Argumentative Essay–Writing to Take a Stand

Argumentative essays differ from narrative, expository, or analytical essays fundamentally in that you’re writing to take a stand, to persuade your audience to accept a particular position, to convince your audience of a particular argument. Although in previous essay genres you’re also making a point, the emphasis in argumentative essays is to make and prove an argument with convincing evidence and sound, logical reasoning. The purposes and requirements for this essay, therefore, are quite different from those for the previous essays.

Through this assignment, you will learn to

  • construct an argument using various methods of argumentation,
  • gather, summarize, synthesize, and explain information from various sources,
  • incorporate sources into your argumentation using MLA or APA styles,
  • produce coherent, organized, readable prose for different rhetorical situations,
  • engage in writing as a process, including invention (such as brainstorming for ideas), developing a thesis statement, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading,
  • respond to your classmates’ writing and provide constructive feedback,
  • respond to your classmates’ response to your writing and learn how to incorporate your classmates’ suggestions into your revision,
  • use grammatical, stylistic, and mechanical formats and conventions appropriate for different audiences and writing situations, and
  • reflect on your own writing and writing process and on your classmates’ writing and writing process.

Topic–Identifying a Controversial Issue
An appropriate topic for the argumentative essay should be one that

  • interests you
  • is neither too broad nor too narrow,
  • is open to controversy, and
  • is not already overly argued by other people.

Make sure your topic interests you.
Whatever topic you choose, it should be something that interests you, something that you feel strongly about, something that’s dear to your heart. If it’s an argument that affects you and that you have personal experience about, it will be easier for you to build your ethos with personal experience.

Make sure your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow.
A topic like “presidential campaigns” might be too big for you to handle in a few pages. In contrast, “the use of scare tactics in presidential campaign ads” might be easier to handle. In a similar way, “advertising” sounds vague and broad while “truth in advertising” is more focused. On the other hand, too narrow topics are those that deal with trivial topics that your readers are not likely to be interested in.

Make sure your topic is controversial.
A controversial topic is one that people have different opinions about. For example, the “illegitimacy of thefts” is not a controversial topic while “the appropriate punishment for first-time theft offendes” is a more controversial one. Similarly, “the harmful effects of smoking” is not really a topic of controversy, but “heavy taxation on cigarettes” might be.

Make sure your topic is not already overly argued by other people.
Topics such as “abortion” or “the death penalty” might yield easy arguments, but they have been argued so much that it’s very hard to come up with anything new to say about them. Unless you have something really unique and original to contribute to such topics, I’d strongly recommend that you avoid such topics.

Choosing a good topic is not easy, and it’s critical for a good argumentative essay. The samples in our textbook provide good examples of appropriate and interesting topics: “the plus side of video games,” “the (in)validity of SAT as a predicator of success,” and “truth in advertising.”

Constructing Your Argument/Writing the Essay
This essay should be quite different from your previous essay In several ways.

An argument essentially contains a central claim (your thesis) backed up by several supporting claims, which are further supported by concrete evidence–examples, other people’s opinions, etc. This argumentative essay not only will involve sound, logical reasoning but may also include some of the other techniques you’ve learned and used in the previous essays: narration, description, and analysis. One thing to keep in mind is that since you’re making an argument on a controversial issue, there’s always the other side. It’s vitally important that you address the other side if you want to present a fair and convincing argument.

While there’re always multiple ways to organize any kind of essay, the one that’s described in our textbook (pp. 100-103) provides an easy option: introduction, claim, evidence, support, and conclusion.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
A good argumentative essay requires a somewhat balanced use of ethos, pathos, and logos. Without ethos, your essay will not carry credibility; without pathos, it won’t have effective emotional affect; and without logos, don’t expect that your audience will buy into your argument.

Using other people’s arguments, especially those from reputable sources, to support your own argument is often an effective and necessary means of argumentation. Therefore, for this essay, you’re expected to include at least five sources, at least two of which must be scholarly and two of which must be non-internet based.

Your audience for the argumentative essay will be people who are relatively familiar with the issue in question. They may or may not have a preconceived idea or argument on the issue, but most likely they do.

Components of the Assignment
Here’re the components of this essay:

  1. First Draft–Save the file as “Argument1(YourLastNameYourFirstNameInitial),” e.g., “Argument1(Smith).” Email this to me and your peer critique partner as an attachment.
  2. Peer Response–Email a copy of your classmate’s first draft with your comments back to your classmate. Make sure you keep a copy for your records, too.
  3. Final Draft–This is your edited, final draft. Save this file as “Argument2(YourLastNameYourFirstNameInitial),” e.g., “Argument2(SmithJ).” Email this to me as an attachment.

Some Technicalities
Please follow the following guidelines carefully.

  • Length–2-5 pages single spaced
  • Format–Any readable typeface, serif or sans serif; font size no smaller than 10 and no bigger than 12; single space; (recommended default: 12-point Times New Roman)
  • Name block–On the first page, in the top left corner, single spaced:
    Your Name
    ENGL 1101
    Argumentative Essay
  • Footer–Use a footer at the bottom of each page, with your name on the left and page number on the right.
  • File names–Make sure you save your files exactly as I specified above.

Your essay will be graded based on the grading rubric available on my “Handouts” page. However, no point values will be assessed for the separate categories. Instead, you will receive a single, holistic grade for the entire assignment. Your paper, however, will be graded primarily, though not exclusively, on the following:

  • Ideas
  • Development
  • Organization
  • Audience
  • MLA or APA Style
  • Grammar and Mechanics

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