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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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What is an Argumentative Essay?

The argumentative essay is a genre of essay writing whose purpose is to argue a position. The standard argumentative essay requires extensive research on a topic and is structured in three main sections comprised of five paragraphs: one introductory, three body, and one conclusion.

The introductory paragraph introduces the writer’s topic. It should establish the thesis, position, and context of the argumentative essay. A thesis is a statement based on belief and research that is presented to a reader and meant to be proven or disproven through the use of logic and factual evidence. A position is a writer’s belief or stance on a topic. Context is background information that helps a reader understand the topic being discussed in an argumentative essay.

The body of an argumentative essay builds an argument using argumentative points formatted as topic sentences that introduce the subject of each body paragraph. Every argumentative point must be supported by factual evidence cited from a reputable source. Body paragraphs must include commentary that explains the significance of the argumentative point and evidence. Body paragraphs typically include counterarguments to the position asserted in the essay in order to demonstrate a complex understanding of the subject under discussion.

The conclusion of an argumentative essay synthesizes all information in the essay. The conclusion should restate the thesis in a new way in light of the information provided throughout the body of the essay and may include suggestions for further research.

Argumentative essays are often assigned in advanced English composition courses to determine a student’s research abilities and felicity with written language. Common argumentative essay topics pose open-ended questions that students answer according to their knowledge. Examples of argumentative essay topics include climate change, decisions on trial rulings, and interpretations of a famous novel’s themes.

Students use their preliminary answers as research guides to develop a greater understanding of the topic under discussion. Students develop a position based on the existing literature on a subject and form a thesis based on their position. Students are expected to defend their thesis through additional research and logical reasoning.

Elements of an Argumentative Essay

The elements of an argumentative essay include position, reasons, evidence, counterarguments, and counters.

An argumentative essay’s position can be defined as a student’s stance on a topic or belief about a subject. An example position is, “I believe that all Americans are entitled to free healthcare.” Positions are developed through the detailed research of preexisting positions on a topic. An argumentative essay position may double down on a preexisting position, explore a niche of a particular position, or address gaps in knowledge or research in existing positions. Establishing a position is the first step in establishing a thesis.

An argumentative essay must use ethical, logical, or moral reasoning to support its position and help prove its thesis. A reason, or reasoning, must logically develop the argument of an argumentative essay. The intent of reason is to inform, refute, or convince a reader of the thesis. The best argumentative essays include ethical, logical, and moral reasoning.

Successful argumentative essays must support their reasoning, thesis, and position with evidence: data and factual information collected from existing literature during research. Evidence that contradicts a writer’s thesis should be researched further and incorporated into the counterarguments of the essay.

A counterargument can be defined as a position that opposes the asserted position of an argumentative essay. Counterarguments may include pieces of information, reasoning, or beliefs that oppose the asserted position of an argumentative essay. Counterarguments are typically addressed throughout the body of an argumentative essay and help strengthen the overall argument of a piece of writing by refuting contradictory claims or acknowledging the inability to do so.

Counters are similar to counterarguments. Counters are rebuttals of counterarguments. If a position states, “I believe all Americans are entitled to free healthcare.” A plausible counter to this position would be, “America cannot afford to give all Americans free healthcare.” Counters may refute opposing positions, reasons, or pieces of information. A counter position is the antithesis of an argumentative essay’s position. A counter reason is a logically sound deduction that differs in intent from the reasoning of an argumentative essay. Counter evidence is topical information that supports a position that contradicts the position of an argumentative essay.

Argumentative Essay Format & Structure

The structure of an argumentative essay follows a standard format of an introduction, followed by three argumentative points introduced in three separate body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Additionally, argumentative essays for high-level research or composition courses may also require appendices, indexes, abstracts, and other forms of supplemental writing intended to increase the readability of an essay, such as the inclusion of a table of contents, or bolster an essay’s argument, such as the inclusion of graphs or supplemental figures.


An argumentative essay’s introduction must clearly state the position of the essay, summarize the argument to be proven in the essay, and inform the reader of the sources used to support the essay’s reasoning. The argumentative essay’s introduction should also contextualize the subject being discussed.

The introduction should start in general terms and narrow in focus as it progresses. The introductory paragraph should culminate in the thesis of the argumentative essay, which asserts the position that is to be argued throughout the essay.

A poorly structured or ill-defined introduction runs the risk of confusing readers. In the worst-case scenario, an ill-defined introduction prevents the development of a clear and organized argument.

Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs constitute most of the writing included in an argumentative essay.

Body paragraphs are used to introduce argumentative points that support the position of an argumentative essay. Argumentative points should be supported by factual evidence collected from authoritative sources. Evidence that contradicts the position of an argumentative essay should be explained and acknowledged in order to demonstrate a complex understanding of the topic under discussion.

