How do I write an essay that makes an “argument”?

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.”

Why We Make Arguments

It is often the case in university courses that instructors want more than summaries of information; they instead require students to use critical thinking to interpret information. In critically responding to a text or scenario, you must take a position, creating an argument and providing support for that argument. Hypothetically, without argumentation, anything could pass as factually permissible, so argumentation helps us better understand information through critical claims. Through such argumentation, we can assert our own positions or come to realize how others assert theirs and whether we agree or disagree.

Making a Claim

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?” In doing so, you must also consider who your audience of readers is in order to determine how to argue your claim. The claim you make at the outset of your writing process need not be the claim you have in your final product. You will likely revise your thesis multiple times, adjusting it to new ideas and information that arise in your research.

Supporting Your Claim

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, you must provide reasons that prove or support your stance and include support from other sources to help your reader understand your position. As you discover new lines of reasoning and new source materials, don’t be afraid to adjust your thesis. Also, be sure to account for each of your main supports within your thesis to make your argument clear from the beginning of your piece.

Call to Action

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.

What can the Writing Center do to 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.