Guidelines for Making an Argument
Learn about your subject. Even if you think you already know all about it, you need to read widely
and deeply on your topic. Pay special attention to the other side(s) of the story. In other words, do
not just gather sources that support your position; instead, find many sources that present a strong
Create a preliminary claim. This assertion can be very simple. You will end up modifying it to
develop a thesis later in the process. For example, you could start out with this simple claim: Public
schools should change the way they teach math. That claim will become more specific and
developed as you move through your writing process. You would add reasons why (your major
supporting arguments) and perhaps narrow the focus of your claim to just the teaching of math in
Offer a debatable claim and qualify it to make it reasonable. Do not try to argue a point that
no one cares about; avoid the trivial. Make sure that your claim is clear and specific.
When we qualify a claim, we are taking into account exceptions to our assertion. For example, if I
said that people hate standing in line to vote, I’m be generalizing about all people, with no
exceptions. Clearly, there must be at least some people who do not hate standing in line to vote. It
would be more accurate, then, to say that most people hate standing in line or many people hate
standing in line. Qualifying a claim makes your claim more complicated and nuanced. Use words
such as many, some, most, a few, often, under certain conditions, occasionally, when necessary,
and so forth.
Examine your core assumptions. All claims are based on assumptions. Those assumptions might
be clear from the start, especially if they are controversial. At other times, the assumptions might be
less obvious to you because they are such a central part of your worldview.
Gather your information. Select the best, most authoritative sources to learn about your topic.
Cite only those best sources in your paper. You are representing yourself in the sources you choose.
If you choose highly biased, non-expert sources, your readers will not be convinced by your writing.
List your reasons. You will be able to come up with a few points right away; then you can add to
your list as you read more. Remember to paraphrase ideas and cite sources as you take notes. You
must offer solid supporting points and explanations to back up your claim.
Assemble your data. Gather examples, illustrations, case studies, expert testimony, and statistics
to support each of your main points. Keep careful track of where you get each item of information.
Print out or photocopy articles and web pages. Staple and label and file these sources in a folder. Try
to avoid using second- or third-hand information. Go to the original source whenever possible. For
example, if you read a newspaper article that reports statistics from the National Institutes of
Health, it is better to track those numbers down from the NIH website than to cite them from the
newspaper (Think about the children’s game “telephone”: by the time a whispered sentence gets to
the end of the line, it has become a garbled mess).
Prepare your sources by summarizing each, paraphrasing important passages, and lining up
possible direct quotations. Be sure to label each summary, paraphrase, or quote with a correct
Establish opposing arguments. List those you can think of on your own, but do not stop there.
Seek out the best opposing points of view possible. Read those opposing sources carefully.
Summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote those opposing arguments. Keep close tabs on where you
found each piece of information. Respond to the opposition in your draft; after identifying a major
opposing point, try to counter it immediately.
Prepare to make and counter emotional appeals. For example, if you are arguing in support of
abortion, think about how to counter the opponents who focus on the “little babies being destroyed.”
Such an emotional appeal hits home for most readers, so you must work to overcome it.
Create the structure for your argument. Explain what is at stake with your topic. You are raising
a controversial subject, so you need to explain why it is important. Describe the problem or concern
and help the reader see why he should care. You need to set the stage for your claim and your
supporting points—filling in the possible gaps in reader knowledge on this subject. Beginning with an
anecdote or two is a tried and true strategy for arousing reader interest and illustrating the stakes.
Use a calm, reasonable tone. Avoid name-calling or loaded language that reflects a bias.
Demonstrate through your words and tone that you are a sensible person with intellectual heft.
Comp II Argumentative Research Essay
The research essay for this course must defend a controversial position. The topic will be up to you, but you must
work within these guidelines:
The topic must be relevant and important to our current time period.
It must be appropriate for an academic audience.
It must be new to you—in other words, you may not write about a topic you have already written about or
are currently writing for another class.
It must be a debatable topic. In other words, it needs to be a subject about which reasonable, wellinformed people might disagree. You will know you have an arguable topic when you find credible sources
that support both sides of an argument.
It may not be an overworked topic, such as abortion, gun control, drug legalization, drunk driving,
smoking bans, capital punishment, euthanasia (or physician-assisted suicide).
Suggested Topics: You are not limited to these; they are merely some ideas to get you going.
Should children who commit crimes be tried in adult courts?
Should children ever be given life sentences without parole?
Should religious employers be compelled to provide health insurance plans with contraceptive coverage for
Should gay couples be allowed to adopt children?
Should churches pay taxes?
