The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.
What is a diagnostic essay?
College instructors are often faced with the need to identify their students’ strength and weakness in terms of which specific skill each student has. A diagnostic essay is used to achieve this objective. This is often used at the start of the semester to help instructors identify the kind of curriculum, exercises, and the type of exercises they need to give to students both individually and holistically. Such essays are time-bound and students need to respond to the instructors’ prompts. Diagnostic papers are effective in testing the student’s ability hence diagnostic essay writing is also used on standardized tests including SAT tests.
Occasionally, the writer is given two or more prompts and allowed to choose the one he or she likes. A diagnostic essay is best written by dividing the paper into three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. A diagnostic essay is time-bound thus the author must set aside some time to go through the question and plan how to effectively write the essay. A captivating introduction and a clear thesis are aspects that make a diagnostic assignment to stand out.
How to start a diagnostic essay
The writer has to set aside time to read and answer the prompt, to formulate the thesis as well as plan on how to write the essay within the allocated time period. After pondering over the topic and coming up with a mental sketch of what one needs to write about, the next step is to introduce the topic. This entails reviewing the three key ideas that one would like to focus on as he writes the essay. The writer can start the introduction with a restatement of the essay prompt. For instance, if one is given a prompt to write about the most challenging task that they have ever undertaken, he will give an explanation of the hardest thing he has ever done. The writer can first list a number of tasks that he might consider to be the most challenging to him. From the mentioned options, he will then identify one specific task and pursue it. He will introduce the task and give a detailed review of the same including, for instance, nature and time period the task took, and other relevant aspects. The other key part of the introduction is the thesis statement. The thesis for a diagnostic paper will be a one sentence highlight of the three key reasons why the task is most challenging to the writer.
How to write main part of a diagnostic essay
Having written the introduction and the thesis, the next part is the essay body. The body should have three paragraphs. Each of the three paragraphs will focus on a specific idea and explain it in detail. In the first paragraph, the writer needs to point out and then explain the first reason why he or she thinks the specified task is the most challenging he or she has ever undertaken. The student should pick his or her strongest point or reason and place it in the first paragraph. Clear explanation on, for instance, the mental effort it took to accomplish the task, should be provided.
The second paragraph will outline the point or factor that the writer considers the second most important reason. For instance, in explaining the most challenging task ever undertaken, the second paragraph can focus on the financial burden or responsibility that the task brought upon the student. If one was compelled to go for an unanticipated loan which has since weighed heavily on the borrower, this can be elaborated in detail in the second body paragraph.
The third paragraph will give the third most important idea addressing the prompt. In the aforementioned example, the writer can weigh among all other remaining reasons and identify the strongest. Depending on the weight that the author attaches to each factor, the physical effort it took to complete the task can be discussed in the third paragraph. The third paragraph can also briefly touch on the other key reasons or factors which, although not critical to the prompt’s reply, have a significant impact on the bearing of the writer’s life.
How to conclude a diagnostic essay
A good diagnostic essay has an effective conclusion. The conclusion will restate the key points identified in the introduction as well as in the thesis statement. This will be done in brief and with a major focus on the main three aspects discussed in the body paragraphs. In the aforementioned example, the student can identify the mental, financial, and physical effort and highlight the connection briefly. As diagnostic essays have tight timeframes, it is of utmost importance that the writer makes the conclusion brief and ties it to the expected reply to the prompt.
Introduction – Essence, and basis of the diagnostic essay, explication of the prompt.
Body – First paragraph: first major/most important point or reason.
- Second paragraph: second key point
- Third paragraph: third key point
Conclusion – restatement of three key ideas, and link to the prompt.