How to Write an Argumentative Essay: A Step by Step Guide
Do you need to learn how to write an argumentative essay really fast? If so, you’ve landed on the right page.
Writing an entire essay designed to convince someone of your point of view on something can sound like more of a headache than anything. However, if you look at it a different way, argumentative writing can actually be fun. Think about it – you get to write out your opinions on something you feel strongly about and unleash all of your passions on paper.
If the thought of writing an argumentative essay still stresses you out, we’re here to help. You never have to struggle through an essay alone and there is always an option to turn to.
Learning how to write an argumentative essay is an important skill you’ll likely need at some point in your academic career no matter what subject you’re studying. This step by step guide will walk you through the process so you can write confidently and effectively no matter what you need to write about.
Female college student sitting on a step doing her essay writing outside
What is the Purpose of an Argumentative Essay?
Like any other type of essay out there, when you’re learning how to write an argumentative essay the first thing you need to know is what it is you’re supposed to be doing.
An argumentative essay is a piece of writing designed to take a position on a specific topic and then convince your reader or audience to take their own position. For this essay, you’ll need to do a thorough amount of research on a topic, present the facts and evidence, state why you have taken the position you have, and then offer counterarguments.
In simpler terms, you’re trying to convince your reader to take your position on a topic. To do so, you’ll need to use factual evidence and credible arguments. You may also need to use some different types of argumentative techniques that we will explain in more detail later on.
Types of Argumentative Essays
Argumentative essays are pretty straightforward in their name, but there are a few different types or formats you could use.
● Persuasive essays: The most common type of argumentative essay, a persuasive essay is designed to do exactly that – persuade your audience to take your perspective.
● Cause and effect essays: This style of essay can be used for argumentative writing if you are trying to argue that one thing is the cause of another and it isn’t a commonly known factor.
● Compare and contrast essays: A compare and contrast essay could be written as an argumentative essay if you’re making the point that one thing is better or more effective than another.
An argumentative essay is also very different from an expository essay. In an expository essay, you’re presenting facts and information about something but you aren’t taking a specific position on the topic. If you’re reading this and are starting to realize that you actually need to write an expository essay instead, learn more about them in our blog here.
Woman working on an essay outline pointing to a mindmap brainstorm chart
What Are the Steps in Writing an Argumentative Essay?
When you’re learning how to write an argumentative essay, one thing you’re going to want to know before you actually get started is the step by step process you’re going to use. Having a solid plan in place before you start any type of essay writing will not only ensure that you’re writing the best paper, but it will also make the job a whole lot easier for you.
To write a great argumentative essay, follow this step by step plan:
1. Choose your essay topic
2. Come up with a great thesis statement
3. Plan your essay outline
4. Do your research
5. Determine which types of arguments you’ll make
6. Start writing your essay
Choosing the Right Essay Topic
Since we’re taking a step by step approach to showing you how to write an argumentative essay, we need to start at the beginning: choosing an argumentative essay topic.
Firstly, your topic needs to be something you care about. Given that your entire essay relies on your ability to persuade someone of your point of view, it would be difficult to be persuasive enough if you aren’t entirely sold on your topic. The more you know or care about something, the easier it is to convince others to feel the same way.
Secondly, your topic needs to be something that you can debate or argue. That means it should be some kind of topic or issue that has at least two different sides or perspectives. Since your entire essay needs to persuade someone of something, you need to make sure your topic provides something to argue about.
Lastly, and most importantly, your essay topic needs to be relevant to your course and fit in with your assignment instructions. This is important no matter what type of essay writing you’re doing because your essay won’t be valid if you don’t follow the requirements. You could write the most amazing, Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of academic genius, but if it isn’t what your professor asked for, it could still get you a failing grade.
For some good argumentative essay topics and ideas, check out our list of 100 argumentative essay topics you can use for any course or subject. Be sure to choose wisely!
Drafting a Thesis Statement
Coming up with a good thesis statement for an argumentative essay is actually not as difficult as it can be for other types of essays. As soon as you’ve come up with your topic and the position you’re taking, the hard work is basically done.
In an argumentative essay, the thesis statement is going to explain the argument you’re going to make and highlight the core points you’ll use to take that stance. Like any other thesis statement, it should be direct and straight to the point.
