Rgument Essays

How to Write an Arguing a Position Essay in Nine Fun Steps:

Selecting an Issue, Researching it, and Writing the Essay

 The instructions here are meant to guide you through the process of the Arguing a Position Essay within the Language and Expression in Public Places topic area. You should also read Written Argument: Basic Principles. Be sure to read this before, or alongside your Arguing a Position Research Paper Prewriting. 

Index
[Click on item below to go directly to a topic]

I:     Preliminary Reading

II:    Selecting a Topic

III:   Develop a Question at Issue
       The Basic Requirements of Questions-at-Issue

IV:   Develop a "Working" Complete Thesis Statement
          A Complete Thesis Statement Contains Premises
      
A Checklist for Testing your "Working" Complete Thesis Statement

V:    Drafting
        How to Incorporate Opposing Views into your Draft
       Argument Designs/Structure (Refutation and Concession)
       Rogerian Model of Argument

VI:  Focused Research

VII:Source Integration
VIII: Revising and Editing

IX: Sample Student Essays

 

 

I: Preliminary Reading


To write a short argument, you first need to know what you're going argue about. You need to identify a particular issue within the broad topic area. Next, you need to read many articles and books written on the same issue by many other writers with varying perspectives. For this, refer back to Language and Expression in Public Places  as a launching pad for your reading and research in the subject area. Finally, you should be ready to write you own argument, incorporating the supporting evidence provided by those writers who are on your side, and responding to the claims made by those you disagree with. Read: Research Gathering.

II: Selecting a Topic

Stages II and III are worked on in the Prewriting exercise. See Prewriting, Arguing a Position. But first, in the early stages of the process (for any essay), read the essay specifications:

 

Arguing a Position Research Paper Specifications.


For the Arguing a Position Research Paper, note the "theme" area that you will be writing about: Language Issues in the Media. Thus, you will need to read a variety of essays written about different aspects of Language and Expression in Public Places. Refer back to Section I: Preliminary Reading.

Also read"Language and Expression Issues in Public Places" for advice on crafting questions at issue for the specific subject-matter area. Also see this list of potential topics and questions at issues brainstormed by some previous classes.


Practical tips for finding the issue you want to write about

1. READ. I can't overemphasize this enough. READ A LOT! Make sure you've read the the articles linked within the Language Issues in the Media lecture. You'll need to use your Proquest passwords.


2. RESEARCH! In addition to the readings I provide on the web site, hunt for more, to make sure the topic you choose is an issue, that there are arguments on both sides that can be found via a casual research hunt.. See Research Gathering and the Research and Reading Center as a jumping-off point.


3. Once you select a topic, check it against the Forbidden Essay Topics list. And also make sure your topic is an issue. See #2 above.


III: Develop a Question-at-Issue

 Once you select your "topic," you need to express that topic as an "issue."

Remember that is a "topic" is simply a subject. For instance, "free speech," stated as such, is simply a subject. (To illustrate some of my points, I am going to use the topic of "free speech" as a model, purely for educational purposes). If a writer were simply to enter into an essay writing about "free speech," the essay would lack a clear purpose. Is the purpose of writing about free speech to merely explain facts about it, or is the purpose more precise, such as debating a particular issue within the subject area of free speech, or solving a problem?

For the Arguing a Position Essay, your purpose would be to identify a particular "issue" within the subject of Language Issues in the Media, to express is as an issue, to take a position on a side of the issue, and argue your position. See samples of questions at issue here: Language Issues in the Media.

Before you develop a question-at-issue, however, let's make certain to have a clear understanding of what an "Issue" is. An issue is a topic of controversy where there are important stakes for many people . An "issue" is both controversial and important and has a public scope. The issue should have importance as a "public" issue, as something that would be debated in media: newspapers, television news, radio, internet, newsy-entertainment programming, etc.

The most important that makes a topic an issue is its controversial aspect. A "controversial" subject is one that provokes strong disagreement or disapproval from a large number of people. If a topic is expressed as an "issue," it should provoke an emotional reaction in many readers.

Another hallmark of an "issue" is that the audience will generally be split in its reaction. A large number of the audience will take one side of the issue whereas another large number will take the opposite side. If most people agree with a "stance" on an issue, then it may not be an issue. Here are some aspects of the subject of "Freedom of Speech" that are inherently controversial, when expressed as questions-at-issue:

  • Should the word "cripple" be banned from textbooks and school standardized tests?

  • Should novels containing racist language be banned from public libraries?

  • Should the word "retarded" be banned from public use?

  • Should American citizens who swear in public spaces be fined?

These questions all indicate controversy.

