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Writing an Effective Argumentative Essay

Writing an Effective Argumentative Essay

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn how to craft an effective argumentative essay, as well as the most important factors to consider when writing the paper.

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Video Transcription

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

Today, we get the chance to think more deeply about argumentative essays. We're going to learn some effective techniques for writing these essays and learn how to avoid ineffective techniques. And then we'll practice selecting appropriate, effective, successful topics.

We'll start at the start-- the topic. If we're making an argument which takes a clear position on a debatable question and backs up claims with evidence and reasoning, then we want to think carefully about what topics we choose so that they are argumentative and clear.

What does an argumentative, clear topic need? Simply put, we need to see two clear sides-- pro or con, yes or no-- on a debatable issue, i.e., both sides make valid and interesting points so the issue is worth having a debate about.

In addition, the debate needs to be somehow controversial. If no one really cares about the outcome, then it's not a debate. So we need topics about which reasonable people might disagree.

Moreover, we need to think about our audience. The topic should be relevant or of interest to your intended audience, which is, the person or people at whom a specific piece of writing is directed.

For example, if I were presenting a paper against nuclear power at a conference of nuclear scientists, I would need to think about whether or not it would be possible for me to change their minds. And if I were trying to convince them, I would need to think carefully about the way that I appealed to our shared connections, such as perhaps a shared belief in the need for alternative energy sources.

Finally, for an argumentative topic to work, the author needs to pick a side of that topic and stick to it. If I don't clearly and consistently argue for one side of the debate, then my readers aren't going to be able to be convinced.

Once you know your argument, you need evidence to back up your claims. Evidence is facts and details that support an argument. So what kinds of facts and details can we use? Well, there are two types-- personal and research.

With personal evidence, you draw from your own experience to justify your position. But this needs to be done carefully. For it to work effectively as evidence, your experience needs to be shared. You're using your experience to speak to and for more people than yourself. So your experience needs to be relatable.

So this can be a very useful kind of evidence when you're trying to make a personal connection with your readers. But if you only use evidence from your personal experience, then your readers may perceive the issue that you're discussing as being related only to you and not to a larger context that they might relate to.

Your other option is researched evidence. When we research, we gather up facts, data, statistics, and ideas from other writers and sources in order to support our ideas. Our evidence needs to be current and relevant. Out-of-date ideas won't help us and neither will data that doesn't speak directly to our argument.

But research is a great way to fend off those who would dismiss your argument as just being just your opinion, which may happen if you base your evidence solely on personal experience. Research proves to your reader that you're not just mindlessly relaying ideas, but have instead thoroughly and carefully thought through the argument and found the data to support your position.

Just as important in making a convincing argument is how you, the author, present yourself in your writing. What tone are you using? What authorial persona is coming across to your readers? An argument may be less convincing if the author seems haughty versus if the author seems considerate.

Likewise, an author who is clearly biased, hot-headed, and brash is less credible than one who is even-keeled, rational, and approachable. So you want to practice projecting forth an aura of rationality and then think carefully about what your tone, word choice, style, and other writing aspects are saying to your readers about who you are.

All of these facets together make up what we call the author's ethos. Building a credible persona depends upon presenting an unbiased viewpoint, a reasonable tone, and making careful use of logical reasoning, research, and rhetorical appeals.

So let's get, then, to the rules for effective argumentation. All effective arguments and, indeed, many other kinds of writing should appeal to values that you share with your reader. So think of your audience.

For example, if you're writing a paper about why science fiction novels aren't important, you're probably not going to get much traction with that argument at Comic-Con. Incorporate carefully sourced research and credible evidence that supports your claim. In particular, you want to select evidence that directly supports your side of the argument.

Be careful when you're presenting evidence about the general topic, as sometimes it can contradict your claim. Explain clearly why your claim is valid or believable, instead of just saying that it is believable. It's hard to be convinced by the argument that merely states, I am right. A more convincing argument will explain, I'm right, and here is why.

Clearly state the argument so that the reader knows what side you're on. In particular, it's essential that you use a thesis statement in the introduction to demonstrate your position on the debate. Stick to one argument. You may have multiple parts to an argument, but if you're taking on two different debates, you should be writing them in two separate papers. And finally, make careful and thoughtful use of rhetorical appeals.

So let's practice. Here is a short argumentative essay. Take a moment to read it by pausing. And press play when you're ready. What do you notice? Does this author seem credible, reasonable, believable? I don't think so. Let's look at why.

In this spot, you can see that the author is making a pretty substantial claim. But is there evidence to support that claim? No, I don't see any. And how does the tone strike you? To me, this author comes across as angry and brash and doesn't seem like someone I'd trust.

See how, here, the author is taking a really extreme line of reasoning without addressing any possible disagreement? It seems like the author is dismissive of anyone who might disagree with him. That's not very credible. Overall, this author seems hard line and presents as biased, not wholly informed, and unreasonable, instead of measured, neutral, and rational.

OK, here's another short argument. Let's compare and contrast it with the previous one. Again, you know the drill. Pause and press play when you're ready. What do you see here? The tone is markedly different, right. In this version of the essay, the author seems reasonable and trustworthy.

See how here he makes a concession to the other side? That's a mark of credibility-- being able to represent the other side fairly and generously, finding the rational connections between the two sides instead of demonizing the other side, that's something you want to emulate.

And notice also how here the author's personal experience is used to demonstrate how violent video games can be a positive element of an adult's life. This is a believable and rationally presented example of personal experience, unlike what we saw in the previous text. So overall, I'd say that this author manages to strike the right tone and uses evidence and appeals carefully to make his argument.

So what did we learn today? This lesson helped us write more effective argumentative essays. We reviewed choosing argumentative topics, discussed the two kinds of evidence, personal and research, and when and how to use each, and practiced assessing the author's ethos to generate effective arguments.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Notes on "Writing an Effective Argumentative Essay"

(00:00 – 00:09) Introduction

(00:10 – 00:25) What are we going to learn today?

(00:26 – 01:55) The Topic

(01:56 – 03:22) Evidence

(03:23 – 04:20) Authorial Persona

(04:21 – 05:43) Rules of Effective Argumentation

(05:44 – 06:37) Argumentation Practice #1

(06:38 – 07:33) Argumentation Practice #2

(07:34 – 07:55) Recap and Goodbye

  • Argument

    Takes a clear position on a debatable question and backs up claims with evidence and reasoning.

  • Audience

    The person or people at whom a specific piece of writing is directed.

  • Evidence

    Facts and details that support an argument.