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Writing an Effective Argumentative Research Paper

Writing an Effective Argumentative Research Paper

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson provides an overview for how to write an effective argumentative research paper.

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Welcome to English composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn about the many things writers need to do in order to write an effective argumentative research paper, from brainstorming and prewriting, to research, taking opinions into account, drafting the essay and incorporating research into it while avoiding plagiarism, to revising, editing, and proofreading. We'll cover it all.

As we'll remember, writing is a recursive process, and such, writers will often have to refer to the steps of the writing process throughout all writing projects. These steps are brainstorming, prewriting, thesis generation, research, drafting, revision, editing, and proofreading. Brainstorming, the start of the process, helps writers think about their topic and purpose of the essay, hone in on a working thesis, and visualize the research they will have to do.

Often for student writers, the topic will be assigned, and in situations like this, students should remember that a topic or focus is not the same as a thesis. Writers should choose topics and theses that are debatable, and include at least two or more perspectives. One thing to consider when beginning to outline an argumentative essay is the type or model of argumentation you'll want to use. Choosing from among the classical, Rogerian, or Toulmin models will affect the form and impact of the argument, so this shouldn't be a decision made lightly.

Now, this is obviously a quick overview, but in general, the classical model is best suited for arguments that want to persuade. The Rogerian is best for arguments that want to find or build common ground between opposing sides. And the Toulmin is useful for almost any context, but is best suited for complicated topics and building solid arguments based on reasoning. Of course, we can merge components of these models to suit our needs and stylistic preferences. For example, we can use a classical or Rogerian structure for the whole essay while using the Toulmin model to solidly make each point.

But no matter how we structure our essay, we should create a detailed outline that fits the model for mix of models that we've chosen. And if using the Toulmin model, our outline should include claims, grounds, warrants, backing, qualifiers, and rebuttals. And any detailed outline should include notes for what support we plan to use for each component of our essay so we can refer back to the outline during the drafting process.

It's important for writers of argumentative research papers to give themselves extra time for research and to know the primary things they need to research before beginning the process. We should take good research notes. Notes on both the content of sources and their bibliographic data. All of which should be organized into an annotated bibliography. This is a document with bibliographic data on each source the writer plans to use along with brief notes about the source and it's possible use in the essay.

When researching, we need to evaluate the source in terms of its credibility or trustworthiness, all while looking for quotes and information to use, including points of agreement and disagreement and nuances differences between the arguments. The detailed outline should also incorporate some of this information so that during the drafting process, the writer can refer to it and the annotated bibliography to know what source he or she had originally planned to use where and for what purpose.

Opinions can help a writer demonstrate his or her engagement with and passion for a subject. After all, most thesis statements begin with an opinion about a subject that's been honed, developed, and supported through research. It's also very common for writers of argumentative research essays to site and make use of the opinions of other writers, either as support through agreement or to distinguish others' ideas form their own. Because of the complicated nature of argumentation, it's very important for writers to make it clear when they're expressing an opinion rather than a fact in their essay.

If, for example, I was writing an argumentative essay about adoption, I might state an opinion like this. "It's obviously important to protect the children being put up for adoption, but when couples, individuals, and deserving children wait years for the various bureaucratic wheels turn and bring them together, something needs to be changed." Then, if I wanted to add a fact to support my argument, I'd have to be careful to make sure I made it clear that that's what I was doing.

Like this for example. "Though most adoptions in the US take less than three months to finalize, exceptions abound, including 10% that take a whopping two years or more." From the tone and the lack of keywords like "needs" and "obviously," the reader shouldn't need the parenthetical reference at the end of this last sentence to understand that I'm presenting this as a fact rather than my opinion.

Because of the need to artfully and effectively incorporate research, drafting an argumentative research essay tends to take longer than other forms of academic writing. And because it's common for writers to find that their opinions on the subject, and even the thesis, change during the process of writing an initial draft, this can sometimes add time to the process. But this is fine. Changing opinions on a subject is an indicator of critical thinking, which is always a good thing, even if it might seem inconvenient at times.

The outlines writers use on such papers are useful guides, and they can help avoid writer's block, but it's important for all writers to remember that an outline is a plan, not a contract, and the outline should be changed as needed in order to make the best argument possible. Ultimately, this comes down to trusting the writing process and keeping in mind that you'll have time to revise and edit more than one draft.

Though it's one of the bigger challenges involved in writing an argumentative research essay, it's important to artfully incorporate research, since this helps make your argument. That being said, writers should be careful not to use so many quotations, paraphrases, and summaries that they overwhelm their own words, ideas, and points. In order to use citations without losing your own voice and perspective in an essay, there are several techniques to follow.

First, only select the most key or important pieces of a source to quote, and use summaries and paraphrases to synthesize and explain other ideas, arguments, evidence, or points. Second, use signal phrases and transitional phrases to situate quotes in the context of the essay and to surround them with your own words and points. It's also important to both introduce and follow up quotes with your own words making sure you've explained how and why the quote relates to your argument. And whenever possible, avoid using block quotes and use summaries or paraphrases instead.

It's also important for writers of argumentative research papers to carefully note and reference the sources they use since this will help them avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism, as we'll remember, is passing off someone else's words or ideas as your own. This is cheating in the academic context, and it's unethical and possibly even illegal in all contexts.

There are two kinds of plagiarism. Intentional plagiarism, in which a writer deliberately steals another writer's work, and unintentional plagiarism, where a writer fails to cite a source or attribute an idea thus unintentionally passing it off as his or her own. Taking solid research notes and being a careful, thoughtful researcher is key to avoiding unintentional plagiarism. And even though we tend to make a distinction between them in composition, from the plagiarized author's perspective, it doesn't matter much whether it was intentional or unintentional plagiarism. And even for the writer who plagiarizes, there isn't that much of a difference either, as the penalties are often the same. And of course, either constitutes a failure to live up to the responsibility all writers have to treat their sources ethically and accurately.

When working on an argumentative research paper, writer's should allow themselves extra time to revise an edit their drafts and to proofread the final version before turning it in or submitting it for publication. Revision may require significant changes to the argument, support, or ideas in a draft, and this is perfectly fine. It's important to make sure that you've accurately and ethically used any sources, explained the value or relevance of their support to the argument, and fully developed your own ideas and points.

We should also look for word choice changes that need to be made and for redundancies and awkward or repetitive sentences during the editing process. And when proofreading, we need to look not only for mechanical and grammatical errors, but also for anything that's out of alignment with the assignment or prompts or requirements or assumptions and those of whatever formatting style we're using.

What did we learned today? We learned about the many factors that go into writing an effective argumentative research paper. We covered brainstorming and prewriting, researching, incorporating different kinds of opinions into one argument, the drafting process, and incorporating research into drafts, how to avoid plagiarism, and the last steps of the writing process, revising, editing, and proofreading. Now, with all of these factors in line, we should all be ready to join in the conversation.

I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.