What is an argumentative essay, and how is it written?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Argumentative essays are standard academic essays that test your skill at assertion, research, analysis, argumentation, and objectivity, along with your ability to write a well structured, cohesive, concise, logical essay. A word of caution, the term "argumentative essay" is not used consistently throughout academia nor on Internet academic sites. Purdue University OWL offers a dependable academic definition of argumentative essay. The confusion comes from the similarities between these and persuasive essays (also confusingly called argument essays).

The salient distinguishing points of an argumentative essay (allowing for instructor preference) are:

  • Arguments are objective, not persuasive.
  • Writing is formal and academic.
  • The thesis is concise and debatable, contestable, or arguable.
  • Thesis arguments are supported by well-founded evidence.
  • Your opinion is withheld until the Conclusion and not part of your supporting evidence.
  • You do draw a conclusion and form an opinion stated after a well balanced discussion.
  • You address opposing stances giving them fair presentation and evaluation.
  • Your Conclusion not only reiterates your thesis and confirms its proof, your Conclusion also iterates your conclusion and resultant opinion.

While the Introduction, with thesis, is standard and in formal academic stylistics, the argumentation you present may need some elucidation. Preferred sources for supportive evidence are expert opinion; previously published research or study; logical analysis; statistics and other factual data, though field study data from surveys, interviews, anecdotes, and experiments certainly also have their place and are indeed sometimes required. Each body paragraph will set out one argument and its supporting evidence.

The length of your essay will determine the number of arguments you make, often four arguments. Your argument paragraphs will not only set forth the evidence but will evaluate it and explain the supportive relationship between the evidence and your thesis. After your four argument paragraphs, you will devote one or two paragraphs to presenting opposing stances that you will impartially present and explain and evaluate, including the contradicting relationship to your thesis. It is a distinguishing characteristic of an argumentative essay that opposing arguments are presented in as objective a manner as supporting arguments are presented. Your goal is to objectively present evidence and form your own opinion, not to persuade.

Before thinking of your Conclusion, already briefly described, it is important to insure that the ideas of your essay are joined with useful transition expressions. Some call these linking expressions. These perform the function of insuring the logic of your essay flows through intended relationships between essay parts and ideas. Transition, or linking, expressions can show:

  • continuance or furtherance of the same line of thought (e.g., and, likewise, firstly).
  • conclusive or summary ideas (e.g., thus; in brief).
  • contrasting ideas (e.g., yet, although, conversely).
  • hedging or definite ideas (e.g., possibly, might; certainly, surely).

 A separate category of transition expressions are "inference indicators" (Williams, Rhetoric. Eastern Kentucky University). These allow readers to infer that you are presenting a conclusion or a reason. Conclusion inference indicators include: e.g., thus, so, which leads to, which proves that. Reason inference indicators include: e.g., because, for, is shown by, is proved by, due to the fact that. The logical flow of your essay is as important as your argumentation and the equally important conclusion you draw and opinion you form, stated in your Conclusion.