Discursive Essay Thesis

Argumentative Essays

Summary:

The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44

What is an argumentative essay?

The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.

Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.

Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.

The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.

  • A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.

In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.

  • Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.

  • Body paragraphs that include evidential support.

Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).

However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.

  • Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).

The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.

  • A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.

It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.

A complete argument

Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.

The five-paragraph essay

A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.

Longer argumentative essays

Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.

Writing Thesis Statements for Argumentative Essays

Introduction

University writing often requires students to use persuasion: they need to convince readers of a logical viewpoint on a debatable subject. The thesis statement is usually one sentence in the essay’s introduction that clearly states the writer's opinion and it often appears after some general background information about the issue. The thesis statement acts as a short summary of the writer’s stance in the debate, helping readers understand what will appear in the rest of the paper. Assignments may not state clearly whether a thesis statement is necessary, but if it asks you to take a position on an issue, analyze, interpret, compare and contrast or show cause and effect, you are probably expected to develop a persuasive thesis. (If you are not sure, it is wise to ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement.)

Developing a Thesis

Before you write a thesis statement, it is important to spend time reading academic articles to gather general background information about the issue. You need to evaluate the findings and arguments of different writers and decide which ones you think are the strongest and most convincing, which ones have the most credibility and which ones will help you write persuasively. Reading recent research will help you to decide your position and write a stronger, well-informed argument. Understanding and critically weighing others’ ideas will guide you towards developing a clear, logical and convincing thesis statement.

Thesis Statements: 4 points to remember

1. MAKE IT DEBATABLE

The first important point is that thesis statements must be debatable. (There is no point writing a persuasive argument if everyone already agrees!)

Example of an un-debatable thesis statement:

'Drinking too much alcohol may cause health problems.'

This is weak because it would be very difficult to build a persuasive argument that drinking too much alcohol would not cause health problems: most people (and doctors) already agree that it would.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

'Alcohol should contain warning labels about the possible dangers of over-drinking.'

This is debatable because people can agree or disagree with the proposal. Some might agree that alcohol labels should contain warnings about the dangers of drinking while others may feel that warning labels would be ineffective as they would not stop people from drinking. Therefore, it is a good thesis statement.
The first point to remember then is that thesis statements must provide room for disagreement and debate.

2. MAKE IT SPECIFIC

Thesis statements should be specific, not general. The following thesis statement is too general:

'Drinking alcohol is harmful.'

This statement is too broad and unfocused because it does not specify:

*Who drinking alcohol harms
*What drinking alcohol harms
*What the main reasons are that make drinking alcohol harmful

Asking specific 'Wh' questions can help narrow your focus and make your paper more manageable.

The following thesis statement is more persuasive because it is focused:

'Alcohol consumption may negatively impact university students’ GPA.'

As this statement provides specific answers to the questions above, it significantly narrows the possibilities that the writer can write about and provides a clear focus for the entire argument.

Here are two more examples of focused thesis statements:

'A four-year university programme is better than a three-year one because students have more time for deeper learning.'
'Hong Kong will not become a world class city until it tackles its air pollution problem.'

The second point to remember then is that a thesis statement should be specific.'

3. HAVE ONLY ONE CONTROLLING ARGUMENT

As you can see from the examples above, a good thesis statement has only one controlling (main) argument:

'Alcohol should contain warning labels about the possible dangers of over-drinking.'
'Alcohol consumption may negatively impact amongst university students’ GPA.'
'A four-year university programme is better than a three-year one because students have more time for deeper learning.'
'Hong Kong will not become a world class city until it tackles its air pollution problem.

It is important that your thesis statements also contain only one controlling argument. Supporting details can be discussed in depth later in the essay's body paragraphs that follow the introduction.

4. MAKE IT CLEAR AND CONCISE

As you can see, good thesis statements use clear language and not too many words. It is important that your thesis be clear so that your readers know exactly what your position is. There should be no confusion, such as in the following poor example:

'Many people from around the world have different opinions about whether teenagers under eighteen years of age should be able to get a driving license and drive a vehicle or not and I tend to agree with some of them but not with others.'

This example is poor for a number of reasons. First, it is too long and ‘wordy’ (it uses too many unnecessary words which can be omitted). Second, the opinion of the writer is not clear to the reader. A better example of a thesis would be:

'Teenagers under eighteen years of age should not have driving licenses as most are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving.'

This thesis statement is much better as the writer’s position is very clear, and uses a minimal number of words. Clear and concise should be your goal in all writing, but it is especially important when writing a thesis statement.

Summary

Remember! When you include a thesis statement in your introduction that is…

1. debatable
2. specific
3. has only one main argument
4. is clear and concise

…your essay will be focused and your reader will know exactly what to expect in the body paragraphs that follow your introduction. With a little practice, you can write high quality thesis statements that bring focus to all of your argumentative essays.

More information and practice with thesis statements:

http://create.arizona.edu/content/weak-thesis-statements-recognizing-and-fixing-them
http://www.uark.edu/campus-resources/qwrtcntr/resources/handouts/thesis.html
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/01/
http://depts.washington.edu/owrc/Handouts/How%20to%20Structure%20and%20Organize%20Your%20Paper.pdf

Now do the interactive activities on the right.

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