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Introduction

1. Identify and state your The topic or question will often ask you to discuss
objects of analysis. central texts, key ideas or concepts, issues, or a
combination of these.

2. Provide some background An effective description of the context, situation


to the thesis and reveal the or problem can demonstrate why the thesis is
motive for arguing it. interesting and worth arguing. Here is your
chance to convince your readers (including the
marker) that your essay is worth reading—
something not to be taken for granted!

3. Formulate and state your A thesis is a clearly articulated general idea that
thesis. expresses the main point you want to argue in
your essay. It should be:

• sufficiently focused and narrow so that it


can be fully discussed in your essay;
• a position that is debatable, and dependent
on the strength of evidence and logical
development; not a simple statement of
fact, a declaration of belief that cannot be
reasonably substantiated, a tautological or
circular expression, an obvious point, and
so on;

• interesting.

4. Define the key terms, Key terms: You will often find terms in the
state the assumptions, question, topic or your thesis itself whose
and describe the meanings are essentially contested or
methodology. indeterminate or ambiguous because of colloquial
misuse. These terms may be crucial in your
larger analysis and, if for no other reason than
this, must be defined (even tentatively) before
you can hinge your arguments on them.

Assumptions: The set of fundamental ‘givens’


that make your arguments consistent, coherent,
and meaningful can be stated at the start. This is
sometimes done in the interest of intellectual
honesty and to indicate to the reader where you
might be coming from ideologically.
Research methodology: You may want to
describe your main analytical approach (e.g.
inter-disciplinary), the sources that you use in
your analysis (e.g. archival material, literature
reviews, internet forums) and how you obtained
them (e.g. interviews, opinion surveys,
regression analysis).

5. Sketch a roadmap. If your thesis tells the readers where you want to
take them in the journey that is your essay, a
roadmap will tell them how they will get there—
which main roads, turning points, and detours
they can expect to take.

B. Body

1. Construct your arguments. To develop your thesis, you will need to construct
a series of smaller supporting arguments that are
relevant to the thesis. While every argument
should be directed to the thesis, the individual
arguments should not simply be linked together
as a random chain of implicitly related but
distinct reasons. Instead, they should follow a
coherent and logical sequence that builds up,
often dramatically, to a convincing and satisfying
restatement of the thesis in the conclusion.

Using clear topic sentences that state the main


point of each paragraph can help you to be
sensitive to the shape of your arguments. You
should also think about how the arguments can
come together to produce a dramatic build-up,
going through various twists and turns, and
allowing for conflicts, negotiations, and
resolutions to play out. Other related
considerations include a sense of timing (e.g.
when to reveal certain arguments or facts, for
dramatic effect) and proportion (e.g. how much
space should be given to each argument).

2. Support your arguments Broadly speaking, you can support your


with evidence. arguments with empirical evidence in the form of
facts, data, statistics, examples, controlled
observations, and so on. You should not simply
mention them; you should instead elaborate on
them by giving details to be connected
deliberately with the arguments being made.
Also, you should try to give an indication of the
reliability of your evidence. You can also support
your arguments with academic and professional
expertise that you cite or quote directly. To avoid
plagiarism, you must cite your sources.

3. Deal with counter- You will also need to imagine and anticipate
arguments. reasonable objections to your thesis and the
arguments developed around it. You will need to
describe these objections fairly (i.e. don’t create
straw men to be knocked down effortlessly). And
you will then need to deal with them decisively,
demonstrating the superiority of your argument
(or some adjusted form of your argument). This
not only strengthens your arguments, but also
makes your essay more complicated and
therefore more interesting.

4. Provide your reader with It is always important to write with a clear sense
the necessary orientation. of audience (i.e. ‘Who are you writing this for?’).
Knowing who your readers are will give you a
good idea of what kind and extent of background
information you will need to provide before your
ideas, arguments, and evidence can make full
sense to the readers.

At the start of the journey, you provided readers


with a roadmap. During the journey itself, you
should provide clear signposts along the way to
give readers a good sense of where they are in
this journey. You might, for example, pause at
critical junctures in the essay to inform readers
about what you have done so far, where you are
in the overall argument, and what you are going
to do next.

C. Conclusion

1. Retrace your steps. Once you have arrived at the conclusion, it is


often a good idea to remind readers, in summary,
where they have been. This is where your topic
sentences can come in handy.

2. Restate your thesis. If your arguments have been focused, strong and
well developed, you can now confidently reassert
your original thesis, or an adjusted or improved
version of the thesis that has taken into account
the counter-arguments dealt with along the way.

3. Point towards the wider This aspect is not altogether necessary for
significance of your essay. writing a good essay, and it may in fact severely
weaken your essay if handled without skill. In
any case, writers are usually advised not to
introduce any ‘new’ ideas in the conclusion.

However, if you are indeed confident, you may


want to consider including a few lines explaining
what further implications your thesis might have
for other similar or wider questions. You may
even want to make recommendations for further
study or for action (e.g. in the case of policy
papers). And you may also want to try your hand
at ‘scenario-painting’. Once again, be aware of
the perils.

4. Make an impact with the Do not end your essay with a sentence that
final word. seems to have a ‘nice ring to it’, but in fact
means nothing or is completely irrelevant to the
arguments. Instead, you might want to end with
a witty and relevant detail, illustration, recurring
motif, quotation, or anecdote that may keep
readers thinking about your essay long after they
have read it.

Argumentative Essays - Expressing Your Opinion

There are three basic ways of organising an argumentative essay:

1. Set ‘em up and knock ‘em down (present your opponents’ arguments and destroy
them with your own stronger points)
2. The balanced approach (present arguments from both sides of the debate, but
then say what you think yourself)
3. Problem-Solution (explain the problem/s and then propose solutions)

1. Set ‘em up and knock ‘em down

You have already practised writing an opinion essay following the "set-up-and-knock-
down" approach. Look also at my model essay on zoos below. Using this approach,
you present each of your opponents’ arguments in turn (you "set it up" like a bowling
skittle) and then demonstrate that it is false or weak (you "knock it down").
Below you can read an example on the topic of zoos. (Phrases have been highlighted
to draw your attention to the way the essay is organised.)

Zoos – Sanctuaries or Prisons?

Zoos have been popular for hundreds of years, introducing a wide variety of animals
to visitors who otherwise would never have seen them. Times change, however, and
we must question whether zoos are still relevant in a world where we wish to treat
animals humanely.

It is often said that zoos are educational. They teach people, especially children,
about animal behaviour and encourage an interest in animal welfare. This may be
partly true, but does a captive animal behave like its counterpart in the wild? Zoo
animals are often confined to a very small area compared with their vast natural
habitat. Polar bears, for example, roam for hundreds (even thousands!) of kilometres
in their Arctic home whereas in zoos they can only manage about 20 metres. As a
result, many animals develop unnatural habits such as pacing back and forth or
swaying.

Another argument put forward in favour of zoos is that they help to conserve
endangered species through breeding programmes. Thus, for example, a rare species
such as the orang-utan can be protected and encouraged to reproduce in a zoo
environment. In reality, though, breeding programmes often fail because the animals
do not benefit from natural selection and successive generations grow weaker. For
example, attempts to breed pandas in captivity have been very costly and
unsuccessful. Even successful breeding programmes have their limitations. For
instance, two rare lynxes released into the wild in Colorado died from starvation even
though their natural prey, a hare, was abundant. Evidently zoo life does not prepare
animals for the challenges of life in the wild.