Here is an example of a basic thesis statement for a persuasive essay on why smoking is a bad habit: Smoking cigarettes is a destructive habit that can lead to social ostracization, financial stress, and severe health consequences.
In this thesis statement, your main argument is that smoking is bad, and your three main points are that it is bad because it has social, financial, and medical consequences.
Of course, your thesis statement will be a little more complex than this one, but this is designed to show you how it should be structured for an argumentative essay.
If you’re stuck on your thesis statement, we have some great news. Our ebook, Everything You Need to Know About Thesis Statements, is now free to download! This book is a free step by step guide that will walk you through the process of making a good thesis statement, and even has tons of great ideas you could try.
Female student with her back turned brainstorming an argumentative essay outline on a whiteboard
Planning Your Essay Outline
When you’re first starting to learn how to write an argumentative essay, you need to learn how to plan one. This process goes for any type of essay you’re writing.
An argumentative essay is designed to answer the following questions:
● What conclusion have you made about this topic?
● How did you reach that conclusion? In other words, what reason do you have to feel the way you do about this topic?
● Why should your reader/audience agree with you?
Planning out your essay and your essay outline properly will help you make sure you answer all of the right questions and include the right information to get top marks and make an effective point.
A typical argumentative essay outline will look something like this:
● Paragraph 1: Introduction
● Paragraph 2: Main argument 1
● Paragraph 3: Main argument 2
● Paragraph 4: Main argument 3
● Paragraph 5: Counterarguments and rebuttals
● Paragraph 6: Conclusion
The number of paragraphs you use will depend on the length of the essay and how many points you’re going to make. However, unless you’re writing a specific type of essay (like a cause and effect essay), you’ll generally follow this outline format.
Research: Tips and Tricks For Finding Solid, Credible Evidence
Doing good research is an important step in writing an argumentative essay because you need to be able to present reliable evidence to back up your opinion. Since this is a vital part of the essay writing process, we’ve shared some tips and tricks below to help you get on your way.
● Depending on how familiar you are with your essay topic, start your search right in Google. This won’t provide you with credible academic peer-reviewed sources, but it will give you some background information on the topic to help you choose a position to take.
● Search your topic in your school library’s academic database. This is likely where you’re going to get the bulk of your information and sources. Make sure you filter your search results to show you peer-reviewed articles so you can make sure your information is as credible as possible.
● Use Google Scholar if you start running out of options through your school library. Sometimes Google Scholar will pull articles from other databases that your school might not have access to. This way, you get a more well-rounded collection of results to choose from.
● Don’t forget about books and ebooks. Using ebooks from online libraries like Google Books and Scribd is an easy way to find information, especially since it’s much easier to search online for an ebook than it is to go and manually sift through library books. However, remember to be careful when using book sources to form your arguments. Books aren’t peer reviewed, so the information hasn’t been vetted for credibility as well as it would be in a journal article.
Student working on his essay writing with a closeup of his hands
How Do I Start My Argumentative Essay?
At this point, when you’re ready to start writing, you should have your outline written and your thesis statement planned.
During this step, you’ll need to make a few decisions. What type of arguments are you going to use and how will you appeal to your reader? Which direction will you go in terms of the position you’re taking on your topic? How many counterarguments are you going to include?
Over the next few paragraphs, we’re going to go over everything you need to plan and include in your argumentative essay. We’ll start with the different types of arguments you could use, show you where counterarguments fit in, and then tell you how to prepare your outline and put it all together so you can start writing.
The 3 Common Types of Arguments
This may come as a surprise, but there are actually a few different types of arguments you can use when you’re writing an argumentative essay. They are as follows:
1. Classical Argument
2. Toulmin Argument
3. Rogerian Argument
It all comes down to your audience. Using the right type of argument for your audience is the most effective way to convince them to agree with you. That means that you need to understand how one type of approach will influence a certain type of person.
For example, if you’re a politician running for election and you’re making a persuasive speech at a school, your audience is likely going to contain parents, teachers, and students. Therefore, you’d focus on the changes you’re going to make to the education system, for families, and possibly for students. You’re not going to talk about issues such as corporate budgeting and business taxes because that audience doesn’t care about those things.
