ARGUMENTATIVE WRITING is a common type of assignment in school, though few students handle it well. Why? Because they often pick a topic they have not thought much about, and without enough material to argue their way through, they end up restating the same point over and over. The essay becomes one long repetition.

If you have more than one essay option, choose a topic you are familiar with. However, you don’t always have that option, especially in an essay exam. This is why you need to read extensively and keep up with current events: The more you understand the world, the more topics you can write about.

We cannot help you come up with arguments—that’s your job. But we can help you understand how to organize your essay a little better.

To argue effectively, you need to

  1. State clearly what the issue is.
  2. State your position in the thesis statement.
  3. Support your position with sound arguments supported by details or examples.
  4. Anticipate and respond to your readers’ objections or concerns.
  5. Conclude cogently.

  6. For example:

    Should Tara Win?

    (Define the issue: ) Many who watched the figure skating events at the 1998 Winter Olympics insist that Michelle Kwan, not Tara Lipinski, should have won the ladies' competition. Both Michelle and Tara landed seven triple jumps in the long program. Tara, though the more proficient jumper of the two, lacked sophistication in her skating, so many believe Michelle's clean and artistically exquisite program was just as worthy, if not more so, of an Olympic gold medal. (State your position: ) But I think that on the night of the competition, deserved to win.

    (Support your position with sound arguments: )

    In any figure skating competition, winning means giving one's very best in both the short and the free program. Michelle was the odds-on favorite for the ladies' gold, especially after edging out for first place in the short program. Judges stepped into the White Wing arena on February 16 with very high expectations for Michelle. But Michelle’s Olympic long program lacked the crispness she once displayed at the Nationals. She demonstrated superior technique and nailed all her elements; but to avoid mistakes, she skated a little too cautiously and slowly. In the eyes of experienced judges, Michelle’s performance was a slight letdown. Tara, whom every onlooker expected to wait for her golden moment in 2002, who had been upstaged by Michelle throughout the season, and who had received negative media reviews the preceding three months, skated later, and gave it her all. Her great speed, her energy, and her two triple-triple combinations, wowed the judges into ranking her performance ahead of Michelle's. By trying her best, she captured the Olympic spirit and the gold.

    Not only was Michelle's performance not her best of the season, but her long program, “Lyra Angelica”, also lacked the ingredients of a winning program. Before 1998, Michelle’s programs were considered to be among the most sophisticated, filled with connecting elements between her jumps and spins. But “Lyra Angelica” consisted of nothing but stroking from element to element. More critically, “Lyra” did not include any footwork sequence, a crucial element in any well-rounded program– a strategic error, considering that footwork is Michelle’s strength. Though 's program was not as elegant, her program did include some semblance of footwork after her combination spin, and compared favorably to a stripped-down “Lyra” in all technical elements.

    (To accommodate readers with different views, include a counter-argument and refute it: )

    A lot of folks who joined in the debate ended up being split between Michelle's artistry and 's athleticism. Michelle’s artistry should have won the day, experts say. (counter-argument: ) However, let’s remind ourselves that this is, after all, a sport. Artistry was nowhere in the judging criteria; presentation was – and that was used to reward technical prowess displayed effortlessly. Six out of nine judges believed presented the program well enough to win. The majority won. (Conclusion. Restate your position, and if possible, add a new and arresting perspective: )

    I, who was born in , would love to see a Chinese face on top of the podium. (Conclusion restated with a new perspective) But let us not get into the debate of who is a better skater, or what it was the skaters did that made them the greatest. Even though your favorite skater will remain the greatest in your eyes, was the best competitor the night she won.

