An 'academic' argument is robust, introducing from the outset and arguable premise or claim. A premise is arguable if it is possible to argue against it.
- Example of an arguable premise: ‘Love becomes an exercise in power in Shakespeare’s plays.’
- An un-arguable premise: ‘Shakespeare’s plays contain many references to love and power.’
...uses facts and evidence to explore that premise or claim.
...is logical and coherent, breaking down the overall proposition into smaller parts and moving from step to step in a clear, developmental manner
...uses references and credits them. The facts, evidence and different points of view used to explore the premise or claim will come from outside sources. These sources are acknowledged in a footnote or in parentheses.
How do I argue clearly and effectively?
Compare with your argument against the following list. Now check your plan against your argument. Does every point relate to your overall argument? Are they in the best possible order? Is all your supporting evidence relevant?
- Choose a structure for your essay which best suits the shape of your argument. See the Focusing on the question section of this resource
- Stand back from other critics’ views and find your own path as much as possible, even if this is just a question of contrasting a variety of perspectives and coming down in favour of one reading over another
- Always go back to the primary texts after reading secondary literature and look at the evidence, asking yourself whether you agree with the critical readings you have come across or not. Even if you agree with the approach taken by other critics, you may be able to find new textual examples or other ideas to support your chosen argument
- Plan your essay carefully before you begin writing and have a clear sense of where you are going
- Create core statements - see Using Core statements
- Make your argument particularly explicit in the introduction and conclusion
- Make evident the ways in which each paragraph and each point contribute to your argument. Do not simply list points but have a sense of the forward direction of your argument
- Ruthlessly get rid of any points which aren't relevant to the argument - be disciplined in your writing
- Don't be afraid to acknowledge a counter-argument: framed within your essay structure, acknowledging an opposite stance can have the rhetorical effect of strengthening your own argument rather than weakening it. It shows that you have taken account of possible objections to your ideas. Explain the opposite view and what evidence it puts forward, then explain how yours diverges from it and why it should be taken seriously; is it a more accurate reading? Does it point to some interesting tensions in the text? Does it reflect to a greater degree what you understand the writer's main concerns and/or those of his/her context?
A core statement summarises the argument of your essay in one or two sentences. It points in broad terms to the whole of what you want to say.
Some of the advantages of producing a good core statement:
- it gives clarity and focus to your essay
- it defends you from confusion, or straying from the point
- it exposes any weaknesses, gaps or faults in your argument
- it allows you to adjust your argument early in the process of writing, before it is set in stone
- it can guide you towards any further reading needed
- it provides a strong logical structure before you plunge into distracting detail
- it can act as a useful basis for the introduction or conclusion
More notes on the core statement:
- It doesn’t have to be a single sentence, although the discipline of producing just one sentence is very helpful.
- A good core statement is not merely descriptive (e.g. telling us vaguely what the essay is about, without any insight, reasoning or conclusions). A simple list of facts or ideas is not a core statement.
- A good core statement is precise, concise and complete, rather than long-winded, over-simplified or fuzzy.
- Compose a draft of your core statement when you start to plan your essay, then revisit and rewrite it several times as your ideas develop.
- Consider producing core statements for each of your paragraphs.
Review a recent essay you have written, and condense its argument into a core statement of one or two sentences.
Your core statement should advance a thesis, which means that it must make an arguable assertion. To test whether your assertion is arguable, ask yourself whether it would be possible to argue the opposite. If not, it’s not a thesis, but more of a fact. For example:
- Not Arguable: ‘Computers are becoming an efficient mechanism for managing and transmitting information in large businesses.’ (Who is going to dispute this? It’s not an arguable assertion – it’s a fact.)
- Arguable: ‘Heavy use of computers may disrupt family cohesion and increase divorce in society.’ (This is arguable because many people may not believe it. It would make a good thesis.)
The core statement should be specific and avoid broad, vague generalisations. It should suggest the ‘why’ or ‘how’ behind your reasoning.
- Poor Specificity: ‘The Indians are portrayed better in Balún Canán than in Huasipungo.’ (This is more of a value statement than an argument and does not provide enough reasoning for the reader.)
- Better Specificity: ‘More detailed characterization and less reliance on racial stereotyping leads to a more accurate and sympathetic depiction of the condition of the Indians in Balún Canán.’
Good core statements often follow an ‘although… actually’ format. This is one of the most effective ways of finding something original and controversial to say. In effect, you are telling someone that what he or she thought to be previously true really isn’t. The very structure of your essay is therefore set up to deliver an insight beyond the obvious. Some examples:
- Although it appears that Huasipungo was written with the intention of creating sympathy in the reader for the socio-economic plight of the Indians, actually the text reinforces a number of racial stereotypes.
- Although many critics have argued that Lazarillo de Tormes follows a loose, episodic form, actually the narrative obeys a clear chronology and textual coherence is achieved through the repetition of themes and motifs.
(n.b. You may not wish to reproduce the ‘actually’ in your essay, which isn’t always necessary. It is often implied by the clause beginning ‘although’.)
Activity: Evaluating argument
Evaluate the following core statements according to the criteria set out above. Jot down your ideas before clicking below to access feedback for comparison with your answers.
- Marginality is a central theme of urban texts, a concept that not only affects people, but places, memory and history as well
- Although the Cairo Air Improvement Project is helping to decrease the pollution rate in Cairo, there are some parts of the project that may not be feasible to apply in Egypt, like using lead-free gasoline, using alternative resources, and raising the awareness of citizens
- The peculiar subjectivism and self-referentiality of Lorca’s mature poetry may initially lead the reader to consider his work as ‘apolitical’ and ‘non-ideological’. Yet Poeta en Nueva York in particular reveals Lorca’s capacity for highly motivated and politically committed poetry, a characteristic which is most clearly seen in his denunciation of the plight of New York’s black community
Target to take away:
Produce a core statement at the planning stage of your next essay. You could also write sub-statements for each of your paragraphs. These can often be used as the opening sentences of each paragraph.
Now click here to access feedback on the core statements above.