The same type of reasoning goes for your argumentative essay, and that’s why it’s important to make sure you use the right type of argument.
Male college student presenting his argumentative essay to a class
Classical Arguments: Using Rhetorical Techniques in Argumentative Writing
In order to win any argument, you need to know how to target your audience and appeal to that audience’s interests or perspectives. One of the most effective ways to do this is using a classical argument.
The structure of a classical argument goes like this:
1. Claim: Your argument and position on the topic.
2. Grounds: The evidence and reasoning that leads you to take your position on your topic with credible information from reliable sources.
3. Counterarguments: Opposing viewpoints that someone might argue against your position.
4. Rebuttal: Your response to the counterarguments, and your defense against them (with credible evidence at all times).
5. Conclusion: A summary of your position on the topic and why you still believe what you do.
Classical arguments are also known as the Aristotelian model because the technique was developed by Aristotle himself in ancient Greece. Essentially, the classical argument technique uses rhetoric and rhetorical techniques to appeal to the audience or the reader. This is the most common argumentative style used in argumentative essays because it presents the argument in a way that appeals to the audience and presents both sides of the topic.
The three core types of rhetorical techniques are pathos, ethos, and logos:
● Pathos: This is the appeal to emotion; techniques you could use include personal stories,
● Ethos: This is the appeal to ethics; techniques you could use for this include expert testimonials, quotes from professionals in the field, and/or reviews from qualified people.
● Logos: This is the appeal to logic and reasoning; techniques you could use for this include facts, statistics, survey results, scientific data, and logical reasoning.
Knowing when to use pathos, logos, and ethos in your writing is key. A great argumentative essay will make use of all three techniques, but sometimes you want to lean heavily on one more than the other two. If you’re writing a paper for a biology class, for example, you’d want to lean strongly toward logos because science is largely rooted in logic, factual evidence, and reasoning. On the other hand, if you’re writing a paper on a human rights issue like human trafficking, you’d want to lean on pathos and logos to appeal to emotions and ethics.
Male student working on an argumentative essay in the library as the sunlight shines through
Named after another philosopher, Stephen Toulmin, the Toulmin argument model is designed to break down the components of an argument and analyze them. For this reason, this technique is often used in debates.
The Toulmin argument model is not used as often in argumentative essays because it doesn’t present the opposing view of the topic at hand and only presents your side. Therefore, it should really only be used for topics that don’t have one clear solution or absolute truth.
There are six main components to a Toulmin argument:
1. Claim: The argument you’re making or position you’re taking on the topic.
2. Grounds: The reason you have to take the position you’ve taken.
3. Warrant: The evidence and supporting information you’ve collected to support your claim.
4. Backing: The connection you’ve made between your warrant and grounds and your claim. Essentially, this is where your evidence comes in to prove your point.
5. Qualifier: This is the component that measures the strength of your claim. For example, if you’re presenting a solution and the results aren’t completely guaranteed, you’d say something like “most people find success with this technique.” Think of this as your disclaimer.
6. Rebuttal: This is where you’d address any counterarguments and provide a response.
The Rogerian argument model is named after psychologist Carl Rogers, who developed it in order to promote cooperation between two sides of a situation. This type of argument is used when both sides of the debate need to find some kind of common ground or solution. Therefore, it’s commonly used as a negotiation strategy or tactic when two parties need to find some kind of agreement.
At the core of this type of argumentative method is balance. If you’re using this technique, you’ll need to focus on showing both sides of the topic and give a lot of weight to presenting counterarguments.
Here is how a Rogerian argument is typically structured:
1. Introduction: Present your argument in a way that showcases it as a problem both parties want to solve.
2. Opposing Position: State any counterarguments in order to acknowledge the other side’s concerns and maintain fairness.
3. Claim: State your position on the topic as well as any evidence you have.
4. Middle Ground: Provide context on the topic and your position, as well as any benefits or advantages there are to your idea.
5. Conclusion: Summarize the main points you’ve made as well as the solution that has been presented.
This model is a little riskier to use when you’re writing a persuasive essay, but in some courses and subjects, it’s very effective. Always double-check with your instructor or your assignment details before you use this type of argumentative technique.