Should the method for choosing presidential candidates be changed?
Should women be required to register for the draft?
Tone: This must be a formal, impersonal, academic research essay, not an emotional rant. You should focus your
efforts on appealing to logos and ethos, and limit appeals to pathos to the kind that would be acceptable in scholarly
work. You should use specific, relevant examples and evidence to support every claim you make.
Structure: You should follow the structure of the classical argument. Essentially, the paper will be: Introduction—
Background Section—Supporting Arguments—Opposing Arguments and Refutation—Conclusion.
Audience: This paper will be written for a college-level academic audience. It should avoid contractions, slang,
colloquial expressions, overly familiar tone (first- or second-person pronouns), and so forth.
Length and format: 8-10 pages (2250-3000 words), not including the Works Cited page(s). Use MLA style
formatting and documentation.
Source Requirements: While sources are an integral part of this paper, they must not be used in a “cut and paste”
fashion to string together an argument by patching together other people’s ideas. The ideas in the paper should be
your own; claims made should be your own; sources should merely be used to provide background, examples, and
support to strengthen the arguments you are making.
In the final version of your essay, you must use a minimum of five credible, authoritative sources, including:
o at least one authoritative book
o at least one scholarly article (from a peer-reviewed journal)
o at least one newspaper or news magazine article, not an editorial or opinion piece
o at least one article from a library online database source that you haven’t used already to fulfill the
o at least one credible web source
All sources must be current (not more than five years old, except in exceptional circumstances, and your news
sources should be current within one year).
All sources consulted must be authoritative and credible to an academic audience. This means that general
references sources (encyclopedias and dictionaries), faith-based texts (the Bible, the Koran, etc.), and web sites with
unknown or questionable authorship (including Wikipedia) must not be used.
Preliminary Assignments (separately graded for the Research Project) include:
|1. An informal topic proposal paragraph||10 points|
|2. A working (in-progress) bibliography that lists sources you might use in your paper||20 points|
|3. A preliminary (scratch) outline that demonstrates the structure and logic of your argument||20 points|
The topic proposal paragraph will include: (1) your topic, (2) your specific argument on this topic, and (3) why you
chose it above all other possibilities (“It’s interesting” is not an acceptable answer to this question; instead, let me
know if you have some personal experience or connection to the topic, if you’ve recently seen a television show or
heard a radio program or a class lecture on the topic, etc.).
Working Bibliography: You will create a working bibliography very early in the research process as a working
document to guide you in your research. It will include a minimum of five credible, authoritative sources (one of each
of the required 5 types of sources listed in assignment above). You will list these sources as correct MLA-style
citations. You will use this list of sources as a guide, as you read through each book, article, or web page and decide
whether or not it will be helpful and appropriate to your paper. If you determine an article is appropriate, then you will
leave it on the list and go on to the next source. When you get to a source that turns out to be less than helpful or
otherwise inappropriate, strike it from the list and move on. You will also probably come across other—perhaps
better—sources as you continue to locate and read the sources on your bibliography. You may add those superior
sources (or use them to replace lesser sources). Once you have researched your subject to your satisfaction, given
time constraints, you will have a list of perhaps 5 to 20 sources that you end up using in the essay.
A Preliminary Outline will demonstrate the structure and logic of your argument. This outline will also serve as a
guide to you as you draft your essay. It should follow the model I provide for you in the Research Scratch Outline
A successful paper will do the following:
1. Have an interesting title and an attention-grabbing introduction that includes an argumentative
2. Clearly explain the issue and explain both (or all) sides of the controversy.
3. Use sufficient, credible sources as evidence to support all claims made, but not rely on those
sources too heavily for the presentation of the paper’s main argument.
4. Present a persuasive argument in support of your stance by appealing to logos, ethos, and pathos,
5. Be organized in a clear, logical structure, employing a strong topic sentence to begin each body
paragraph. Have an appropriate “wrap up” sentence to end each body paragraph.
6. Make use of appropriate transitions and linking sentences within and between paragraphs to help
guide the reader through the essay and clarify connections between your ideas.
7. Have a stylistically effective and satisfying conclusion.
8. Effectively integrate all source material, using parenthetical references, signal phrases, running
acknowledgements, and/or quotation marks, as appropriate.
9. Use a style appropriate to the given audience. This includes, among other things, avoiding slang,
informal constructions, contractions, self-reference (I, me, my), direct address of the reader (you,
your, we, our), and so forth.
10.Include a complete and correctly formatted Works Cited page that matches your internal citations.
11.Be free of mechanical errors, including incorrect grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage.