75 2. Argumentative Writing

As we have discussed already, argument requires discussion of two (or more) opposing ideas. It doesn’t mean bashing your opponent because he/she has differing views. A successful argument leads somewhere: there is compromise, agreement, resolution. Today, too often, argument leads no where. Both sides are stagnant and nothing is accomplished. Can you think of any cases where common arguments seem to be going no where?

I like to think that argument can be designed to convince an audience that your side of the issue is the best side. Then, with popular opinion behind you, your argument can gain strength and perhaps convince your opponent to at least consider some kind of compromise (moving toward resolution). Therefore, I like to use traditional argumentative format, an organization technique that has been used for thousands of years (though not so much, anymore, it seems, with the weaknesses in today’s modern argument). I will outline the traditional format below. I suggest you use it in whole or in part to help ensure that you are open-minded yet assertive in your convictions that your side of the argument is the right side.


  • Exordium: This is the section of your introduction that first grabs your readers’ attention. Think about speeches. How do they often begin? The speaker will often use some kind of joke to attract the listeners before moving into the topic of the speech. Although this doesn’t work well for serious argument (I wouldn’t start an essay on the moral issues of euthanasia with a joke), there are many things you can do in the opening to attract the attention of your reader. Some kind of intriguing story related to the topic (a summary of a specific case on euthanasia), or some personal background showing that you have a vested interest in the topic: you care. This should not be a long section, perhaps one paragraph giving the reader a glimpse into the humanity of the topic and the writer.
  • Exposition: You are the expert on this topic (you’ve done the research and experienced the situation). But your reader may not have a strong background. You need to take a moment (or paragraph) to define important issues- give background on what the topic is and why it’s important for the reader. Inform the reader with a brief statement of backgrounds. Again, this should not be overly long- a paragraph, again, will suffice.
  • Thesis: A lot of times, separating a thesis from the rest of the opening can emphasize what direction the paper is going in. Whatever the case, you need to identify early what side of the argument you are on: Euthanasia is a process that goes against the moral fibers of society and should not be allowed in a civilized world (your reader clearly identifies with what you are writing about. Make it clear- you support a specific side. If your thesis is “wishy-washy” then your argument will be as well.
  • Plan of Proof: You’ve just given an extended introduction (remember, most of your other intros have been one short paragraph). It might be a good idea to have a “transitional” paragraph, leading your reader into the text of your paper. To do this, you could use a plan of proof- how you plan to go about proving what you say is valid. It’s kind of an extended essay map, looking at how the essay is organized. It helps the reader decide (hopefully) that something worthwhile will be included in this essay.


  • Confirmation: This is the bulk of your essay. The reasons why you feel you have a strong argument. You need to have about three valid reasons for supporting your argument. Each of those reasons should be a separate paragraph in which you explain why you feel your side is right. For the euthanasia issue, one reason might be a religious connection: as humans, we answer to a higher being. Another might be scientific: where there’s life there’s hope, kinda thing. And a third might be legal: it’s against the law. So each of those reasons would be a separate paragraph, with your thoughts and commentary, borrowed info from professional sources and data supporting what you say.
  • Refutation: There is nothing stronger for weakening an opponent’s argument than showing the weaknesses. Look at what your opponent is saying about the argument. What are his/her confirming points? Find weaknesses in logic, truth or validity in those statements and point them out in your essay. Show why you feel the opponent is wrong. Again, don’t just make flat statements. Develop it into a paragraph or two proving that your opponent is wrong in his/her viewpoints. Don’t argue against your opponent- argue against his/her viewpoint. It’s not illegal in this country to disagree. But maybe it’s not a good disagreement.
  • Concession: Because your opponent is human and has probably considered his/her argument very thoroughly, chances are you cannot refute everything he/she says. One of the opponent’s views on euthanasia is that patients often suffer during extended phases of terminal illness. It’s pretty hard to refute that. If you try, you are giving your opponent strength. So concede. “Yes, patients do suffer, as my opponent points out. But killing them is not the answer. We need stronger ways to control pain.” This will show that you are open-minded, that you have considered both sides of the argument, that you haven’t just brushed your opponent’s viewpoints aside. This is a strong tool in attracting the undecided reader. Be careful though: if your concession is too strong, perhaps you are on the wrong side of the argument.


  • Recapitulation: Perhaps you’ve noticed that this essay is probably going to be somewhat longer than the others. You may also remember that I’ve always tried to avoid using summary in short essays. A conclusion is much stronger, usually. Here, however, you may want to spend some time reviewing the strong points of your argument. If you’ve spent the past few paragraphs refuting your opponent’s points or conceding one or two, then you need to return for a moment and remind your reader of the strong points for your argument in a brief summary.
  • Peroration: Finally as for your reader’s support. Chances are, your opponent will not be convinced that easily. But all those folks “on the fence” are dying to make the right choice. Ask them to help you by making the right choice and choosing your side. Writing to their legislators is a big concluding statement. Asking for votes, if in an election, is obvious. Asking for financial support is a biggie. But here, probably just asking your reader to consider your ideas and make the right choice will be sufficient.

You don’t have to use this format verbatim. But please think about being open-minded, considering both sides of the argument, and being assertive in choosing your side. Remember how valuable additional support is in using research. Turn to the Instructions section of this module for information on the argumentative assignment. You can find additional information on argument at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp1v2xmaster/


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