Building an Essay around an Argument: Starting with a Simple Formula

Building an Essay around an Argument: Starting with a Simple Formula

By Chris Cherry

Almost every academic essay that you will write in college boils down to you saying the following: “This is what I think and this is why I’m right.” You will always be presenting a position and defending it with arguments and evidence. So it’s usually a good idea to organize you essay with this in mind.

Before you begin writing, ask yourself three questions, and then work up responses to these through invention (brainstorming, prewriting—whatever you call it!):

  1. Based on an informed analysis, what do I think about the topic? This will become your thesis statement.
  2. What are three arguments in support of my position? (These will become the topics of your body paragraphs. If you come up with more than three, all the better. But three is a good number to start with.)
  3. How does the text or my own research support my position? (This will become your evidence, usually in quotes, but also through paraphrase or summary.   And always interpret the evidence for your reader—they won’t know why you’ve chosen the evidence unless you tell them.)

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can form the basic outline of your argument, which will look like this:

  1. Thesis statement (“This is what I think”)
    1. First argument in support of thesis (“I’m right because…”)
      1. Evidence (“This is why that’s true…”)
      2. Evidence (“….and the text agrees with me. Note xx, xx, and xx about the quote”)
    2. Second argument (“I’m also right because…”)
      1. Evidence (“This is why that’s true…”)
      2. Evidence (“….and the text agrees with me. Note xx, xx, and xx about the quote”)
    3. Third argument (“Finally, I’m right because…”)
      1. Evidence (“This is why that’s true…”)
      2. Evidence (“….and the text agrees with me. Note xx, xx, and xx about the quote”)

Notice that everything is under the thesis statement. Every body paragraph that you write should be about proving that thesis statement correct.

  1. Thesis Statement
    1. First Argument
    2. Second Argument
    3. Third Argument

In the same way, every sentence that you write in a body paragraph should be about proving that argument true.

(Note: This method gives you an outline to your argument, but not all of the essay. Don’t forget your introduction and conclusion. Also, a paragraph offering background information about your topic is also sometimes required for your argument to make sense.)

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