My teacher wants me to make an “argument,” but I'm not sure I’m doing that in my paper.

Like many terms related to writing, “argument” can mean different things in different contexts or with different professors. It’s always a good idea to ask your professors --either in class or in office hours--to give more detail or examples about what they mean by “argument” or other similar terms. Still, there are some basic, generally agreed-upon expectations for “arguments.”

  • Arguments generally require a position be taken. The position in an argument is the central point that is being made, and is often referred to as a thesis. It is the unifying claim for your whole piece of writing. You can often discover your position by asking yourself, “What do I want my reader to know after reading my piece of writing?”

  • Second, arguments need to be supported. After you have a good handle on your position, ask yourself, “How am I going to inform my reader of my position?” and “What does my reader need to know if I want them to believe in and support my position?” Often, supporting your position requires giving reasons that prove or support your position and possibly including support from other sources to help your reader understand your position.

  • Finally, arguments often include some kind of “call to action” which asks readers to believe or do something based on the information presented in your writing. To figure out this part of your argument, you might ask yourself, “Given my position and its supporting points, so what?” or “What do I want my audience to believe or do after reading my piece?”

Again, “arguments” can vary across different disciplines and different contexts, but the expectation that an argument includes a central claim and support for that claim is fairly universal.

How can the Writing Center help?

Writing Center consultants can work with you to identify and develop the central position of your argument and consider what support might be most persuasive in convincing your audience of your main point. If you already have a draft, we can work with you to identify and emphasize your argument. Finally, consultants can also help you to read assignment sheets to better understand your instructor’s expectations about the assignment and help you prepare questions you might ask your instructor to get more information about his or her expectations.