Lasting Impression: Concluding your Argument Essay

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Introductions and conclusions in persuasive papers often cause the most difficulty and angst for beginning writers. If you’ve spent your essay arguing passionately on a topic, you don’t want to fall flat in the end. The conclusion is your final chance to appeal to your audience and make a strong final impression.

A great conclusion will not only close the essay, but close the sale on your argument. Throughout the paper, you have been selling your audience on your position, and a successful conclusion will tie it all together, leaving your reader at least considering the merits of your argument. Unfortunately, by the time you get to your conclusion, most writers are either exhausted from writing the paper and end it too quickly, or can’t stop arguing their position and backload it with too much new information at the end.

Strategies for Great Conclusions

Generally, conclusions do three things:

  • Reiterates the main idea, re-emphasizing your position
  • Summarizes your argument
  • Provides a warning, explains consequences, poses questions for further study, or delivers a call-to-action – sometimes all of the above.

 

Note, however, that restating, re-emphasizing, and summarizing does not mean repeating word-for-word your thesis statement or other major points. The purpose of the conclusion is to remind the reader of the importance of your argument, synthesizing the information you’ve provided in the body, and show how the points you’ve made throughout your argument all fit together.

Framing Your Argument

If you’ve begun your paper with a scenario or framed it with a story, return to the theme you introduced in the introduction. This frame serves as a thread that ties the two ends (intro & conclusion) together.

An example of a frame for an argument on creating harsher penalties for texting while driving might be beginning the introduction retelling a true story of a car crash caused by texting while driving. The conclusion will come back to that scenario, perhaps completing the story you began telling in the intro, explaining the outcome or consequences. This complete story “frames” the narrative.

Project Outcomes

Another strategy for a successful conclusion might be to ask the reader to consider a future where your proposal has succeeded or your position is the norm. For instance, if your argument was to create more educational funding for job training outside of college, you might project a scenario where previously unemployed and uneducated men and women were now working in occupations with job security and stable wages with benefits.

What’s the “Take-Away”?

When drafting the conclusion, go big and broad. As focused and narrow as the intro should be, the conclusion can provide a larger framework to conclude your essay. Consider the broader implications related to your argument. Elaborate on the consequences of failing to follow through with your proposal or supporting your argument. Leave the audience with a question to ponder or something to think about. This is referred to as a “take-away.” Just as an intro requires a great “hook” to immediately pique the interest of the reader, the conclusion has to leave the audience with something tangible that sticks in their minds, an idea to consider or consequences of failing to act. What’s the take-away for the audience?

Things to Avoid in a Conclusion

In conclusion

I’ve listed this first, as it’s not only the most common, but also the most obnoxious. The most common words used to begin conclusions – that you should never use – are “in conclusion.” This is like putting up a big road sign that we are now reading your conclusion. Although it might be necessary to say the words in a speech, it’s totally unnecessary and almost cliché to use them in an essay. If it isn’t abundantly clear to the audience that we are now reading the conclusion, go back and revise it.

Repeating

You’ve stated your thesis succinctly in the introduction, so avoid repeating it verbatim in the conclusion. This comes across as not only repetitive, but clumsy and awkward.

Research

Hopefully, you’ve laid out your argument in the body of the essay, including strong support with outside sources. Avoid adding more new facts, statistics or quotes in the conclusion. This isn’t the place for more research. If you feel you have more to add to your points, put it in the body of the paper, not the conclusion.

Old Information & Nothing New

I’ll paraphrase an example: “In this paper I argued yada-yada, because of reason 1, 2 and 3. So I hope you’ll agree that you should agree with me. Thank you.”

This type of conclusion is simply repeating everything you’ve just said in your entire paper, adding nothing new. It’s painfully boring and just a bit condescending, as you are  telling the reader what they have just read, as if they don’t know what they’ve just read. Or you’re not confidant you communicated your argument effectively, and if that’s the case, go back and revise.