    A few more things to note about argumentative writing:

    • You can state your position after you weigh the pros and cons. However, many beginners find it easier to state it in the opening paragraph.
    • You can cite various forms of evidence to support your argument, including anecdotes, statistics and testimonies from authorities (Axelrod, 232).
    • To come up with good arguments for your essay, you need to think critically. We cannot help you there—this can be a whole college course in itself. However, I’ve provided some websites at the end of this post that may help.
    • Avoid strong language that may put off readers with opposing views. Statements like these will keep readers from reading your essays:
"Paragraph sprawl"

Definition: "paragraph sprawl is a problem with the way a paragraph works; that is, its sentences do not fit together tightly and focus on a central point. If your paragraphs go off in different directions, if you have put two or three unconnected ideas in one paragraph, or if several sentences in your paragraph could fit just as well in one place or another, you have a problem with paragraph sprawl." (Source: The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers)

People think that drug abuse is only the problem of adults, but it is not true. Nowadays, drug abuse among teenagers is a huge problem in the society. They try drugs because they are curious. Some of them believe that they will not be addicted to soft drugs. And they like to try new things. They believe that drugs are cool. Drug abuse has disastrous effects. So, drug abuse is a serious problem that our youngsters face.

That paragraph doesn't seem to go anywhere. Instead, try this instead:
Recent studies have dispelled the myth that drug abuse is merely a problem of grown-ups. (Then cite examples and statistics) Results of 2004 Substance Abuse Survey for Teenagers came out last month, with sobering statistics that shocked even the most experienced school counselors: a whopping 55% of pollsters admitted to having tried soft drugs at least once during the past 12 months. While the majority of users tried it out of curiosity and did not consider themselves addicted users, a small portion of the respondents were serious addicts, and confessed that they, from time to time, took part in the illicit drug trade themselves to finance their habit.

Two main techniques to overcome paragraph sprawls:

1. Commitment and response. You tell the reader you are going to talk about something, then stick to your promise.

Many people have been speculating over the causes that led to Leslie Cheung's tragic suicide. Some say it was a lovers' quarrel; others think the superstar had been suffering from an ongoing depression; and there are still those who attribute the whole affair to some unaccountable jinx that befalls a celebrity every 10 years.
(I am making it up! I really don't know why he died!)
Then offer your own interpretation.

In this example, I promise, in the first sentence, to talk about the possible causes of Leslie's death, followed by the gossip itself.

Until the awe-inspiring performance at the 1998 Olympic Games, Chen Lu had given every indication that she was "history" in the world of figure skating. Just the previous year, she did not even qualify for the long program at the World Championship. She had gained weight; she had lost her coach; her spins traveled for a mile; and her triple jumps -- for a long time a staple in her programs --had deserted her. Coming into the 1998 Olympic Games, no one in the skating world was giving her much of a chance, except, perhaps, Chen Lu herself.

In this example, I tell the reader that no one expected Chen Lu to medal in the 1998 Olympics, and then I explain why.

Inanimate objects are classified into three major categories--those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost. (Quote from Russell Baker, "The Plot Against People")

In this paragraph, Russell tells his readers he is talking about three objects, and he explains what they are. Then he is going to discuss each thing one by one. (Note the rule of three in the examples!)

You can also start with a question and answer it yourself.
Why did Leslie commit suicide? Everyone in HK was wondering about this. And no one really knows for sure. Some say…some say…

Then offer your interpretation.

2. Second Technique: Downshifting -- going from talking generally to talking specifically .
Start the paragraph with a general statement, and then provide explanation, statistics and examples (i.e. the details).
If you give a score of 10 to the most general statements, and 1 to the most specific ones, then your paragraph should start from 10 and work towards 1.

10. For the past decade, the educators in the have seen a steady decline in the quality of Math education a student receives in an American public school.

9 The latest data release from the TIMSS study has, once again, reminded the American public of just how "fuzzy" their Math is (to quote George W.). (proof)

8 According to the report, students, by 12th grade, are way behind students in other countries in all areas of Mathematics. (be specific)

7 According to Dr. Whatabore, a professor at University of ABC, the Math curriculum in many schools is "a mile wide, and an inch deep" -- as a result, students graduate from high schools not knowing much of algebra, geometry or trigonometry.

In this example, I make a statement, then I use statistics to back up my statement, and then I close the paragraph with a quote from a professor. The paragraph goes from the most general (with a score of 10), to the most specific (a score of 7).