When writing the argument essay, you will be expected to argue a debatable topic, with a clear purpose, strong claim, and clear reasoning.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
Picking an Argument Topic
How do you know if your topic will make a good argument? Many topics might be interesting, but not all interesting topics are arguable. When constructing an argument, your topic must be more than a statement of fact; it must be debatable.
How do you know if your argument topic is debatable? Do you offer a strong opinion? If an audience or reader might disagree with your opinion or premise, it’s debatable. You want someone to disagree. That’s what makes an argument.
This confuses students who might have been told to avoid opinion as they write argument essays. The support and research should not be based on opinion, but the topic itself will be opinionated — meaning, debatable.
What is your purpose?
When we think about arguments, we assume our purpose is to win, though there is no way to determine who really wins. A writer can present his or her position with the best reasoning and evidence available, and hope to successfully rebut opposing arguments.
A writer usually tries to convince a specific audience that his or her argument is compelling enough to change minds. In proposal arguments, the writer might want to enact a solution to a problem, and to do this, the writer will have to convince a carefully-considered audience to change their mind.
Another purpose of an argument is to simply explore an issue. A writer whose intention is to explore will examine an idea in hopes of convincing a reader that the ideas are important and beneficial.
Testing your Topic
To test whether or not a topic will work as an arguable thesis, consider if you can answer “yes” to the following criteria:
- Does it present a position that an audience might have differing opinions on?
- Does it attempt to change minds or urge a reader to take some sort of action?
- Does it address a problem and offer a solution, or does it present a problem where no easy solutions exist?
The topic must pass the “so what” test. If a reader shrugs and says “so what?” the statement may not be interesting, or arguable, or both.
Examples of an Unarguable Statement:
Let’s test the statements below to see if they pass the so-what test:
Litter creates pollution of the environment.
Using our criteria, the statement isn’t trying to convince, present a problem (although technically, litter is a problem), nor is it a statement that others might disagree with. It’s merely an observation. So what?
Chickens make good pets.
Though we don’t often think of chickens as pets, so what about it? This is a statement of fact, and a reader couldn’t debate the statement, but we’re intrigued to learn more.
The number of women joining the military has been stagnant for over a decade.
Even though a reader may not know if this is an accurate statement or not, it is easily researchable and not an argument claim. It does raise some interesting questions that might lead to a solid argument. So what about the numbers of women in the military? Tell us more.
Examples of an Arguable Statement
As you read the following statements, ask yourself if you or others might disagree:
Recycling programs, though expensive at first, are ultimately an efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly way of reducing waste in our environment.
This statement meets our criteria, as it is presenting a problem and offering a solution. It can be argued, as many opponents believe the cost of implementing a recycling program is too expensive and actually not efficient.
Cities and other municipalities should allow residents to keep chickens as pets.
This is a statement that would illicit disagreement (good!), and is an attempt to change the readers’ minds of a widely held belief (chickens are farm animals, not pets!), so it definitely meets our criteria.
The military needs to focus more resources and create a long-term plan to recruit and retain women.
This statement is definitely arguable, as many would dispute that the military need more women in their ranks. Others would oppose focusing additional resources on building the ranks of women in the military. This statement addresses a problem that there may be several solutions to, making an arguable claim.
Formulating an Argument
Claim Supported by Reasons
Once an arguable topic is chosen, the next step is to formulate the claim with reasons. This will lay the groundwork for your essay, and will work like a roadmap for your reader.
The reasons, also called “because clauses” are the “why” behind the claim. Each reason will address one concern, and will act as one section of argument for the paper. Each of the reasons will be supported with its own research or support.
Claim: Military service should be compulsory for all graduating high school seniors.
Reason 1: because it is a cost-effective way to address critical military needs of our country.
Reason 2: because it would diversify the military.
Reason 3: because it would help young people to mature and gain valuable life experience.
Reason 4: because it would reduce poverty by offering low-income students a path toward higher education and job training.
Once the claim and reasons are fully developed, you’ll then consider counter-arguments and evidence from research.
Spending time in the planning stages to identify your purpose, test your topic, and formulate an arguable claim with reasons is essential to constructing a successful argument.
Now You Try!
For the broad topics below, formulate an arguable statement and working thesis (claim with reason):
- Requiring Covid vaccine for college admissions.
- Mental health assistance in public universities.
- The effect of texting on youth’s literacy.