Argument Essay Writing Tip


Argument Essay

The opposite of the argument paper is what I call the "list paper." This is the way many of you were taught to write English papers back in high school, and let me tell you, you were swindled. In this model of paper writing, a term paper on "Birds in Shakespeare" might identify three birds in Macbeth , four in King Lear , and five in A Midsummer Night's Dream . The topic sentence points out that many different birds are referred to in Shakespeare. The birds are then named and located. A particularly ambitious paper of this sort might even say what the birds are doing in relation to the plot or what significance they seem to have in each play. The conclusion announces proudly that therefore we can see Shakespeare's use of birds. There is no argument, no point, nothing, just a list of birds. Who cares? What difference does it make? Who can argue against it? What has anyone learned? Give me a stupid argument over an empty list paper any day! In a history course, the equivalent of a stupid list paper is a chronological narrative that gives the sequence of events but nothing else: This happened, this happened, this happened, the end. At the very least, explain the order of your list; perhaps a pattern will be revealed that can lead to a meaningful argument. In the social sciences, too, interpretation, analysis, significance, and insight into causation are the ends desired. We need to know that you know the facts, but we are looking for more than that. With a little imagination, any list paper can be turned into an argument essay.

A student of mine from Colombia wrote a paper on ethnicity in which he described several of his family's ethnic traits: food, clothing, holiday rituals. The paper was well-written, and the examples were interesting and lively. But it was basically a list and nothing more. Near the end, he mentioned that his mother sometimes called him a "gringo" because he had become so American in his eating habits. I suggested he take that confrontation, put it up front in the topic paragraph, and then reorganize the facts already in the paper around that conflict. He rewrote the paper starting off describing in detail this tension between his family's traditional Colombian lifestyle and his evolution away from it. He was then able to describe dinners and clothing and language as arenas of cultural conflict. The result was a much better, more meaningful paper, indeed, an A. Everyone likes a good fight.

Also, be sure not only that you have an argument but that you have only one argument. If you have two things to say, write two papers, or make one somehow fit into and under the general umbrella of the more important argument. Think of the entire paper-writing project as the organization of an army going to battle. There can be only one battle plan and one top general. A divided command will produce defeat. Line up all of your battalions in an orderly fashion, face them all in the same direction, and charge.

If the first draft, then, is barely comprehensible, the second draft is your best working paper. This is written once you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do. It is the skeleton of what will become your final paper. It is also the hardest one to write. Do not worry here about perfection, for this is also the draft that you next must comb over carefully to correct logic and organization, to note where better evidence is called for or has been left out, or where the argument has wandered off the path. The third draft then comes close to being your finished paper, but this is the copy that needs to be examined closely for typos, grammatical mistakes, misspellings, and other last-minute problems.

Ideally, then, your fourth draft should be your final paper. Okay, laugh, but at least you've been told.

Thank you.

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