Closeup of female student at computer writing an essay outline by hand
The Importance of Counterarguments
In order for your argumentative essay to really hit your point home, it needs to read like a written debate. The key to this is using counterarguments in your paper.
We’ve mentioned this term quite a few times now, and you probably have some questions. Counterarguments are an essential piece of every argumentative essay. In fact, it’s impossible to learn how to write an argumentative essay without mentioning them.
You may be wondering why you would ever want to include the opposing point of view in a persuasive essay designed to convince someone your position is right. However, including counterarguments makes your own argument, point of view, and position on the topic stronger.
Here are the core reasons you need counterarguments in your argumentative essay:
● To show your reader (and your professor) that you’ve done thorough research.
● To strengthen your argument by pointing out any hesitations someone might have while considering your point.
● To remove any bias that might exist in your essay.
● To offer a more well-rounded perspective that shows you’ve thought about this carefully and have come to your conclusion with an educated background.
● To show your professor that you know how to effectively use critical thinking skills.
A Quick Note on Finding Good Counterarguments
Now that you know how important it is to have counterarguments in your argumentative essay, you may be wondering where to find them. Sometimes if the topic is a popular or hotly debated topic, you’ll already know some of the opposing viewpoints you should touch on. However, some topics might force you to do a little more digging to find good counterarguments.
Just like your research process, start with a Google search to see what people are saying about your topic. Look for any common keywords that stick out, and then do a search for academic peer-reviewed journals that touch on those arguments.
You can also look for other academic argumentative or persuasive essays that have been published on your topic. If they are written well, you’ll find counterarguments in those essays that you can then do your own research on. Look up their sources listed in the footnotes as a starting point.
Putting it All Together
Once you have everything planned out and you’ve decided which approach you’re going to take, you can start writing your argumentative essay.
If you follow the basic 5-point essay format, your first paragraph will be your introduction. The introduction paragraph will include a great hook or opening line, a bit of background information or context about your topic, and your thesis statement. Give your reader enough context to understand why this topic is important or significant, and make sure your thesis statement is at the end of the paragraph.
Your next few paragraphs will be your body paragraphs containing your main points that back up your core argument. Each main point should be written in its own paragraph to improve flow and make your essay easier for your reader to follow. Body paragraphs should always start with a topic sentence introducing the point you’re going to make, and they should end with a transition into the next paragraph.
Next, you’ll include at least one paragraph that explores the counterarguments and offers a rebuttal for them. If there are a lot of counterarguments and you want to include all of them, you can separate this section into a few paragraphs. However, depending on how long your essay needs to be, it’s best to just narrow down the top two or three counterarguments and focus on a strong rebuttal.
The last paragraph of your argumentative essay is your conclusion. Here, you’ll summarize your argument and your main points and leave a lasting impression on your reader. Your goal is to give your reader something to think about, and to have them put down your essay and realize you’ve changed the way they view the topic.
For more help and guidance on how to structure your paper, great essay writing tips, and detailed information, download our free ebook, Making The Grade: A Guide to Essay Writing Like a Pro. This step by step guide contains everything you will possibly need to know to write an amazing and effective persuasive essay (or any other type of essay you need to write later on down the road).
Extra Tips For Writing a Great Argumentative Essay
Here are some additional tips and pointers for you as you learn how to write an argumentative essay:
● Always write in the third person. Many people think that this isn’t required because an argumentative essay is opinion based, but it still needs to be written academically.
● Use good transition words throughout your paper, especially between paragraphs. This helps improve the flow of your writing, which in turn makes your argument stronger. Take a look at our helpful list of transition words to get some ideas while you write.
● Make sure you introduce your counterarguments so your reader knows they are opposing views. You can say something like, “according to some,…” or “though some believe…” If you don’t make it clear what your counterarguments are, your readers could get confused.
● Always reread and proofread your paper. Never turn in the first draft you write just to get it over with. You will almost always miss easy-to-fix mistakes if you do this.
● Leave your introduction until the end. It’s a lot easier to write an introduction when you’ve already written the rest of the paper because you have an accurate idea of what you’re going to touch on. You can also determine what background information you don’t need to include, leading to less wasted space.
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