support your topic sentences. If the course has required readings look through them quotations or data that can bolster your argument. Without evidence you are just presenting conjecture.

If your evidence is a figure or quotation, make sure to footnote it. If you are using a quotation, make sure that it is pertinent. In both cases, make sure to explain how the evidence supports your argument.

************************************************************************

4)PROOF READ

a)Does your essay answer the assigned question?

b)Pertinence

Make sure every sentence is somehow supporting a sub point or connecting these to the thesis. Your paper should be more than simply descriptive. Assume your reader has basic knowledge

c)Read the directions again.

Make sure all these minor details are correct to avoid small demerits.

d)Make sure all information fits within the parameters of the question (time frame, geographical location, subject type).

e)Spell check.

f)Read aloud.

Often when we read a paper we skip portions with our eyes and make things coherent when there is content missing. Reading a piece aloud makes you look at every word and really notice problems.



You MUST choose one side or the other when you write an argument paper!

Don’t be afraid to tell others exactly how you think things should go because that’s what we expect from an argument paper.  You’re in charge now, what do YOU think?



Do…

Don’t…

…use passionate language

…use weak qualifiers like “I believe,” “I feel,” or “I think”—just tell us!

…cite experts who agree with you

…claim to be an expert if you’re not one

…provide facts, evidence, and statistics to support your position

…use strictly moral or religious claims as support for your argument

…provide reasons to support your claim

…assume the audience will agree with you about any aspect of your argument

…address the opposing side’s argument and refute their claims

…attempt to make others look bad (i.e. Mr. Smith is ignorant—don’t listen to him!)

Why do I need to address the opposing side’s argument?

There is an old kung-fu saying which states, "The hand that strikes also blocks", meaning that when you argue it is to your advantage to anticipate your opposition and strike down their arguments within the body of your own paper. This sentiment is echoed in the popular saying, "The best defense is a good offense".



By addressing the opposition you achieve the following goals:

  • illustrate a well-rounded understanding of the topic

  • demonstrate a lack of bias

  • enhance the level of trust that the reader has for both you and your opinion

  • give yourself the opportunity to refute any arguments the opposition may have

  • strengthen your argument by diminishing your opposition's argument

Think about yourself as a child, asking your parents for permission to do something that they would normally say no to. You were far more likely to get them to say yes if you anticipated and addressed all of their concerns before they expressed them. You did not want to belittle those concerns, or make them feel dumb, because this only put them on the defensive, and lead to a conclusion that went against your wishes.
The same is true in your writing.

Thesis Statements

No matter what type of writing that you do, whether you are writing an essay in a nursing class or an essay for a literature class, it has a main topic. In college level writing, most professors agree that this topic should be expressed in a thesis sentence. The thesis is a very important part of an essay because it summarizes what you have in mind for this essay and guides the reader in reading your essay accurately.



What a thesis IS:

  • It is a claim (not a fact) that can be supported by a reason or reasons;

  • It directly answers the question of the assignment;

  • It is a statement that unifies the paper by stating the writer's most important or significant point regarding the topic;

  • It is usually one sentence that does not discuss many topics;

  • It forecasts the content and order of the essay;

  • It is placed most often in the beginning of the essay, preferably towards the end of the introduction, but at least within the first or second paragraph; and

  • It is sometimes – but rarely – implied rather than stated outright.

Developing Your Thesis

Now that we know what a strong thesis statement is, we can begin to craft one of our own. Most effective thesis statements often answer these three questions:



  • What is the essay’s subject?

  • What is the main idea that will be discussed about the topic?

  • What is the evidence or support that will be used to support the main idea?

Let’s suppose that I want to write an essay about playing sports. I might begin with a sentence like this:

Playing sports is really good for people.

This is a good start because it does express my position without announcing it; unfortunately, it is vague and general and therefore ineffective. It is not all that exciting for my reader, and it leaves my audience too many unanswered questions. WHY is playing sports good for people? HOW does playing sports benefit people? WHICH people benefit from playing sports? Asking questions about the topic is a great way to find more specific information to include in my thesis.

Let’s suppose now that after asking these questions, I’ve decided I want to narrow my topic into children and sports. I might next have a thesis like this:

Playing sports is really good for children.

Now my thesis is more specific, but I still haven’t really answered the WHY and HOW questions. Maybe I think that playing sports helps children develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health. I might have a thesis that ends up like this:

Playing sports is beneficial for children because it helps them develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health.

Notice that I have beefed up my vocabulary a bit by changing “really good” to “beneficial.” For help with specific vocabulary, check out the Using Precise Language page.

Notice that I also now have the three major elements of a thesis statement:

1) A subject: playing sports

2) A main idea: playing sports is beneficial for children

3) Support or Evidence: better cooperation, better coordination, and better overall health.

Most effective thesis statements contain this type of structure, often called an action plan or plan of development. This is such an effective type of thesis because it clearly tells the reader what is going to be discussed; it also helps the writer stay focused and organized. How can you now use this pattern to create an effective thesis statement?

Remember, this is not the only type of effective thesis statement, but using this pattern is helpful if you are having difficulty creating your thesis and staying organized in your writing.



What a thesis is NOT:

  • A thesis is not an announcement.

Example: I am going to tell you the importance of ABC.

I don’t need the announcement element of this thesis. I can simply write, “The importance of ABC is XYZ.”



  • A thesis is not introduced by an opinion phrase such as I think, I feel, I believe.

Example: I feel that good hygiene begins with the basics of effective hand-washing.

I don’t need to write that “I feel” this because if I am writing it, then chances are that I feel it, right?



  • A thesis is not a statement of fact.

Example: George Will writes about economic equality in the United States.

Discussing a statement of fact is extremely difficult. How will I continue the discussion of something that cannot be disputed? It can easily be proven that George Will did in fact write about equality in the United States, so I don’t really have a strong position because it is simply a fact.



  • A thesis is not a question.

Example: What makes a photograph so significant?

Remember, a thesis states your position on your topic. A question cannot state anything because it is not a statement. A question is a great lead in to a thesis, but it can’t be the thesis.



  • A thesis is not a quote.

Introduction and Conclusion Checklists

A good introduction should…

A good conclusion should…

Describe what you plan to write about

Remind the reader of the main ideas that were discussed in the essay

Give the reader some idea of how you plan to discuss or approach your topic

Tie up any loose ends by resolving any unresolved questions, statements, or ideas

Give background information on your topic (when appropriate)

Discuss what can be done about your topic in the future (when appropriate)

Include a clear, concise thesis statement

Offer suggestions on ways that the reader can get involved with your topic/cause (when appropriate)

Establish a connection between the writer and the audience

Try, one last time, to convince the reader to agree with you (when appropriate)














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