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Conclusions can be tricky, and by the time we’re done writing a long research paper, they are usually the last thing we want to spend time writing. By considering what impression you most want to leave the audience with, these decisions will guide you to compose a great lasting impression.

 

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Incorporating Opposition into Your Argument Paper

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As you compose an argument essay, you must anticipate your audience’s objections. The ability to refute opposition in an argument essay is a key element in a successful essay.

Some writers make the mistake of introducing a weak or silly opposition to make it easier to refute. But this actually weakens the writer’s argument. Introducing the strongest point of opposition and strongly refuting it with a well thought-out response serves to make the writer’s position stronger.

Who is Your Audience?

The first step for creating a strong opposition section is to thoroughly understand your audience. Who are they? Where are they on the scale of opposition? Are they against your entire argument, or only against a few points?

Will They Oppose Your Argument?

How can you anticipate what the opposition might be? It’s always a good idea at this stage to get some peer feedback, as your peers might be a good source of opposing views. Ask your peers what their responses are to your argument to gain a clearer understanding of differing viewpoints.

As you introduce opposition, take care to be respectful of the other side’s opinions. Put yourself in the other side’s shoes. Coming across as disrespectful or failing to take the opposition seriously is a sure way to make your own argument seem weak.

Example

Let’s consider the argument below and how you might include opposition:

Argument: Schools should move to a year round curriculum

Reason:   because students lose much of the previous year’s information and must be re-taught, wasting precious time and resources.

For the reason stated above, the opposition may disagree the contention that information is lost and must be retaught. In fact, the opposition may state that studies on year-round schools have been inconclusive regarding the academic benefits.

Now that there is a clear statement of opposition, it’s your turn to rebut, or reinforce your point – that schools should move to a year round curriculum because students lose much of the previous year’s information and must be re-taught.

Opposition = Faulty Assumption

If the opposition states that the research in inconclusive, this is your opportunity to show strong, valid research that does support a year-round curriculum on the basis of lost information over the long break. You will argue that the opposition has based their argument on a faulty assumption — that research shows there is no benefit. The opposition/rebuttal paragraph would look something like this:

Those against changing our current 9-month school calendar to year-round,is that there has been no conclusive research that supports that it has any academic benefit. However, this is untrue. Researchers at Chimi-Changa Education Labs have done extensive studies focusing on the effectiveness of year-round schools, and their conclusions show an increase in learning in all areas of study. “The students we have tested in districts who have implemented year-round curriculum show higher test scores in math, reading, and science from those students in traditional 9-month districts,” says Sam Smith, Chair of Curriculum Design at Chimi-Changa.

Note the highlighted transitional cue word, “However.” This is a cue word that indicates that you are now stating your rebuttal, or disagreement with the opposition.

Conceding to Opposition

Often, the opposition has a very valid disagreement against your position, so valid that it might cause you to rethink your position. Instead of changing your thesis, consider conceding the point. By conceding to their point, or agreeing that the opposition has a strong argument, you are positioning yourself as respectful and are more likely to gain the audience’s trust. This is not only respectful, but also a great opportunity to drive home your own points to re-emphasize your argument.

Concession & Rebuttal:

Those against year-round school argue that the costs of running many of the aging buildings year-round are too high. While it is true that keeping schools open throughout the year may cost more, the higher costs could be subsidized by making the buildings available for community rental to offset those costs.

As you can see by the previous example, the opposition has a valid point. By conceding this point is actually true and then responding with a strong rebuttal — an alternative to offset the high costs — the writer’s position becomes even stronger. The cue words, “while it is true” lets the reader know the writer is conceding, but will refute this idea.

 

As you can see, a lot of thought and planning must go into building your argument and considering how the opposition may disagree with you. Consider what points of your argument may garner the strongest debate, and carefully think through how you will counter those who will disagree with you. A respectful and well thought-out response will put you on the path toward a successful argument!

 

Building Paragraphs with Research

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Recently here at Writing Center Underground, we’ve been discussing the research paper process. We began with explaining how to formulate a research question, how to write a thesis, and last week we discussed how to begin building paragraphs. For a research paper assignment, a large part of developing paragraphs requires knowledge of how to smoothly integrate your sources’ quotations, as well as paraphrases and summaries.

