An argumentative essay seeks to support an evidence based opinion with solid facts and research.
Choose a topicIt’s easier to write about something you are knowledgeable in, or have an interest in. What do you enjoy doing? What do you have questions about? Are there any historical figures you admire? Are you concerned about some current events? What animals do you like? Don’t overthink it, it’s better to start with a random question like “Why are bananas yellow?” over getting stuck with writer's block and procrastinating.
Create a thesis statement draft
Polar bears do not eat penguins.
Pretty simple is fine for now. If it’s an upper-level essay, something less obvious will be better for a thesis statement. But, it is pretty easy to start with something general, and narrow it down as more information is found. Leave it simple, and circle back to this because it will be much easier to define a clear thesis after doing a bit of research into the subject.
BrainstormWhat basic information is known about the topic?
Polar bears live in the Arctic north, and penguins live in the Antarctic south.
Done, right? But my essay now has 20 words, and the assignment has a much longer word count. Also, it needs to sound smarter. It needs supporting information. What do polar bears eat, since penguins are off the menu? How big are the polar bear and penguin habitats (maybe look up a map of their range).
Take a few minutes and write down everything you know about the topics of your essay and any questions you have about it. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure. What you need is a mess of ideas and information to pick through.
Don’t worry about how much you’re typing either. If you type at 50 words per minute, a 200 word salad essay would take four minutes to write. The hard job is figuring out what to say, and getting your point across. This is just brainstorming, and it is the important, hard work of essay writing, so write down everything you can think of on the topic.
In a proper research article, summarizing known information and prior research takes up a lengthy section of the introduction. All the general information readers need to know to understand the topic is relevant to the essay. Search for some of the data and questions that resulted from just writing for a few minutes. Remember to use quotes around any copied material to avoid plagiarism, and save the links and any information needed for citation and references. I don’t typically write out the references at this point unless I’m sure I’ll use them, I just stick in the hyperlink, and circle back to fix it once I’ve decided what to keep.
Fix the thesis statementI now have a lot of information about the diet and territory range of polar bears. A better thesis based on this information could be:
Polar bear diets are changing due to global warming.
The best part is that most of the research and writing for the body of the essay can be kept, it just needs more of a focus on changes in polar bear and prey ranges. I’ll need to lose the references to the penguins, sadly.
The body of the essayThis is the biggest piece. It can be broken into two parts:
- The introduction, or everything you need to know about the topic to understand and care about the thesis statement. For my essay, this would be a typical diet and territory range of polar bears, and any interesting facts.
- The argument, or information that supports the thesis statement. For my essay, these would be facts about how warmer seas are causing prey species to go farther north, or the polar bears are roaming farther south for food. If I find information that indicates their diet is not changing, I could add another section for a counter-argument.
ReferencesReferences are important for making a good argument. Good references convey accurate information from an authoritative and credible source. Peer-reviewed journal articles are the gold standard. Information from experts, textbooks, university and government websites are also excellent. Established news outlets with good reputations are good. Getting information from bloggers and random sites can be sketchy. Anyone can say anything on the internet. Almost anyone can edit Wikipedia, and the Wiki links to the source information break from time to time. Wikipedia is a good place to start, but use their reference list to get the information straight from the source. Personal stories and first-hand accounts can draw readers in and make the data relatable, so these are good sources for persuasion, but any information needs to be supported by research.
As an example of possible problems with sources, I present this totally legit and 0% photoshopped image of a polar bear and a penguin I found on the internet:
Introduce the source so the audience knows they are credible. An article written for York University by Sandra McLean has a good example of showing credibility. She writes
“The researchers, including Faculty of Science PhD Candidate Melissa Galicia, who led the research, and Professor Gregory Thiemann of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, have found polar bears, originally thought to eat mainly ringed and bearded seals, are actually flexible eaters. They will eat what's readily available and this makes them ideal as a monitoring tool to track environmental changes in the Arctic.Note McLean introduces her sources, and explains why they are qualified. Then she quickly summarizes her source’s research so her audience understands the discussion. By the time we get to the quotes, it is clear Galicia is a polar bear expert, and can be trusted to provide accurate information.
"Polar bears need the sea ice to hunt. When there is a reduction in the sea ice, they're hunting less or they're potentially hunting different prey species," says Galicia.”
Making a pointThe key to getting a point across is to repeat it at least three times.
- Tell the audience what your point is. (Thesis statement).
- Support it, convince them that it is true and important. (The argument, or body of the essay).
- Summarize the information. (Summary or conclusion).
In conclusionI’m basically going to repeat my thesis statement, and the main facts that support it. Climate change is forcing polar bears to change their diets. If you want to put in a marketing-style hook, and ask the audience to take a small step to support your topic, this is a good place for it.
In order to ensure everyone gets to enjoy these magnificent creatures for generations to come, please consider using fewer plastic bottles.
It’s best to ask for a small manageable change, task or amount of money.
Not doneOn to the editing phase. Ideally, the essay should be ignored for at least a week. This way, one forgets what one was writing about, and any errors or lapses in the essay become more apparent. After that, read it out loud, and have someone else read it if possible. Look for awkward phrases, grammar issues, and misspellings. Fix any issues. Each paragraph should be at least three sentences, and support the main thesis in some way. As a rule of thumb, sentences should be 20 words or fewer. It’s okay to have longer sentences, but longer sentences can get confusing quickly. It’s a good idea to see a writing tutor at this point.
Now it’s done.
McLean, S. (2021, October 27). Polar bear diet may indicate prey distribution changes due to climate shifts. York University. https://news.yorku.ca/2021/10/27/polar-bear-diet-may-indicate-prey-distribution-changes-due-to-climate-shifts/
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