The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.
The five-paragraph essay is a format of essay having five paragraphs: one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs with support and development, and one concluding paragraph. Because of this structure, it is also known as a hamburger essay, one three one, or a three-tier essay.
The five-paragraph essay is a form of essay having five paragraphs:
- one introductory paragraph,
- three body paragraphs with support and development, and
- one concluding paragraph.
The introduction serves to inform the reader of the basic premises, and then to state the author's thesis, or central idea. A thesis can also be used to point out the subject of each body paragraph. When a thesis essay is applied to this format, the first paragraph typically consists of a narrative hook, followed by a sentence that introduces the general theme, then another sentence narrowing the focus of the one previous. (If the author is using this format for a text-based thesis, then a sentence quoting the text, supporting the essay-writer's claim, would typically go here, along with the name of the text and the name of the author. Example: "In the book Night, Elie Wiesel says..."). After this, the author narrows the discussion of the topic by stating or identifying a problem. Often, an organizational sentence is used here to describe the layout of the paper. Finally, the last sentence of the first paragraph of such an essay would state the thesis the author is trying to prove. The thesis is often linked to a "road map" for the essay, which is basically an embedded outline stating precisely what the three body paragraphs will address and giving the items in the order of the presentation. Not to be confused with an organizational sentence, a thesis merely states "The book Night follows Elie Wiesel's journey from innocence to experience," while an organizational sentence directly states the structure and order of the essay. Basically, the thesis statement should be proven throughout the essay. In each of the three body paragraphs one idea (evidence/fact/etc.) that supports thesis statement is discussed. And in the conclusion everything is analyzed and summed up.
Sections of the five-part essay
The five-part essay is a step up from the five-paragraph essay. Often called the "persuasive" or "argumentative" essay, the five-part essay is more complex and accomplished, and its roots are in classical rhetoric. The main difference is the refinement of the "body" of the simpler five-paragraph essay. The five parts, whose names vary from source to source, are typically represented as:
- a thematic overview of the topic, and introduction of the thesis;
- a review of the background literature to orient the reader to the topic; also, a structural overview of the essay;
- the evidence and arguments in favor of the thesis;
- the evidence and arguments against the thesis; these also require either "refutation" or "concession";
- summary of the argument, and association of the thesis and argument with larger, connected issues.
In the five-paragraph essay, the "body" is all "affirmation"; the "narration" and "negation" (and its "refutation" or "concession") make the five-part essay less "thesis-driven" and more balanced and fair. Rhetorically, the transition from affirmation to negation (and refutation or concession) is typically indicated by contrastive terms such as "but", "however", and "on the other hand".
The five parts are purely formal and can be created and repeated at any length, from a sentence (though it would be a highly complex one), to the standard paragraphs of a regular essay, to the chapters of a book, and even to separate books themselves (though each book would, of necessity, include the other parts while emphasizing the particular part).
Another form of the 5 part essay consists of
- Introduction: Introducing a topic. An important part of this is the three-pronged thesis. This information should be factual, especially for a history paper. Somewhere in the middle of introduction, one presents the 3 main points of the 5 paragraph essay. The introductory paragraph should end with a strong thesis statement that tells readers exactly what an author aims to prove.
- Body paragraph 1: Explaining the first part of the three-pronged thesis. The first sentence should transition from the introductory paragraph to the current one. The sentences that follow should provide examples and support, or evidence, for the topic.
- Body paragraph 2: Explaining the second part of the three-pronged thesis. As the previous paragraph, it should begin with a transition and a description of the topic you’re about to discuss. Any examples or support provided should be related to the topic at hand.
- Body paragraph 3: Explaining the third part of the three-pronged thesis. Like any paragraph, it should have a transition and a topic sentence, and any examples or support should be related and interesting.
- Conclusion: Summing up points and restating thesis. It should not present new information, but it should always wrap up the discussion.
In essence, the above method can be seen as following the colloquialism "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em what you told 'em" with the first part referring to the introduction, the second part referring to the body, and the third part referring to the conclusion. The first sentence of every paragraph should be a topic sentence.
The main point of the five-part essay is to demonstrate the opposition and give-and-take of true argument. Dialectic, with its formula of "thesis + antithesis = synthesis", is the foundation of the five-part essay.
One could also use:Introduction: Hook (3 sentences), Connector (3 sentences), Thesis Body 1: Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Transition, Evidence 2, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Concluding sentence Body 2: Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Transition, Evidence 2, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Concluding sentence Body 3: Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Transition, Evidence 2, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Concluding sentence
Introduction, Hook Statement, Background Information, Thesis Statement, Body Paragraph 1, Topic Sentence, Claim, Evidence, Concluding Statement, Body Paragraph 2, Topic Sentence 2, Claim #2, Evidence, Concluding Statement, Body Paragraph 3, Topic Sentence 3, Claim #3, Evidence, Concluding statement, Conclusion, Restatement of Thesis, Summarization of Main Points, Overall Concluding Statement, Conclusion: Sum up all elements, and make the essay sound finished. (Use about seven sentences similar to the Introduction)
Another type of 5-paragraph essay outline:
According to Thomas E. Nunnally and Kimberley Wesley, most teachers and professors consider the five-paragraph form ultimately restricting for fully developing an idea. Wesley argues that the form is never appropriate. Nunnally states that the form can be good for developing analytical skills that should then be expanded. Similarly, American educator David F. Labaree claims that "The Rule of Five" is "dysfunctional... off-putting, infantilising and intellectually arid" because demands for the essay's form often obscure its meaning and, therefore, largely automatize creating and reading five-paragraph essays.
- Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 4th ed. Oxford UP, 1999.
- Hodges, John C. et al. Harbrace Handbook. 14th ed.