Research that is taken from an outside source and just stuck into random paragraphs without careful integration runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that are choppy and difficult to read. Writers who aren’t used to utilizing outside sources often have a difficult time making outside research sound like it belongs in their research paper, but with careful preparation, your sources will flow smoothly into your text. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly; be sure that you have a good reason to include a direct quotation when you decide to do so.

Draft

Before you begin to integrate source material, you need something to integrate into. Writers who try to compose a paper at the same time they are integrating sources find they lose their “voice,” and begin to sound like the voice of the research they are quoting. To avoid this, write a draft of your paper with only your words and your voice doing the talking. By taking this first step in getting your ideas on paper, you’ll avoid letting the research take over your paper. Instructors often require a rough draft before even integrating source material.

Quote, Paraphrase or Summary?

Just to review, the difference between quotes, paraphrases, and summarizes are

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material. (Purdue Owl Online)

 

While you might prefer paraphrasing over directly quoting to avoid the headache of signal phrases or quotation marks, a mix of both is often preferred, and very short quotations work well when integrated into sentences.  However, overusing direct quotes, or using very long quotes, actually shows that you have not done your homework and only copied quotes to make it seem you understand the material.  An effective paraphrase or summary is often more effective than a direct quote and shows you understand the material.

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When to Use Quotes

Remember that quotes cannot take the place of your voice, but are meant to support your argument. Use quotes sparingly, and avoid long quotations when possible. According to The Bedford Handbook, use quotes

  • When language is especially vivid or expressive
  • When exact wording is needed for technical accuracy
  • When the words of an important authority lend weight to an argument

Integrating Quotes into Paragraphs

The first rule to remember is that quotes should never stand alone as a sentence. For example, the following quote has no other words in the sentence outside of the direct quote:

“A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea” (57).

This is often referred to as a “dangling quote” and when inside of a paragraph, will seem disconnected not only from your thoughts but the rest of the sentences. To integrate the quote into the paragraph, introduce the quote with a signal phrase, an introduction of the author with a few words. In the example below, the signal phrase is in italics:

According to Doug Smith, consultant with WordMix Writing Labs, “A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea” (57).

In the following example, note that there is no comma after “that” as it reads as a continuous thought. If the attribution ended with the word “says,” it would have a comma immediately after “says”:

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says that “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says, “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Smoothing Transitions

It’s important for readers to move from your words to the source’s words fluidly. Utilizing signal phases with at the least the author’s name, creates a smooth transition:

There are numerous types of student loans available, but not all are in the best interest of borrowers. Student advocate Diane Bennett says, “Students need to understand the intricacies of all available loan programs” (89). Bennett believes students are often taken advantage of by scrupulous private lenders.

In this example, the direct quote is surrounded by sentences leading up to, and leading away from, the quoted material. The information in the quote is contextualized for the reader.

In the following example of an integrating a source, the signal phrase is a full, explanatory sentence:

Goldberg believes writers must show feelings and avoid telling at all costs: “The writer takes the reader’s hand and guides him through the valley of sorrow and joy without ever having to mention those words” (68).

The rule for using a colon following an attribution is if the attributive tag is a complete sentence, an independent clause, it must be followed by a colon. Dangling quotes, or quotes that stand alone as a sentence, are considered incorrect, as the quote has no attribution. You can often (though not always) correct this mistake by taking the previous sentence and place a colon at the end instead of a period:

Incorrect:  Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams. “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Correct: Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams: “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Paraphrases and Summary

When integrating a paraphrase or summary, be careful to change all language and phrasing, putting it in your own words. Even half-copying can be considered plagiarism. Also, make certain you have created a “boundary” between your words and the research, especially when it’s paraphrased.

Just like direct quotes, paraphrases and summaries require signal phrases as well. Otherwise, readers will not understand the words are from research and not the writer’s own words.

As Matt Fox has noted, not all professors utilize rubrics in their classrooms.

