In this resource you will find help with the most commonly accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions for an academic argument paper. The resources offers guidelines and not strict rules about organization because every paper needs to meet the requirements of the purpose of the paper as well as the needs of the audience.
The introduction of an academic paper answers three primary questions:
- What is this paper about?
- Why should I read it?
- What do you want me to believe?
Write your answers to these questions by:
- Setting up the context. Begin by providing general information about your main idea. Explain the situation so the reader has a clear sense of the paper’s topic and the claims you will make and support.
- State why the main idea of the paper is important for the reader. Explain why the reader should care about your idea and keep reading. The goal is to convince people to read and act upon your idea by writing clear, concise, logical and compelling content.
- Make your claim. In one or two sentences make your thesis statement by stating the position you will support with sound reasoning that includes inductive and deductive logic or logos, pathos or balanced emotional appeal and ethos or author credibility.
In exploratory essays, you should state the primary research question in place of your thesis statement so that the reader understands why you began the inquiry. You can include an overview of the source types you explored following your research question.
If your argument paper is complex or lengthy you may want to outline the structure of your paper, the sources you will include and consider, and the opposition to your position. You can forecast a paper in many different ways depending on the type of paper it is. Here is an example of one way to forecast your paper:
First, I will define the key terms of my argument, and then I will provide some background that addresses the current situation. Next I will outline the important positions of the argument and explain which position I support and why. Lastly, I will address opposing positions and elaborate on why these positions are no longer valid. I will conclude with possible future research options and some ideas for taking action.
You may need to use a more formal, less personal tone in your research paper. Your forecast might read like this:
This paper begins by providing key terms for the argument before providing background of the situation. Next, important positions are outlined and supported. To provide a more thorough explanation of these important positions, opposing positions are discussed. The paper concludes with some ideas for taking action and possible directions for future research.
It is wise to ask your instructor about what tone you should when writing your forecast.
These are only very general examples. You can adapt these examples by adding details about your specific topic and you will have a forecast that effectively outlines the structure of your paper and allows readers follow your ideas with ease.
The thesis of your paper should offer more than just a general statement about your main idea. The thesis statement needs to establish a clear position that you intend to support by providing balanced proofs (logos, pathos, ethos).
It is important to avoid the following when you create your thesis:
- A thesis is not a title: Do not use a title line such as Homes and schools. Instead you should offer a statement such as Parents ought to participate more in the education of their children (good thesis).
- Do not announce your subject. For example: My subject is the incompetence of the Supreme Court vs. Instead make a statement such as The Supreme Court made a mistake when it ruled in favor of George W. Bush in the 2000 election.
- A thesis is not a statement of absolute fact: Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.
- A thesis is not the whole essay: A thesis is an exposition of your main idea, claim, or problem-solution that you express in a single sentence or in a combination of sentences.
- Please note that according to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers,Seventh Edition, “A thesis statement is a single sentence that formulates both your topic and your point of view” (Gibaldi 42). However, if your paper is more complex and requires a thesis statement, your thesis may require a combination of sentences.
You should always follow these guidelines when creating your thesis:
- A good thesis is unified and concise.
– POOR: Detective stories are not a high form of literature, but people have always been fascinated by them, and many fine writers have experimented with them
– BETTER: Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills (concise).
- A good thesis is specific:
– POOR: James Joyce’s Ulysses is very good.
– BETTER: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious.
- Be as specific as possible but avoid too much detail when creating your thesis:
– POOR: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious.
– BETTER: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious by utilizing the findings of Freudian psychology and introducing the techniques of literary stream-of-consciousness.
– The thesis/claim follows the guidelines outlined above
– The thesis/claim matches the requirements and goals of the assignment
– The thesis/claim is clear and easily recognizable
– The thesis/claim seems supportable by good reasoning/data, emotional appeal
When you write a paper it is important to organize the content in a way that moves the reader from general information to more specific, detailed information. The general information tells about the subject and is the boadest category of information while specific information provides the proof for your thesis statement and is the most focused information in the paper. The inverted funnel image is a good way to picture the flow of information:
The Four Elements of A Good Paragraph
If you want to write a good paragraph you should include the following four elements: 1) Transition, 2) Topic sentence, specific Evidence and analysis, and a Brief wrap-up sentence otherwise referred to as the warrant.
Let’s look at these four elements in greater detail:
1. A Transition sentence is like the handoff of a baton between relay team members. It leads the reader logically from one idea or one paragraph to the next idea or paragraph smoothly.
2. A topic sentence introduces the content of the paragraph. It tells the reader what you are going to be talking about in the paragraph.
3. Specific evidence and analysis that supports one of your claims. It provides the detail for the topic sentence.
4. A brief wrap-up sentence explains why this data and information supports the thesis of the paper. This wrap=up or warrant is crucial because it shows how your reasoning and evidence support your thesis and help to defend it.
Supporting Evidence (Inductive and Deductive Reasoning)
Inductive reasoning moves from detailed evidence to making generalized conclusions. When you write with inductive reasoning you state your thesis and then offer support for your thesis by presenting the facts. Your conclusion is therefore your thesis because you drew your conclusion from an analysis of the facts. The following is an example of inductive reasoning from Understanding Argument by Dorothy U. Seyler.
There is the dead body of Smith. Smith was shot in his bedroom between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., according to the coroner. Smith was shot with a .32 caliber pistol. The pistol left in the bedroom contains Jones’s fingerprints. Jones was seen, by a neighbor, entering the Smith home at around 11:00 p.m. the night of Smith’s death. A coworker heard Smith and Jones arguing in Smith’s office the morning of the day Smith died.