Body paragraphs contain these elements in this order: a topic sentence, supporting evidence, and commentary. Included commentary should interpret the provided evidence and relate it to the overarching thesis of the argumentative essay.


The conclusion of an argumentative essay is a synthesis of the position, topic, evidence, and reasoning of an argumentative essay.

An argumentative essay’s conclusion is the last impression a writer leaves with a reader. Therefore, the conclusion of an argumentative essay must be logical, clear, and concise. No new information should be included in the conclusion of an argumentative essay unless it is a suggestion for further research. Typically, suggestions for further areas of research are a single sentence included at the beginning or end of a concluding paragraph.

The conclusion must also reinterpret the thesis of the argumentative essay in light of the provided information and reasoning. The reinterpretation of the thesis is intended to emphasize the importance of the writer’s position to the reader.

How to Write an Argumentative Essay

The first step in writing an argumentative essay is research.

Writers must conduct research in order to have something to say about a topic or subject. Research also helps writers gain enough information to develop a position that is logical, defensible, and valuable. Once a position has been developed, additional research is needed to support, defend, and explore it.

Once research has been conducted and a position has been established, writers must form a thesis that will guide the writing of their argumentative essay. Additional research may be needed to support the claim of the thesis.

After preliminary research is complete, writers will begin to compose their argumentative essays.

All argumentative essays begin with an introductory paragraph that contextualizes the subject to be discussed. The writer should include background information on a topic that grounds the reader. The purpose of grounding the reader is to inform them that the following argument is significant and relates to something greater than itself. The introductory paragraph introduces a topic’s importance, asserts a position on said topic, and includes a thesis that will be proven or disproven in the body of the essay.

The body immediately follows the introduction. The body of an argumentative essay explains the argumentative points used to support the overarching theme of the essay. Body paragraphs include a topic sentence that introduces the argumentative point of the paragraph, factual evidence that supports the reasoning of the topic sentence, and an interpretation of the provided evidence. The structure of a body paragraph should be consistent across all body paragraphs in an argumentative essay.

The conclusion is the final portion of an argumentative essay. An argumentative essay’s conclusion is a synthesis of all the information included in the essay. The conclusion restates the importance of the topic being explored, reasserts the position of the essay, and restates the thesis in a revelatory way. No new information should be included in the conclusion paragraph. When appropriate, a short discussion of areas for future research related to your position may be included in the concluding paragraph of an argumentative essay.

Tips for Writing an Argumentative Essay

  • Research, research, research
  • Argumentative essays are most easily written in portions. Many writers find it easiest to write the introduction last.
  • Do not exclude counterarguments.
  • Outlines researched information
  • Keep track of your sources.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Superfluous information may weaken an otherwise strong argument.

Argumentative Essay Examples

To learn more about how to write an argumentative essay, see the examples below.

Example excerpt from a fictional argumentative essay 1:

”I believe that college students should control all of their own finances because they possess the intellectual capability and emotional maturity to do so.”

This excerpt is an example of a position. This position is the belief of the author and is defensible using logic and evidence.

Example excerpt from a fictional argumentative essay 2:

”The use of a blue light filter on electronic screens restores the circadian rhythm of device users.”

This excerpt is an example of a thesis. This thesis asserts a claim that is plausible and can be proven or refuted using factual evidence and logical reasoning.

Example excerpt from a fictional argumentative essay 3:

”Human brains are wired to wake up when exposed to blue light. Harvard University published an article that stated: ‘At night, bluelight throws the body’s biological clock –the circadian rhythm– out of whack’. When the human eye receives blue light it is biologically trained to wake up, making it difficult for people who spend a lot of time in front of screens to sleep.”

This excerpt is an example of a skeletal body paragraph. The first sentence is the topic sentence that explains what the paragraph will be about. The second sentence is evidence from an authoritative source that supports the topic sentence. The third sentence is a commentary on the included evidence that is informed by additional research.

Additional Writing Tips:

  • Use parallel construction in your body paragraphs.
  • Keep track of your sources, they will need to be cited in a bibliography or works cited.
  • Familiarize yourself with the style guide required for your class, i.e. MLA, APA, Chicago, before you begin writing.

Lesson Summary

The standard argumentative essay is meant to argue a writer’s position, otherwise called a stance or belief, on a subject. The standard argumentative essay consists of five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction of an argumentative essay should include background information that contextualizes a topic for the reader and a thesis that succinctly explains the essay’s position. Body paragraphs introduce argumentative points related to the thesis (the main argumentative point of an essay) and must be supported by evidence and original commentary. Body paragraphs also include counters, reasoning/information/evidence from a position contradictory to that of the argumentative essay. All argumentative essays benefit from the inclusion of counterarguments, positions that differ from that of the author, and evidence, facts and data from authoritative sources that support the reasoning of the essay.

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