Arguments are comprised of a few basic organizational elements. We can certainly describe arguments in a much more detailed manner than what follows, but this is offered as a very basic outline for the core components of any argument.
Claim: What do you want the reader to believe?
The thesis in an argument paper is often called a claim. This is a statement of position, a thesis in which you take a stand on a controversial issue. A strong claim is one that has a valid counter-claim — an opposite or alternative that is as sensible as the position that you take in your claim.
Background: What background information about the topic does the reader need?
Before you get into defending your claim, you may need to offer some context to your argument. Some of this context may be offered in your intro paragraph, but often there are other definitions, history about your topic or the controversy that surrounds it, or other elements of the argument’s contextual that need additional space in your paper. This background can go after you state your claim.
Reasons: Why should a reader accept your claim?
To support your claim, you need a series of “sub-claims” or reasons. Like your claim, this is your thinking – your mini-argumentative points that support the core argumentative claim. This is NOT evidence. This is not data or statistics or quotes. A reason should be your idea that you use to support claim. We often say that three reasons – each distinct points – make for a well rounded argument structure.
- Evidence: What makes your reasoning valid? To validate the thinking that you use in your reasons, you need to demonstrate that your reasons are not only based on your personal opinion. Evidence can come from research studies or scholarship, expert opinions, personal examples, observations made by yourself or others, or specific instances that make your reason seem sound and believable. Evidence only “works” if it directly supports your reason — and sometimes you must explain how the evidence supports your reason (do not assume that a reader can see the connection between evidence and reason that you see).
Counterargument: But what about other perspectives?
In a strong argument, you will not be afraid to consider perspectives that either challenge or completely oppose your own claim. In a counterargument, you may do any of the following (or some combination of them):
- summarize opposing views
- explain how and where you actually agree with some opposing views
- acknowledge 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 that you include so that a reader clearly sees that you are not agreeing with the counterargument. Failure to include the response to counterargument can confuse the reader.
**It is certainly possible to begin the argument section (meaning, after the Background section) with your counterargument + response instead of placing it at the end. Some people prefer to have their counterargument first; some prefer to have the counterargument + response right before the conclusion.