Chapter 8: Making Academic Arguments
Basic Components of an Argumentative Essay
When you are tasked with crafting an argumentative essay, it is likely that you are to do so based on a number of sources–all of which should support your topic in some way. Your instructor might provide these sources for you, ask you to locate these sources, or provide you with some sources and ask you to find others. Whether or not you are asked to do additional research, an argumentative essay should be comprised of these basic components.
Claim: What do you want the reader to believe?
The thesis in an argument paper is often called a claim. This claim is a statement in which you take a stand on a debatable issue. A strong, debatable claim has at least one valid counterargument–an opposite or alternative point of view that is as sensible as the position that you take in your claim. In your thesis statement, you should clearly and specifically state the position you will convince your audience to adopt.
A closed thesis statement includes sub-claims or reasons why you choose to support your claim. For example:
- The city of Cleveland has displayed a commitment to attracting new residents by making improvements to its walkability, city centers, and green spaces.
In this instance, improvements to walkability, city centers, and green spaces are the sub-claims or reasons why you would make the claim that Cleveland is attracting new residents.
An open thesis statement does not include sub-claims and might be more appropriate when your argument is less easy to prove with two or three easily-defined sub-claims. The choice between an open or a closed thesis statement often depends upon the complexity of your argument. When in doubt about how to structure your thesis statement, you should seek the advice of your instructor.
Consult section 3.4 for help constructing a strong open or closed thesis statement.
Context: What background information about the topic does your audience need?
Before you get into defending your claim, you will need to place your topic (and argument) into context by including relevant background material. Remember, your audience is relying on you for vital information, such as definitions, historical placement, and controversial positions. This background material might appear in either your introductory paragraph/s or your body paragraphs. How and where to incorporate background material depends a lot upon your topic, assignment, evidence, and audience.
Evidence or Grounds: What makes your reasoning valid?
To validate the thinking that you put forward in your claim and sub-claims, you need to demonstrate that your reasoning is not only based on your personal opinion. Evidence, sometimes referred to as grounds, can take the form of research studies or scholarship, expert opinions, personal examples, observations made by yourself or others, or specific instances that make your reasoning seem sound and believable. Evidence only “works” if it directly supports your reasoning — and sometimes you must explain how the evidence supports your reasoning (do not assume that a reader can see the connection between evidence and reason that you see).
Section 4.4 provides a thorough overview of what evidence is and how evidence fits into body paragraphs. As you plan or draft your argument, use this chapter as a resource to help you organize ideas.
Warrants: Why should a reader accept your claim?
A warrant is the rationale the writer provides to show that the evidence properly supports the claim, with each element working towards a similar goal. Think of warrants as the glue that holds an argument together and ensures all pieces work together coherently.
An important way to ensure you are properly supplying warrants within your argument is to use “linking sentences” or a “link” that connects the particular claim directly back to the thesis. Ensuring that there are linking sentences in each paragraph will help to create consistency within your essay. Remember, the thesis statement is the driving force of organization in your essay, so each paragraph needs to have a specific purpose in proving or explaining your thesis; linking sentences complete this task. These linking sentences will often appear after your textual evidence in a paragraph. See Section 4.5 for help linking supporting evidence to your thesis.
Counterargument: But what about other perspectives?
In Section 10.4, Steven Krause offers a thorough explanation of what counterargument is (and how to respond to it). In summary, a strong arguer should not be afraid to consider perspectives that either challenge or completely oppose his or her own claim. When you respectfully and thoroughly discuss perspectives or research that counters your own claim or even weaknesses in your own argument, you are showing yourself to be an ethical arguer. Here are some things that counterarguments may consist of:
- summarizing opposing views
- explaining how and where you actually agree with some opposing views
- acknowledging weaknesses or holes in your own argument
You have to be careful and clear that you are not conveying to a reader that you are rejecting your own claim; it is important to indicate that you are merely open to considering alternative viewpoints. Being open in this way shows that you are an ethical arguer – you are considering many viewpoints.
Response to Counterargument: I see that, but…
Just as it is important to include counterargument to show that you are fair-minded and balanced, you must respond to the counterargument so that a reader clearly sees that you are not agreeing with the counterargument and thus abandoning or somehow undermining your own claim. Failure to include the response to counterargument can confuse the reader. There are several ways to respond to a counterargument. You can:
- concede to a specific point or idea from the counterargument by explaining why that point or idea has validity. However, you must then be sure to return to your own claim, and explain why even that concession does not lead you to completely accept or support the counterargument
- reject the counterargument if you find it to be incorrect, fallacious, or otherwise invalid
- explain why the counterargument perspective does not invalidate your own claim
Again, Chapter 10.4 offers a much more developed discussion of how to respond to counterarguments.
A note about where to put the counterargument:
It is certainly possible to begin the argument section (after the background section) with your counterargument + response instead of placing it at the end of your essay. Some people prefer to have their counterargument first, where they can address it and then spend the rest of their essay building their own case and supporting their own claim. However, it is just as valid to have the counterargument + response appear at the end of the paper, after you have discussed all of your reasons.
What is important to remember is that wherever you place your counterargument, you
- Address the counterargument(s) fully. Explain what the counter perspectives are. Describe them thoroughly. Cite authors who have these counter perspectives. Quote them and summarize their thinking.
- Then, respond to these counterarguments. Make it clear to the reader of your argument why you concede to certain points of the counterargument or why you reject them. Make it clear that you do not accept the counterargument, even though you understand it. Be sure to use transition phrases that make this clear to your reader.