Supporters of zoos sometimes claim that the inhabitants are even better off than
their counterparts in the wild. On the contrary, the zoo is an unnatural environment
that exposes animals to numerous dangers. Diseases often spread between species
that would never co-exist naturally. For example, many Asian elephants have died in
US zoos after catching herpes from African elephants. Zoo animals are often exposed
to chemicals, solvents and other toxic substances. Also, in an effort to control their
behavior, animals are sometimes forcibly medicated and tranquilized. Furthermore, it
is not uncommon for visitors to tease and provoke confined animals.

In summary, therefore, the continued existence of zoos cannot be defended. They do


not educate people; they do not conserve wildlife; and they do not treat animals
humanely. They are cruel prisons and the time has come to abolish them.
2. The Balanced Approach

A different approach is to look at both sides of the argument in a more balanced way.
In the end, however, you must indicate your opinion. The following is an example of
how such an essay might be structured:

o Introduction: The issue of handgun ownership

A. Some people believe individuals should not own handguns


B. Others believe ownership is an important personal right

o Disadvantages of handgun ownership

- Adults and children can have accidents


- People can use guns for crimes

o Advantages of handgun ownership

+ People can protect themselves from intruders


+ People can use guns for recreational purposes

o Conclusion - summary & evaluation of arguments presented


 Problems of accidents and crime make gun ownership difficult to accept
 Gun ownership should not be allowed in the interest of a better society

Now here is the essay itself:

A spate of recent murders at American schools has led to a lot of debate about the
issue of gun ownership. While some believe that private individuals should not be
allowed to own guns, others maintain that gun ownership is an important personal
right. Both sides present convincing arguments, but I have little doubt that that the
possession of such weapons threatens the safety of society as a whole.
One of the strongest arguments against handgun ownership is that accidents can
happen when adults use guns carelessly or when children discover them. Statistics
also show a relationship between the crime rate and the number of privately owned
handguns. The number of deaths by shooting in the USA, where handguns are legal,
is far higher than in Britain where they are not.
Those in favour of handgun ownership argue that citizens should be able to protect
their homes and families from intruders. On the other hand, in a society where guns
can be bought over the counter, even petty criminals find it easy to obtain a weapon.
Supporters also argue that guns are used for recreational purposes such as hunting.
However, such "hobbies" often result in the death or injury of innocent bystanders.

Supporters of gun ownership claim that these weapons have been part of our life for
centuries. Nevertheless, the problems of increasing crime and family conflict in
today’s society make gun ownership difficult to accept. Handguns are too dangerous
to be made freely available to just anyone who wants them.
3. Problem-Solution

This approach does not work for every topic. However, if you are discussing a
problem of some sort (e.g. graffiti, litter, poverty, examination stress), then it makes
sense to use it.

A Problem-Solution essay or letter has a fairly simple structure: first, you explain
the problem (or problems), and then you propose a solution (or solutions). The
following example looks at health problems in shanty towns (slums) and suggests a
few solutions:

There are numerous health problems in shanty towns. Firstly, because the sites
are illegal the government does not provide piped water. As a result, drinking
and bathing water are usually dirty and this causes diseases such as dysentery,
typhoid and hepatitis, as well as skin and eye diseases. Secondly, houses are
often overcrowded and have poor air circulation. This makes it easier to catch
diseases like flu, TB and diphtheria where infection enters through the throat.
Thirdly, there are no drains, sewers or rubbish collection services. The resulting
pools of stagnant water and heaps of household waste attract rats and insects,
which can pass on diseases.

The government could do a lot to solve these problems. For example, they
could supply clean, piped water to individual houses or, at least, to
neigbourhoods. This would make drinking water safe and reduce infections. In
addition, the authorities could provide householders with building materials to
improve their conditions and educate them about the importance of ventilation.
Lastly, the city council could construct drains and provide a rubbish collection
service to reduce the risk of infections spread by rats and insects.

If the government took these steps, the result would be a safer, healthier
environment. Furthermore, the improvements would also lead to increased
employment opportunities in areas such as construction, plumbing and rubbish
disposal. It is time for politicians to come to the aid of the people who elected
them!