John Snow claims that not all distracted driving can be blamed on cell phones.

 

Final Thoughts

By following a few simple steps as you work to integrate outside source material, your research will flow naturally, creating a finished paper that will read fluidly.

Building Paragraphs

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Last week here at Writing Center Underground, we discussed how to write a thesis statement for your argument essay, and this week we’ll look at how to structure paragraphs. Organizing information into paragraph format is directly related to the thesis. How? Once you have formulated a working thesis, the next step is to begin formulating the paragraphs, which work to support the thesis by offering details, which may include facts, explanations, examples, and research, if required. A paragraph should convey one controlling idea in support of the main thesis, and no more than one; this controlling idea should relate back to the paper’s thesis.

Below is an example of a working thesis and supporting paragraphs:

WORKING THESIS: Recycling should be mandatory for all businesses.

PARAGRAPH ONE:            . . . because businesses create more landfill waste than individual households.

PARAGRAPH TWO:           . . . because landfill maintenance and administration is much costlier for municipal governments than recycling of domestic waste.

PARAGRAPHS THREE:   . . . because business recycling sets a good example for the community.

In the examples above, each of the paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with different reasons, also known as “because clauses.” Forming your thesis into a “because clause” paragraph is a useful way to organize the paragraphs, especially for a proposal argument essay.

Let’s break the paragraphs down further. For paragraph one, the topic sentence will be “Recycling should be mandatory for all businesses because businesses create more landfill waste than individual households.” Just as the thesis is the controlling idea for the entire paper, the topic sentence is the controlling idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence works to keep the paragraph focused on supporting that specific reason or because clause. So in paragraph one, you will incorporate details, such as statistics, facts, examples, and research showing support that businesses do indeed create more landfill waste than individuals.

For paragraph two, you will show supporting information including statistics, facts, examples, and research to show that landfill maintenance and administration is much costlier for municipal governments than recycling of domestic waste. For paragraph three, the supporting details will include information that supports that business recycling will set a good example for the community. For each of the example paragraphs, only supporting details that directly relate to each topic sentence should be included. This will help to focus the paragraphs and prevent you from straying off-topic.

As you develop your paragraphs, remember that each should be

  • Unified: All of the sentences in a single paragraph should be related to a single controlling idea (often expressed in the topic sentence of the paragraph).
  • Clearly related to the thesis: The sentences should all refer to the central idea, or thesis, of the paper.
  • Coherent: The sentences should be arranged in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan for development.
  • Well-developed: Every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and supported through evidence and details that work together to explain the paragraph’s controlling idea.

(courtesy of The Writing Center, UNC-CH • Chapel Hill, NC)

Steps to Developing Paragraphs

  1. Create a Topic Sentence. The topic sentence of a paragraph works as the controlling idea or thesis of just that paragraph.
  2. Explain the Controlling Idea. Explain how the reader should interpret the controlling idea. This smooths the transition to the supporting details.
  3. Offer Examples of Support. This could take the form of statistics, facts, examples, and research that directly supports or proves the statement or argument you make in the topic sentence.
  4. Explain the Examples. Especially for research or statistics, it’s imperative that the information be explained and contextualized for the reader. It’s not enough to include quotes or stats; they must be fully integrated into the paragraph with explanations and connections to the larger purpose.

Paragraph Length

How long should a paragraph be? In doing a little research of my own, I found several varying answers. Some sources say that a paragraph is a minimum of three sentences. Others say that a paragraph is between seven to twelve sentences. Still other sources say a paragraph should be one-half page in length. However, don’t rely on length alone to determine if a paragraph is complete. A paragraph should be long enough to fully support one main idea with adequate examples of support, and not so short that the main idea of the paragraph isn’t fully illustrated and explained.

Successful paragraphs are built one step at a time. Beginning writers find it easier to first create an outline of each paragraph, which often makes it easier to keep a strong focus and maintain a connection to the thesis. Following a few simple steps will help you build, paragraph by paragraph, a successful essay.