How To Write a Good Argumentative Essay
The general framework for your thesis will be provided for you, but you must narrow this down to a specific claim, question, or problem that you can defend, answer, or solve. Remember, the more tightly you focus (i.e., the narrower your point) the more you will have to say. A good focus paper will center on one particular point that the author makes in one specific sub-argument and will then relate this smaller point to the larger argument of the text or texts you are reading. Do not try to deal with the authorís entire project all at once.
Try to find a point that you think is particularly crucial for the success or failure of the authorís main argument. In any case, do not pick something obvious, trivial, or inconsequential. Your focal point must have important (or at least noticeable) consequences for your own understanding of the main point. In other words, ask yourself this: What difference would my discussion of this particular point make for a coherent understanding of the work as a whole? If it would make no difference at all, pick something else.
There are at least three essential components of any good argument.
1) formulate your thesis
All arguments begin with some kind of thesis. A thesis can be a specific claim (i.e., a straightforward declaration, such as, "X seems to be the case here"). Or, it can take the form of a problem to be solved or a question to be answered, as in, "By saying both X and Y, so and so seems to contradict himself," or "How can this person say X if she also says Y?" Such statements are meant to pose a task for you as the arguer, to give you something definite to work toward in your essay. They show your reader what you intend to do, but they are not, by themselves, arguments " an argument is much more than just a thesis.
(Notice that I have used the word "seems" more than once here. Stronger claims, such as "X is the case" or "So and so must mean Y" are more difficult to argue for because they demand more rigorous demonstration and can back you into a corner. A strong argument doesnít have to prove anything absolutely; it may do so, but it may merely present some interesting or potentially important possibilities or consequences of interpreting something in a particular way.)
2) substantiate your claim
Any good argument requires soli devidence, and the one thing you can always depend on to lend support to your arguments the text itself. It is more difficult for someone to refute your thesis if you can back it up with a well-chosen quotation or two. Think of presenting your argument as though you were an attorney preparing a case. The more concrete evidence you have, the better your chances of convincing the jury that the defendant is either guilty or innocent. Similarly, your task is to convince your reader that your thesis is a valid one, and the best evidence at your disposal is usually the text itself.
3) explain, explain, explain!
It would not be enough, however, for the prosecutor merely to show the evidence to the jury or, in your case, just to insert a few quotations into the essay. A quoted passage does not constitute an argument all by itself any more than a piece of physical evidence can make the case to the jury on its own. Donít just quote and move on; you must always explain exactly how your evidence is supposed to help make your point. This is the real key to a successful defense.
4) argument structure
The structure of your individual sub-arguments should include the following elements:
Introduce Each And Every Quotation.
This is done in two steps:
a) briefly describe the context from which you are quoting, and
b) offer a smooth rhetorical transition into the quotation.
Quote the passage.
See a style manual for proper quotation style.
Interpret the passage.
This means three things:
a) explain in detail exactly what you think the author is trying to say,
b) b) explain in detail exactly why he or she is saying it, and
c) c) explain in detail exactly how you know that this is what the passage means.
Remember, this is a sort of mini-argument and may require further quotations to justify.
Explain Exactly How This Passage Is Supposed To Help To Make Your Case.
This means two things:
a) relate the passage directly and explicitly to your present point, and
b) relate the passage directly and explicitly to your overall thesis.
5) and, finally:
Remember to deal with just one main point
And no more than three supporting points.
This will help you to avoid "point surfing."
Syllabus 1301 2303