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How to organize your argument essay

Organizing Your Argument

This lesson is designed to introduce students to the elements of an organized essay, including the introduction, the thesis, body paragraphs, topic sentences, counterarguments, and the conclusion. The lesson presented here is designed to aid the facilitator in an interactive presentation about constructing a well-organized argument.  This presentation is ideal for the introduction of argument to a composition course, the beginning of a research unit, or the assignment of a written argument.

What is an argument?

An argument involves the process of establishing a claim and then proving it with the use of logical reasoning, examples, and research.

Why is organization important in building an argument?

Organization is an important component in any argument.  Not only does a clear sense of organization guide the reader through the reasoning process, but it also demonstrates the credibility of the writer–that the writer has a clear conception of the issues involved and has the ability to offer a well-crafted response to the topic.  An argument that has a confusing organization–that jumps from point to point without establishing connections between topics–is less likely to be convincing to its audience.

  • Guides an audience through your reasoning process
  • Offers a clear explanation of each argued point
  • Demonstrates the credibility of the writer

Organizing your argument

When you organize your argument, use the pyramid method to plan the topics covered, as well as the ordering of the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion within an argument.

  • Title
  • Introduction
    • Thesis statement
  • Body Paragraphs
    • Constructing Topic Sentences
    • Building Main Points
    • Countering the Opposition
  • Conclusion

“Title” – why do you need one?

The title is often an overlooked component in the development of arguments.  Indeed, the title provides the first words the audience encounters upon reading the paper.  The title should introduce the topic of the argument as well as generate interest in reading the argument. The main purpose of the title:

  • Introduces the topic of discussion to the audience
  • Generates reader interest in the argument

Creating a Title

Below are some suggestions for creating a title that builds upon the topics discussed within a paper.  A brief, provocative image can invite the reader to find out more about the topic.  Picking up on significant words or phrases offered throughout the paper can contribute to a sense of unity within the argument.  Asking a question can also provoke a response from the reader; however, students should be aware that such questions should be answered within the course of the argument.  Unanswered questions can indicate a weakness in the argument of the topic.  Titles that are too general or lack character do not invite the reader to delve into the first paragraph and begin reading.

Try to grab attention by

  • offering a provocative image
  • picking up on words or examples offered in the body or conclusion of the paper
  • asking a question

Avoid titles that are too general or lack character

What is an Introduction

The introduction continues upon the tasks of the title–it both introduces the topic and generates audience interest in reading the entire paper. The introduction also indicates the purpose of the paper–to inform, persuade, call to action, etc.–as well as offers a plan for the ensuing argument.

  • Acquaints the reader with the topic and purpose of the paper
  • Generates the audience’s interest in the topic
  • Offers a plan for the ensuing argument

Methods for Constructing an Introduction

  • personal anecdote
  • example-real or hypothetical
  • question
  • quotation
  • shocking statistics
  • striking image

A personal anecdote illustrates the writer’s involvement within the topic, as well as moves the topic from the abstract to the real. Examples, both real (have happened) and hypothetical (have the potential to happen) can also help to illustrate the problem. Posing an interesting question can also generate reader interest; however, the question should be answered within the course of the paper. A quotation can provide a branch for discussion. Quotations, however, should be made relevant to the topic of the paper. An explanation of shocking statistics or the presentation of a striking image can also invite the audience to continue reading the paper.

What is a thesis statement?

  • The MOST IMPORTANT SENTENCE in your paper
  • Lets the reader know the main idea of the paper
  • Answers the question: “What am I trying to prove?”
  • Not a factual statement, but a claim that has to be proven throughout the paper

Role of the thesis statement

Thesis statements are often located in the introduction, thereby setting up for the reader the claims of the argument. However, theses may also be located in the body paragraphs or in the conclusion, depending upon the writer’s purpose, audience, topic, and mode of argument.

  • The thesis statement should guide your reader through your argument.
  • The thesis statement is generally located in the introduction of the paper.
  • A thesis statement may also be located within the body of the paper or in the conclusion, depending upon the purpose or argument of the paper.

Example: Which thesis statement is the most effective for an argument about “the need for V-chips in television sets”? Identify the most effective thesis statement from the three listed examples below:

  1. Parents, often too busy to watch television shows with their families, can monitor their children’s viewing habits with the aid of the V-chip.
  2. To help parents monitor their children’s viewing habits, the V-chip should be a required feature for television sets sold in the U.S.
  3. This paper will describe a V-chip and examine the uses of the V-chip in American-made television sets.

The first example, while a well-phrased informative sentence, offers a factual statement rather than an argumentative claim that needs to be proven. The third example also fails to provide an effective claim about the value of the V-chip. The second example is the strongest argumentative thesis; it clearly articulates the writer’s position on the issue and suggests that the writer will proceed to prove this claim throughout the rest of the paper.

Body Paragraphs and Topic Sentences

This part explains the function of body paragraphs within an argument-to continue proving the claim posited in the thesis statement.   Clearly stated topic sentences within each paragraph can help writers to focus their arguments around their thesis statements.

  • Body paragraphs build upon the claims made in the introductory paragraph(s)
  • Organize with the use of topic. sentences that illustrate the main idea of each paragraph.
  • Offering a brief explanation of the history or recent developments in your topic within the early body paragraphs can help the audience to become familiarized with your topic and the complexity of the issue.

Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs may be ordered in various patterns, depending upon the purpose, audience, and topic of the argument. Paragraphs may be ordered in several ways, depending upon the topic and purpose of your argument:

° General to specific information

° Most important point to least important point

° Weakest claim to strongest claim

Offering a Counterargument

Counterarguments may be located at various points within a paper. It is important, however, that the writer offer a convincing response to the claims of the opposition.

  • Addressing the claims of the opposition is an important component in building a convincing argument.
  • It demonstrates your credibility as a writer–you have researched multiple sides of the argument and have come to an informed decision.
  • Counterarguments may be located at various locations within your body paragraphs.
  • You may choose to:
    • build each of your main points as a contrast to oppositional claims.
    • offer a counterargument after you have articulated your main claims.

Incorporating research into the body paragraphs

Writers sometimes fall into the trap of letting research material overwhelm the paper, rather than using sources to prove their own argumentative claims. It is important to be selective when using source material; just because a source may relate to your topic does not mean it will necessarily be useful or relevant to proving your claims. Offering clear topic sentences that articulate claims relating to the thesis can be a useful strategy for offering a frame to researched material. Sources can then be used to back the claim provided in the topic sentence.

  • Researched material can aid you in proving the claims of your argument and disproving oppositional claims.
  • Be sure to use your research to support the claims made in your topic sentences–make your research work to prove your argument!

Conclusion — The Big Finale

The conclusion is also an important paragraph in a paper–it provides the last words that a writer will present to his or her audience. Therefore, it should have a lasting impact. The conclusion should work to reemphasize the main claims of the argument, articulating the importance of the argued position and, when appropriate, the reader’s need to take action on the issue. Writers should also avoid raising new claims in concluding paragraphs–there is no more room to argue points comprehensively or convincingly. Such new points would be better repositioned within the body paragraphs.

  • Your conclusion should reemphasize the main points made in your paper.
  • You may choose to reiterate a call to action or speculate on the future of your topic, when appropriate.
  • Avoid raising new claims in your conclusion.

Organizing your argument

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraphs
    • Constructing Topic Sentences
    • Building Main Points
    • Countering the Opposition
  • Conclusion



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