Conclusion: Jones killed Smith.
Here, then, is the example in bullet form:
- Conclusion: Jones killed Smith
- Support: Smith was shot by Jones’ gun, Jones was seen entering the scene of the crime, Jones and Smith argued earlier in the day
- Smith died.
- Assumption: The facts are representative, not isolated incidents, and thus reveal a trend, justifying the conclusion drawn.
Deductive reasoning, begins with general premises and moves to a specific conclusion. Deductive reasoning follows a precise pattern called syllogistic reasoning (the syllogism). Syllogistic reasoning (deduction) is organized into three steps:
- Major premise
- Minor premise
In order for the syllogism (deduction) to work, you must accept that the relationship of the two premises lead, logically, to the conclusion. Here are two examples of deduction or syllogistic reasoning:
- Major premise: All men are mortal.
- Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
- Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
- Major premise: People who perform with courage and clear purpose in a crisis are great leaders.
- Minor premise: Lincoln was a person who performed with courage and a clear purpose in a crisis.
- Conclusion: Lincoln was a great leader.
So in order for deduction to work in the example involving Socrates, you must agree that (1) all men are mortal (they all die); and (2) Socrates is a man. If you disagree with either of these premises, the conclusion is invalid. The example using Socrates isn’t so difficult to validate. But when you move into more murky water (when you use terms such as courage,clear purpose, and great), the connections get tenuous.
For example, some historians might argue that Lincoln didn’t really shine until a few years into the Civil War, after many Union losses to Southern leaders such as Robert E. Lee.
The following is a clear example of deduction gone wrong:
- Major premise: All dogs make good pets.
- Minor premise: Doogle is a dog.
- Conclusion: Doogle will make a good pet.
If you don’t agree that all dogs make good pets, then the conclusion that Doogle will make a good pet is invalid.
If a premise in a syllogism is missing, the syllogism is called an enthymeme. Enthymemes can be very effective in argument, but they can also be unethical and lead to invalid conclusions. Authors often use enthymemes to persuade audiences. The following is an example of an enthymeme:
If you have a plasma TV, you are not poor.
The first part of the enthymeme (If you have a plasma TV) is the stated premise. The second part of the statement (you are not poor) is the conclusion. So the unstated premise is “Only rich people have plasma TVs.” The enthymeme above leads us to an invalid conclusion (people who own plasma TVs are not poor) because there are plenty of people who own plasma TVs who are poor. Let’s look at this enthymeme in a syllogistic structure:
- Major premise: People who own plasma TVs are rich (unstated above).
- Minor premise: You own a plasma TV.
- Conclusion: You are not poor.
To help you understand how induction and deduction can work together to form a solid argument, you may want to look at the United States Declaration of Independence. The first section of the Declaration contains a series of syllogisms, while the middle section is an inductive list of examples. The final section brings the first and second sections together in a compelling conclusion.
Part of writing a good paper is the ability to rebut or discredit common arguments or positions that dispute your thesis. This means you need to anticipate opposing positions, do research on those positions and outline these arguments. After presenting each position you will rebut opposing positions in the rebuttal section of the paper.
Most readers of your paper will not have decided which side of the argument to support so it is important to include and give fair consideration to other positions as a way of convincing readers to support your thesis. People who agree with your thesis will not require a lot of information. People who disagree with your thesis for religious or ethical reasons will not be likely to come over to your position so the most important reader group are those that are undecided. The information you provide can make a difference in their decision.
Organization of the Rebuttal Section
Use the TTEB method explained in the Body Paragraph section and outline all the information that will follow in the rebuttal section. Address all of the other positions point by point. Here is an example of an outline of a rebuttal section of a thesis adapted from Seyler’s Understanding Argument.
Your rebuttal section should follow this 3-part organization:
- The opponent’s argument: Do not assume that your reader has read or remembered the argument you are rebutting. Therefore, at the beginning of your paragraph, you need to state, accurately and fairly, the main points of the argument you will refute.
- Your position: In step 2 clarify the nature of your disagreement with the argument or position you are refuting. Your position might state, for example, that a writer has not proved his assertion because the evidence the writer provided is outdated, or that the argument is filled with inaccuracies.
- Your rebuttal: The specifics of your counterargument will depend upon the nature of your disagreement. For example, if you challenge a writer’s evidence, then you must present more recent evidence. If you challenge assumptions, then you must explain why they do not hold up. If your position is that the piece is filled with fallacies, then you must present and explain each fallacy.
Conclusions summarize what is discussed in your paper. The conclusion should provide more general information that restates the main points of your argument. A conclusion may include some form of a call to action or an overview of possible future research. Here is an outline to help you structure your conclusion. Remember to address each point only in a general way.
- Restate your topic and why it is important,
- Restate your thesis/claim,
- Address opposing viewpoints and explain why readers should align with your position,
- Call for an action or give an overview of possible future research
Once you accomplish these tasks your paper is finished unless you have additional special instructions from your teacher or professor. Do not add in new points or try to create a stunning conclusion. Keep to these outlined points and you will deliver a clear and convincing argument.
Preacher’s have a formula for preparing sermons and it is one of the most effective formulas to follow for argument papers:
1. Explain what you are going to talk about (introduction).
2. Tell them (body).
3. Remind them what you told them (conclusion).