Starting Off With An Argumentation
In the early days of television, there was a show called “Dragnet.” It was a cop show featuring two detectives in the 50’s out to solve crime and keep the community safe. Today, it would be a bit laughable, but one phrase always sticks in my mind about this show. Whenever Detective Jack Webb was interviewing witnesses and they began to insert their opinions and emotions, he would always say, “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.” And this really could be the mantra for an argumentative essay – you have to deal only with facts.
What an Argumentative Essay is and What It is Not
If you are struggling with trying to understand how to write an argumentative essay that will impress and get a good grade, you first have to understand what it is.
- It is a piece of writing where you get to give your opinion on an issue
- It is not a piece of writing where you get to go into an emotional tirade. We have plenty of that from crazy politicians.
- It is a piece of writing where you get to present facts that support your opinion
- It is not a piece of writing where you just spout your opinions and expect others to simply accept them
- It is a piece of writing where you do have to give the opposing side’s arguments too
- It is not a piece of writing where you can just dismiss the opposing side with personal insults and attacks – again, we get plenty of that from politicians.
By now, you should have figured out that an argumentative essay is easily defined. You take a stand on a controversial issue, you get the research done so that you have real facts in front of you, on both sides, and you write an essay that proves your opinion is the stronger one. If you don’t do this right, you are going to defeat your arguments, and other side “wins.” You don’t want to lose, do you?
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The Step-by-Step Process
Yes, you are waiting for your 10 killer tips, and they are coming. But first, let’s just take a quick look at the process for crafting an argumentative essay.
- Pick a Topic: You will never be at a loss for argumentative essay writing ideas. They are all around you – just turn on TV and watch one show on MSNBC and one on FOX cable. These pundits scream and yell about issues all the time – politics, climate change, evolution, gay rights, abortion, religion, etc. Choose one that interests you or “hits close to home.”
- Craft a Thesis Statement: You already have an opinion and that is your thesis statement – couldn’t be much simpler. But you may not know exactly why you have that opinion or how you can convince somebody else to agree with you. That’s for the next step.
- Do the Research: You won’t have any problem finding information on your topic. The challenge will be to use reliable sources that actually give factual information you can use. It is fine to read an editorial in a newspaper that has been written by someone who believes as you do, but then you will need to find one written by someone who disagrees, so that you can know that facts that the other side is presenting too.
- Make a List: Actually, make two lists, one for the evidence that supports your opinion and one for the evidence that supports the opposing opinion. Try to line them up.
- Choose 3 Strong Arguments: Pick the 3 strongest arguments that support your opinion and make sure you have the facts to back them up. Then, look at your opponent’s list and find those arguments that relate to yours. Look at the evidence for those arguments and see how your evidence can outweigh it.
- Structuring the Essay: It is usually acceptable to use a full paragraph on each of your 3 points, and then to provide one paragraph with the opposing side’s points. This gives your argument more weight, of course, but, in that paragraph, you can refer back to points you made in your argument to refute these.
- Your Introduction: This should be easy. You introduce your topic and make your thesis statement. We’ll talk about it in the “tips” so you can make it brilliant.
- Your Conclusion: Re-state your points and the belief that you have definitely “won” this argument.
Finally – the 10 Killer Tips
These should make writing you essay a bit easier and also a bit “crafty like a fox.”
- Only choose a topic you are passionate about – you’ll have more fun finding the facts and smashing the other side.
- No emotions on your part. Now, this does not mean that you can’t stir some emotions in your readers, but you have to do it subtly, by presenting facts that will make them respond emotionally. So, be sure you have some facts that will do that.
- Don’t slam the other side with dis-respectful terms such as “stupid,” “uninformed,” “evil,” or “crazy.” You may be able to show this with your evidence, but don’t call it out. Let the reader come to those conclusions.
- Try presenting the opposing side first. This will be really different and may impress you instructor – those “brownie points” never hurt.
- Don’t ever make up evidence – it’s too easy to check these days. If you can’t find strong enough evidence for one of your points, choose another point to use.
