Section F. ARGUMENTS
This "ARGUMENT" section of
WritingforCollege.org has five chapters
What Is an "Argument"?--Establishing
Fair, Deep Argument
Using Opposing Points of View
--Simple Steps for Starting a Thesis
Way of Formally Arguing in College
Tests & Other Args.--Essay
Tests & Other Argument Papers
Also, you may want to see these additional pages and
Disagreement with a Reading
Professional Recommendation Report
Magazine or Newsletter Article
What Is This Section?
My Story about
Learning to Argue
What Is This
This "Argument" section shows you how to write
arguments. Some methods are highly
informal. Others are formal. Ask
your teacher what he or she wants, as this often
can help you decide how to start.
A written argument is one of the two most common
papers in college writing. The other most
common type of paper is an "analysis" (in many
forms). In fact, many types of
disciplinary and professional papers--papers in
your majors--contain both analysis and argument:
you analyze something thoroughly in order to
argue or prove a point.
Argument has been
both an art and a craft for nearly as far back
in history as we can trace written language.
It was especially highly developed in ancient
Greek times as the art of political debate and
"rhetoric" (the art of persuasion). A person in
ancient Greece was not considered well educated
unless the person could argue fairly, logically,
rationally, and effectively. Both good and bad
forms of arguing were recognized. Good
argument was taught in Greek schools, later in
Roman schools, and eventually in educational
systems throughout the Western world.
Argument takes many
shapes and forms in may societies and cultures.
Argument in the U.S., for example, usually
includes a statement of the argumentative
position in the beginning, several sub-points
with plenty of details to help prove the
argument, and a concluding restatement of the
overall argumentative position.
In Europe, though,
especially in countries influenced by French
education, the typical argument is a flow of
details and ideas, with each one ending in an
important sub-point, and then once all of the
materials have been presented, the final,
overall point is made.
On the other hand,
in many Native American cultures, an argument is
composed exclusively or primarily of a story or
of several brief stories, and as in French
argument, the point is not made until the very
end--sometimes not even clearly stated but
rather with the assumption that you can figure
out the moral of the story for yourself.
And in many Asian
cultures, argument is almost exclusively a
series of analytical or factual reports of
information in a series of groupings and then,
at the very end, a very mild point will be made
showing how all the facts lead inevitably to the
conclusion--much as in what is called, in the
West, an "IMRaD" scientific or lab report.
explains what formal academic and professional
writing means in college and the professions in
the U.S., and it offers the two most primary
ways of learning to write argument papers in the
U.S.: through thesis (single-argument) and
dialogic (multiple-argument) methods.
There also are many other types of argument or
argument-analysis papers in this online
textbook: each of these is listed above and also
in the right-hand column throughout all five
chapters of this "Arguing" section.
about First Learning to Argue
When my sister, Jan, and I were young, we argued like most little kids do.
We called it "fighting," or at least our parents called it that, and I
suppose that was an accurate characterization of it because we didn't argue all
that reasonably (as most young kids don't). We learned to start out
stating our own point of view reasonably enough, as in "That toy is mine,
not yours," but such calmness soon would escalate into being upset and, if
it was really a big deal, either grabbing something from the other person or
going to tell Mom.
However, both of us learned early on that going to
Mom (or Dad, evenings and weekends) was better left for dire situations because
we knew that we would have to go through a long (to us), involved process of
figuring out what was "fair." Both of us would run to her, and the first
one to get there would state his case. For example, I might say to Mom,
"You and Dad gave that toy to both of us and Jan had it for a long time and now
it's my turn!" If I had had my way, Mom would have simply said, "Okay,
Jan, it's your brother's turn, now."
But no, she had to make a big deal of it. She
was more likely to say to me, "How long has she had it?"
"It must have been a whole hour!" I might say.
"And Jan," she would say to my sister, "how long do
you think you had it?"
She might say, "That's not true! It was only
"Okay," Mom would say, "Let's go half way and call
it half an hour. Now, how long do you think each of you should have?"
Jan and I would haggle about that, too, and finally
reach a settlement. Often my tendency was to let Jan have the toy for a
little longer, just so I could have it even longer when it was my turn. In
this situation, I might have said, knowing she had to have had it, at the very
least, for half an hour, "Can she have it for another ten minutes, and
then I get it for forty minutes?"
Mom would then say, "Well okay. I'm going to
set the timer here in the kitchen for ten minutes. When you hear it go
off, Jan, you have to give the toy to your brother for forty minutes."
And that was the way it went. As parents, Mom
and Dad were our court of last resort--prosecutor, defending attorney, jury, and
judge all rolled into one. It was very frustrating at times, trying our
short patience as children. However, we were forced to grow up being aware
that there was a story to every side. As we got older, we learned to try,
at least initially, to listen to each other and try to seek a compromise before
going to our court of last resort, just because it saved time. We also
learned to be cautious, fair traders that way, as in "If you give me that toy
right now, I'll let you borrow some money from me to buy that comic book you
want this weekend." We made all kinds of deals, and we always had our
court of last resort--Mom and Dad--to sort things out when a deal or an argument
Academic argument takes place in its own court of
law of sorts: college instructors expect you to have consideration for arguments
opposing your own. If you are making a single argument--for one side of an
issue--you should know what the other side argues so that your own reasons
counter theirs, and so that you appeal to the intelligence of anyone (a teacher
or other college students) who might be listening to both sides. And if
you are explaining the arguments of two or more opposing sides, you need to be
consistently fair, accurate, and complete in representing the arguments of each
Knowing the opposing sides is important not just
because it is good practice in reasoning. In addition, only by using such
fairness and balance can our own academic community, which is our school, and
indeed all of society around us, be fair and reasonable. Whenever we
misuse logical or use other tricks, whether on purpose or accidentally, in
trying to win an argument, we hurt our own reputation and respect, and we hurt
the ability of society to be just and fair to everyone.
My sister, Jan, and I grew up and grew closer
together, becoming great friends. A big reason for this strong friendship
is that we know we can always trust each other to be honest and fair.
Return to top.