Students write various papers during their time in college, but argumentative essays are the most common assignment type, save perhaps reviews. Contrary to popular belief, argumentative essays are quite difficult to write well. Attending university writing assistance services (Writing Centers) is a good custom and can help. But let’s face it, few students actually do. If you’re all about shortcuts, which is a universal student thing, really, check out this list of challenges in writing argumentative essays and strategies for tackling them.
1. Choosing the right topic
Sure, not all students get to choose what to write college papers about, but if you do, choose wisely. First, the topic should be something that you are truly interested in. Otherwise, you’ll fail to sound convincing, and your essay won’t engage the reader. Think of what matters to you or your loved ones and is divisive enough to warrant an argumentative essay. Tuition fees in USA and UK universities or universal healthcare are great options. Alternatively, pick a relevant issue, such as the impact of the pandemic or stimulus packages, so that every reader can relate to it.
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But there’s more to the choice of the topic for an argumentative essay than relevance and your passion. An argumentative essay is about taking a clear stance and defending it against the opponents’ arguments. So, the topic you choose needs to have two (or more) sides to it. And ideally, there should be enough evidence in support of both. Something with an obvious “right answer” (like “Does customer service matter?” or “Should companies be required to follow COVID-19 safety protocols?”) just won’t do. Hardly anyone would answer “no” to these questions. Instead, go for one of the topics where you can understand your opponents’ perspective even if you disagree with it.
While it’s always better to choose something personalized, here are some basic but relevant topic examples:
- Are gender quotas in politics a good idea?
- Should higher education be free in the United States?
- Should religious holidays of minority religions be made national holidays?
- Would universal basic income work?
- Is Apple a good company to work at?
- Should Election Day be a national day-off?
- Should English become an official language across the globe?
2. Finding evidence for your stance
Another thing that a lot of argumentative writers struggle with is locating reliable evidence to defend their own position as well as highlight that of their opponents. In fact, the root of this problem is often in the topic. Unpopular opinions are cool and all, but if yours is too unpopular, you won’t find credible sources to back it up. Since your argumentative essay is likely a college assignment, a link to an anonymously written article on a questionable website is a no-go. Your sources should come from academic databases akin to EBSCO and JSTOR, professional websites (like WHO), and books from top academic publishers, for example, NYU Press.
Also, it may be challenging for a beginner writer to understand what counts as a good piece of evidence and what doesn’t. You may contact the Writing Center at your university for help or get it online. A lot of essay writing services, such as CustomWritings, have free samples you can leaf through to get an idea of what types of evidence work in an argumentative essay and how to present them. “Tangible” data is always compelling, including statistics or the financial benefits or your stance.
3. Balancing objectivity and persuasion
Any expert writer would agree that finding the right balance between being fair and sounding convincing is the hardest part of argumentative writing. You should have an opinion and believe in it wholeheartedly. But don’t forget that your essay is still an academic assignment, which means that it shouldn’t sound like an over-opinionated movie review on IMDB. In the words of the blogger Casey Neistat, “ideas are cheap”; what matters more is execution. He is talking about YouTube videos, but the same is true for argumentative essays. How you defend your ideas often matters more than how original they are.
When writing from scratch you need to research your opponents’ arguments. Try to put yourself in their shoes and find sense in their position. You don’t have to agree with it to get their point. If you manage to do this, your reader will see that you are not blindly defending your point of view but actually arguing its superiority. This is only possible if you fully understand the opposite stance and have given it enough consideration. The sources you use to evidence your opponents’ arguments should be no less credible than the ones referenced for yours. Otherwise, you’ll sound biased, and your reader won’t buy your arguments.
4. Structuring the essay
Last but not least, structuring the paper may also be a challenge. Mastering this skill is essential because it is central to the reader’s perception of the quality of your essay. The order in which you present your and your opponents’ arguments (and how much attention you pay to both) can make or break the impression. As discussed, give justice to the stance you disagree with and discuss it in detail. But make sure that defending yours takes up the bigger part of your essay, or else your readers might get confused. Basically, be fair but not too fair. After all, it’s an argumentative essay.
You’re probably familiar with the typical essay structure (introduction ending with a thesis statement, several body paragraphs, and conclusion) and paragraph structure. But there’s more to structuring an argumentative essay than that. Pay attention to how you present all the arguments. The most common and arguably the best way to structure your essay is by first laying out all the arguments and evidence in support of your stance and then proceeding to your opponents’ ideas. For example, three out of five of your body paragraphs may be dedicated to your stance, the fourth one may address the opposite perspective, and the last one may debunk the opposition. The overall number of paragraphs may obviously vary, but try to stick to this proportion.