THE ARGUMENTATIVE PAPER 

Your Audience. For what kind of reader are you writing the paper? Your teacher? Classmates? The general public? It matters, because different audiences call for different approaches, for different amounts of background information and detail to be provided, and the like. If in doubt, ask your teachers about who you should consider your target audience to be. 

The Main Ingredients of an Argumentative Paper

The argumentative paper involves five main ingredients: 1) thesis [claim, proposition, main idea]; 2) context [background, framework, setting]; 3) reasons [support, evidence]; 4) counter-arguments [objections, contrary considerations]; and 5) responses [refutations, answers to objections]. These ingredients can be put together or organized in a good many different ways. In a very short, very simple argumentative paper, the last two may not appear at all; so the absolute minimum ingredients are: thesis, context, and supporting reasons; and the thesis should appear prior to the reasons (it will also usually be restated after the reasons). As you plan and write your argumentative paper, keep these things circulating in your head! 

                        Thesis - Context - Reasons - Objections - Responses 

Thesis. Without a good thesis, you cannot have a good argumentative paper. Typical characteristics of a good thesis: specific (not overly general), accurate (not vague), and arguable. "Arguable" means that the thesis is a statement that a reasonable person might disagree with or at least, might disagree with prior to reading your brilliant defense of it! A good thesis is not merely descriptive, is not merely factual. It may be highly debatable, even surprising a "risky" thesis. (A good defense of a risky thesis makes an impressive paper.) After doing a full draft of your paper and reflecting what you've said overall, you'll usually need to revise or "polish up" your thesis. 

Context. You need to provide your readers with some background about the issues your paper deals with. The needed context will vary depending on your target audience. In a very short, simple argumentative paper this can sometimes be given in the introductory paragraph, prior to your thesis statement; but typically you will need one or more context paragraphs after your thesis paragraph, sometimes before your reasons and counter-argument paragraphs, sometimes interspersed among them. 

Reasons. Your reasons plus your thesis form an argument with the thesis as the argument's conclusion (hence, an argumentative paper). But reasons can also be conclusions there can be reasons for reasons! Arguments within arguments! If X is a reason for Y, and Y is a reason for Z, that makes Y both a reason (in relation to Z) and a conclusion (in relation to X). So Y would be a "subconclusion" or a "subthesis" or an "intermediate reason." Typical supporting paragraph structure goes like this: topic sentence, which is a reason for your thesis or for a subconclusion; then the rest of the paragraph consists largely of reasons for or elaborations of the topic sentence. Remember to make liberal use of inference indicators so it will be clear what is a reason for what! 

Counter-arguments (objections). Imaginatively put yourself in the place of those who might disagree with your thesis, or disagree with some of your supporting reasons. Play devil's advocate against yourself in an internal dialogue. Then articulate the strongest objections you can think of to your thesis or to some of your reasons. Impressive papers present strong objections and then respond to them convincingly! It's often very helpful to get someone else to look over your draft and suggest counter-arguments. Be aware that considering counter-arguments can have unexpected consequences: you may discover that you don't have effective responses! In other words, you may find that a counter-argument is better than your own initial argument! Then you'll need to make some significant revisions or add some qualifications to your own thesis, subconclusions, or reasons. 

Responses (to counter-arguments). These are your answers to, or refutations of, the objections you've presented to your thesis (or to some of your reasons). There are various ways to respond effectively. One is straightforward refutation: explain why a counter-argument's reasons are false (or at least, suspect), or that it's reasons, even if true, do not adequately support it's conclusion. Another, more subtle, approach is to concede that a counter-argument does have some merit, but then you explain why it doesn't really undermine your own arguments it only appears to do so at first glance. For example, suppose your paper's thesis is that U. S. Grant was an outstanding military commander. A counter-argument might be that he was an alcoholic (supported by several eyewitness accounts of his drunkenness), and how can an alcoholic be an outstanding commander? Your response might be that, yes, he did have a bit of an alcohol problem but only during periods of military inactivity, so it didn't affect his generalship. 

As you plan and write your argumentative paper, keep these things circulating in your head! 

                    Thesis Context Reasons Counter-arguments Responses 

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WAYS TO ORGANIZE AN ARGUMENTATIVE PAPER

There are various good and effective ways to organize or structure an argumentative paper, but there are two general principles you should follow. One is that whatever your overall organizational scheme is, it should be pretty obvious to a reader. To make it obvious it is helpful to use signal phrases such as "Second . . .," "Finally . . .," "In response to the first objection . . .," and the like. In longer papers it may be advisable to describe, in a short paragraph or a sentence or two, how the rest of your paper is organized. The second general principle is that you should clearly state your overall thesis early in the paper, before you start providing your support for it. Argumentative papers should not be like mystery novels with surprise endings! Here are several example general organizational approaches (there are others); each part (thesis, context, etc.) is often a paragraph, or sometimes more in a longer paper. 


Example #1:

Thesis 
Context 
Supporting Reason 1 (subconclusion) 
     Explanation/reasons for Reason 1 
Supporting Reason 2 (subconclusion) 
     Explanation/reasons for Reason 2 
Counter-argument against thesis 
     Reasons/Conclusion of counter-argument 
Response to counter-argument 
Etc. . . 


Example #2: 

Context 
Thesis
Supporting Reason 1 (subconclusion) 
     Explanation/reasons for Reason 1
     Counter-argument against Reason 1 
     Response to counter-argument 
Supporting Reason 2 (subconclusion) 
     Explanation/reasons for Reason 2 
     Counter-argument against Reason 2
     Response to counter-argument 
Etc. . .


Example #3 (more detailed, as in a longer paper):

General Context 
Thesis 
Supporting Reason 1 (subconclusion) 
     Specific Context for Supporting Reason 1 
     Explanation of or reasons for this supporting reason (reasons for subconclusion) 
Supporting Reason 2 (subconclusion) 
     Specific Context for Supporting Reason 2 
     Explanation of or reasons for this supporting reason (reasons for subconclusion) 
Etc. . . 
Counter-argument 1 against thesis 
     Specific Context for counter-argument 1 
     Response to counter-argument 1 
Counter-argument 2 against thesis 
     Specific Context for counter-argument 2 
     Response to counter-argument 2
Etc. . .

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