The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.
There are various opinions on how to categorize essays and how many types of essay there are. The simplest interpretation says that there are only four types of essays:
1. Narrative essays
2. Descriptive essays
3. Expository essays
4. Persuasive essays
I personally think this is a bit of an oversimplification. I also think there are overly complicated classifications of essays, so to keep things relatively simple, we’ll stick to 10 types. Feel free to disagree with me if you like!
In this type of essay, you’re painting a word picture. You can certainly include some facts, but you’ll focus on the experience, what it feels like, looks like, smells or sounds like. Your aim is to draw the reader in so he or she can experience what you are writing about in the same way you experienced it.
A definition tells you what something is. Although a definition is short, a definition essay discusses a complex concept in much greater depth than you would get from a few lines. They’re most often used to discuss philosophical or abstract topics.
Compare and Contrast Essays
You’ll be given two similar-seeming yet different things to compare. To write this essay, I suggest that you prepare carefully. Which elements are the same? Which ones are different? Once you are sure you know what information you want to include, you’re ready to go.
Cause and Effect Essays
Although the name seems self-explanatory, we need to remember several causes can contribute to a single effect, and conversely, one cause could result in several effects. For example, several factors contributed to the US involvement in the First World War (multiple causes, single effect). However, being in the war had several effects on the US (single cause multiple effects).
If you like creative writing, these will be among your favorite essays. In a narrative essay, you tell a story. Remember, it has a beginning followed by a number of events that lead up to an ending. Plan carefully!
This type of essay involves a step by step explanation of how something happens or is done. Getting your steps in the correct order is important if you don’t want to turn your process into a muddle. Write your process essay in chronological order.
Are you opinionated? Good! The argumentative essay explains your opinions and the reasons why you believe they’re right. You can even look at some possible counter-arguments and why you believe they’re wrong. Ultimately, you’re trying to get your reader to agree with you, so the more facts you can present to support your points, the better.
You don’t have to criticize the thing you’re writing about unless you think there is reason for it, but you’ll be evaluating it critically. You’ll provide reasons why you think something was well done or badly done. If you think it was great, why did you think so? Are there any faults that bothered you? Why did they bother you? What evidence can you present to support your opinion?
You could sum this type of essay up as follows, “Get all the facts, and then interpret them!” You must reach a conclusion, and this has to be supported by your research or personal experience. In higher education, you have to show your ability to research your topic, and you’ll probably be citing experts along the way. In the end, you give your own opinion, but you’ll point out how several sources contribute to it. As long as there is logic in that, your answer can’t be wrong. These essays are exciting because even when you use existing knowledge, you may find yourself obtaining a new perspective or reaching a novel conclusion.
In a way, these are similar to argumentative essays, but they’re not quite the same. An argumentative essay will hit people with the facts, while a persuasive essay has a softer touch and may appeal to moral values or emotions. See it as the difference between winning a debate and winning someone over to support a cause. There are differences, but also similarities.
What Type of Essay to Write?
When looking at an instruction or exam question, study the VERBS your teacher has used. Circle them and think about what they imply. If you’ve just been told to name or list things, give nothing but the facts.
Other words indicating that you should usually give nothing but the facts:
In addition, you want to look for words indicating that you should give your opinion:
- In your opinion…
- What do you think about…
- How do you feel…
If you have any doubt about the type of essay you should be writing, ask. While your teacher likely won’t tell you when assigning, she will explain the correct type of essay to write for the particular situation and how you can figure that out. This should prove beneficial so you can deduct the correct type to write in future situations.