- Get a stunner of an opening. You are going for shock value here, or to get a strong emotional response. Here’s an example:
Suppose you are opposed to the continued cuts that are being made to the Food Stamp program – a program that is less than 1/10 of 1% of the total federal budget (that’s a pretty surprising statement in itself). You may want to start with a short anecdote about a family of 4, in which both parents are working minimum-wage jobs and yet don’t make enough to meet all of their expenses. They rely on food stamps to supplement their budget so they can feed their kids. Here’s another fact: 86% of the people on food stamps today are disabled veterans and civilians, unemployed veterans, enlisted servicemen with families to feed, and senior citizens. Another 12% are single working moms or working parents who don’t make enough. Any of these beginnings would be great to use.
- Cite your sources within your essay so the reader (your instructor) knows you used credible ones.
- Let the evidence tell your story, not your opinion statements.
- Find really respected people who agree with you and quote them. Did you know, for example, that the Department of Defense has produced a report that says income inequality and poverty present a national security threat?
- Get a friend to read the essay and tell you if s/he was persuaded by your argument.
Some Argumentative Essay Ideas
Some of the big issues are commonly taken by your classmates, and your instructor may get a bit bored reading the same thing over and. If you are really passionate about a less used topic, go for it. Here are a few that may be a bit more unique:
- Drug companies are suppressing important information about natural substances that may prevent and/or cure some diseases.
- The average campaign for Senator is $2-3 million; for President it is close to $500 million. We need to get money out of politics.
- We have, in the last 50 years, eliminated half the animal species on this planet. We have to put severe restrictions in place world-wide.
- General education requirements in college are “dinosaurs” and need to go.
You can probably think of others. The more unique, the better it will be received.
Don’t let an argumentative essay assignment intimidate you. Follow the steps outlined above, use the 10 tips to make it pop, and you’ll have a great experience and a great grade.
The AWA section of the GMAT is made up of one short piece of writing called the “Argument” essay. It essentially asks you to evaluate an argument, usually a type of proposal. The main qualities that the readers look for are the organization of your ideas, the quality of the ideas themselves, the strength and relevance of the examples, and your grasp of standard written English. According to GMAC, the “Analysis of an Argument tests your ability to formulate an appropriate and constructive critique of a specific conclusion based on a specific line of thinking.” With that, let’s take a look at a few helpful tips:
- Don’t make up data. Made up statistics and facts won’t impress the GMAT graders, but strong organization, logical arguments, and specific supportive examples will. Don’t be tempted to make up data because you are not an “expert” in the subject matter. It doesn’t matter, in fact, what the subject matter of the Argument is! You’re always “right” because the argument is always flawed! Sound logic will get you to a “6”.
- Aim for cogency. Focus more on conveying your argument succinctly and forcefully than on pedantic word choice and construction. Don’t include long-winded sentences that go nowhere in the hopes of sounding more scholarly. The argument essay needs to be formal, but more importantly, forceful. These essays are, let’s face it, pretty boring. Let’s not make the readers suffer more than they have to.
- You already know your thesis. No matter what the prompt, your thesis is essentially, “the argument is flawed.” All you have to do is come up with solid logic backed by specific examples that show why.
- Attack diction. An easy way to find fault in the structure of the argument is to pick apart its very wording. Just how much is “too much”? Exactly what does the author mean by “certain”? Look for vague wording and qualifying language to critique. It will be there!
So, what about the pacing? You are given 30-minutes to complete the essay, so pacing and time management is crucial. Plan to spend 5 minutes planning out your essay fully, followed by 20 minutes of writing, and 5 minutes of revising. Here’s what to do in each phase:
- Plan. In this phase you will thoroughly take apart the presented argument, construct your thesis, choose your three examples (flaws), and lay out your main points. Give yourself a clear “road map” before you start writing.
- Write. 20 minutes may not sound like a long time, but with a solid template structure under your belt, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get your thoughts down. Use this template for guidance.
- Revise. Always leave time to proofread your essay. You’re looking to correct grammar and spelling, as well as clarify the “flow” of the essay.
Ready to try one out? Get the list of official Argument Essay prompts here!
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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing tips and tricks to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.