The primary form of academic writing is driven by argument, or a clear position on a debatable question that is supported with evidence and reasoning. In an academic context, an argument doesn't refer to fighting, which sometimes comes to mind when the word is mentioned.
When discussing writing, it's instead useful to think of an argument as a conversation between thoughtful people who, although they have different views, want to answer the same questions.
The components of successful academic arguments include:
By identifying the components of an argument, you can analyze its effectiveness. Instead of just being convinced or unconvinced (perhaps without understanding why), you'll be able to evaluate arguments critically. You won't be misled by elegant phrasing or false logic.
Although argumentative essays sometimes incorporate other modes of writing (e.g., the persuasive or informative modes), all essays that present an argument are considered argumentative.
The persuasive mode is similar to the argumentative: Both of these writing modes seek to influence readers to accept an assertion or take a particular action. The persuasive mode, however, emphasizes pathos (appeals to readers' emotions) more than ethos (appeals to readers' sense of right and wrong) or logos (appeals to logic and reasoning).
Writing in the informative mode does not argue a specific point, but instead provides information about a subject. This sometimes involves analysis and interpretation, however, which require a form of argumentation. Since the purpose of informative writing is to inform - not to convince or persuade - this mode is a different kind of writing with different requirements.
The following paragraph is an excerpt from an essay. As you read it, look for elements of argumentative, persuasive, and informative writing.
Part of the reason why Hawaii seems like such a paradise is that it's not home to many of nature's less pleasant organisms: no nettles or poison ivy, few thorny plants or poisonous plants, no snakes or apex predators. Until humans arrived, Hawaii was a paradise for many organisms. But now that rats, cats, sheep, pigs, and invasive vines, trees, and grasses have been introduced, the ecosystem that had been at stasis for so long is slowly and steadily becoming more like that of the continental United States (Harjo, 2005). Even as government officials inspect ship and air cargo for green tree snakes, fire ants, tree frogs, and the multitude of other species that haven't yet established a foothold in the islands; even as ranchers and hunters coordinate to keep wild pigs and sheep populations under control; even as university researchers and park rangers tag and protect endangered birds and turtles, they know it's a battle they can't win.
Multiple modes of writing are used in this excerpt. The writer attempts to inform the reader about the subject, but he also takes - and supports - a position. In addition, the persuasive mode is evident at the end of the excerpt, when the writer makes an emotional appeal that expresses his sadness at how human actions have irrevocably changed Hawaii, rather than making a reason-based argument about the ecosystem.
Rhetorical appeals are strategies used in writing that are designed to persuade or convince the reader. There are three types of rhetorical appeals, which you will learn more about in the next lesson.
For now, here is a brief description of each: