Argumentative Essay Definition
An argumentative essay [ahr-gyuh-MEN-tuh-tiv ess-ay] is an essay in which the writer uses thorough research to defend their position on a disputable topic. An argumentative essay contains a thesis, multiple body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The body can also include a counterargument.
Roots in Ancient Rhetoric
The argumentative essay format has roots in ancient rhetoric, which Greco-Romans considered the “art of persuasion.” While ancient societies primarily used speech to persuade their audiences, modern academics most often use written arguments based on the ancient orators’ classical argument structure.
As detailed in Plato’s On Rhetoric, a classical argument—similar to an argumentative essay—begins with an introduction (exordium), gives necessary context (narratio), offers the writer’s position and thesis (proposito and partitio), presents supporting research to confirm the writer’s argument or refute other positions (confirmatio and refutatio), and ends with a conclusion (peroration).
The Five-Part Argumentative Essay
- Thesis and Introduction: Often only a sentence long, the thesis concisely describes the writer’s position, and the introductory paragraph provides context.
- Body Paragraphs and Counterargument: There are generally three body paragraphs used to present research that supports the writer’s thesis. They can also include a counterargument that details and refutes opposing positions.
- Conclusion: This summarizes the writer’s evidential findings and reiterates the thesis.
There are two main models of argumentation: the Toulmin model and the Rogerian model.
The Toulmin Model
British philosopher Stephen Toulmin founded the Toulmin model in his book The Uses of Argument (1958). This style of argumentation, an expansion of the classical model, has six major components:
- Claim: The thesis
- Data: The research supporting the thesis
- Warrant: An explanation that connects the data and the thesis
- Backing: Support for the warrant
- Modality: Confirmation of the arguer’s conviction in the thesis
- Rebuttal: A counterargument or exceptions to the thesis
The Rogerian Model
Psychotherapist Carl Rogers developed the Rogerian model as a form of rhetoric that favored empathy and multiple perspectives. This model attempts to weigh each option fairly before persuading its audience. The model consists of the following components:
- Introduction: Introduction of the topic as a mutual problem
- Opposing Position: An explanation of the writer’s position that recognizes opposing positions
- Context for Opposing Position: An outline of the opposing position and confirmation of its validity
- Argued Position: A presentation of the writer’s position
- Context for Position: This offers data that validates writer’s position
- Benefits: An explanation of how the writer’s position benefits the opposition
Argumentative vs. Expository Essays
Similar to an argumentative essay, an expository essay uses evidence to inform its readers. It teaches readers how to do something, analyzes a topic, gives step-by-step instructions, or describes an event.
Expository essays differ from argumentative essays in that they’re often assigned within a classroom structure, restricting the amount of outside research. The aim of an expository essay is more often to explain something rather than persuade its audience.
Argumentative Essays in Education
Argumentative essays appear primarily as assignments in education and academia. Writing in this form requires that students understand alternative opinions, learn the value of thorough research, and learn to persuade their audiences using evidence.
Examples of Argumentative Essays
1. Matthew L. Sanders, “Becoming a Learner”
“Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education” is a 2018 essay by Matthew L. Sanders. In the essay, Sanders argues against the traditional understanding of a college education and suggests students seek out critical and creative thinking skills rather than job marketability. Sanders outlines his thesis clearly:
The primary purpose of college isn’t learning a specific set of professional skills; the primary purpose of college is to become a learner.
2. Margaret Fuller, “The Great Lawsuit”
In Fuller’s 1843 essay, she compares the plight of women to that of slaves and argues that women should have the same rights as men:
As men become aware that all men have not had a fair chance, they are inclined to say that no women have had a fair chance.
3. Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making us Stupid?”
In his 2008 essay, Carr uses mostly anecdotal evidence to support his thesis. He posits that having access to the internet’s trove of information contributes to an inability to read longer-form materials. In the following excerpt, he presents current research that supports his thesis:
They [University College London] found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from on source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site.
Further Research on Argumentative Essays
The Purdue Online Writing Lab outlines effective argumentative essays.
Masterclass.com has an argumentative essay step-by-step writing guide available.
- Expository Essay