The Difference Between a Subject and a Question at issue:


General Language and Expression "subjects:
Mental retardation language.
How swearing changes over time.
Banned books in high school.
Religious context of language.
Sexual stereotypes.
Effectiveness of euphemisms
Censorship in education
Gender based stereotypes and images
Sexual harassment in academic environment
Using the word “obese” instead of “fat.”
Banning the word “hell” in books.
Change from “autistic” to “autism spectrum.”
Students being punished in schools for posts on the internets.
Controversial sports team names.

Questions at Issue

Should children be called “obese” instead of “fat” in medical contexts?
Should it be required in the medical community that the word “obese” be used instead of “fat”?

Should the word “hell” be banned in children’s story books?

Should the students who posted these lists be expelled for doing so?

Should the phrase “autism spectrum” be eliminated and the word “autistic” restored?

Should the Newark Public library cave to public pressure and remove the Kara Walker exhibit?

Should the Atlanta “Braves” (Seminoles/Utes/Illini Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs) change their team names?

 

The Basic Requirements of Questions-at-Issue

1. The question-at-issue should demand a yes/no response, so should use the typical verbs of "should" or "is" or "are"?

2. The topic must be clearly expressed as an "issue," i.e. topic of concern or controversy.

3. The scope of the issue must be narrow and manageable.

 4. The issue must be within the general theme areas of Language and Fear in the Media.

 

A Question at issue should demand a yes or no response (Sample Questions at issue)

Stating your topic in the form of a question at issue will help you focus your research by clarifying your “working” stance on the issue. The question will usually start with the word “Should.” Examples:

Sample Questions within the Using Language in Public Subject Area

  • Should those in the media lose their jobs for swearing, even if unintentional?
  • Should certain words or images be banned from primary school textbooks?
  • Should gender-specific pronouns be banned from school textbooks?
  • Should swearing in any form be allowable on primetime network television?

More Examples of Questions at Issue Drawn from Language and Expression in Public Places

In the Language and Expression in Public Places page, I included a number of news articles relating to language and free speech. Based on those articles, many of them "cases," a number of questions at issue can be developed.

Yahoo Journalist Fired for Saying Mitt Romney Doesn’t Care About Black People

Narrow focus:

Should David Chalian have been fired for his saying Mitt Romney doesn't care about black people?

Broader focus:

Should television news broadcasters have the right to voice their opinions, even if offensive, without the fear of losing their positions?

Newsroom Noose Fuels Sensitivity Debate at MCTC


Narrow focus:

 

Should Gabriel Keith have been expelled from MCTC for displaying a noose image?


Broader focus:

 

Should people accused of using discriminating images or language be forgiven if they did not "intend" to offend?

Parent offended by lesson in vocabulary

Narrow focus:

Should Stephanie Bell be fired for using the word "niggardly" in a vocabulary test?

Broader focus:

Should any words be banned from use in public school standardized tests?


The Scope of the Issue should be Manageable

Once your topic is selected, the most important work follows: selecting an aspect of the issue to write about. This can only be done accurately through the question at issue. In the prewriting, you should compose many questions at issue about the issue you select before deciding on the one that is most narrow, unique, and interesting. Here are examples of the above topic sentences, with the issues emboldened and the aspects of the issues underlined:

  • Should gender specific pronouns be banned from school textbooks?

  • Should certain words or images be banned from primary school textbooks?

  • Should swearing in any form be allowable television?

The aspect of the question at issue must be narrow enough to explore in a short essay. Simply put, don’t take on too large a question. Examples of questions-at-issue that are too broad to address in a short argument:

  • Is Global Warming a legitimate threat to the planet?

Here, the issue is clear, but the aspect is too large to explore in a short essay; the aspect of "the planet" covers too broad an area of study and demands more work from the writer than the writer has space for.

Narrower Question at issue:

  • Should the United States Government ban all productsthat produce methane?

The aspect here is much narrower; instead of exploring global warming at a planetary level, the writer is focused in on a more manageable aspect of global warming: “methane.”

Broad Questions:

Should swearing be allowed on television?

Should certain words or images be banned from textbooks?

 

Narrower Revisions:
 

Should swearing in any form be allowed on primetime network television?

Should certain words or images be banned from primary school textbooks?

 

IV: Develop a "Working" Complete Thesis Statement

The next step, after selecting your question-at-issue, is to answer the question at issue with a full statement that indicates your working stance on the issue and your working reasons of support, or premises. Your answer will be your working thesis. A "working" thesis means that your thesis is preliminary and subject to revision as you move through the writing process from prewriting to drafting to revision.

To convert your question to a statement, move and change the main verb depending on you answer to the question. For example, if the answer to the question “Should swearing in form be banned from network primetime television?” is "yes," then write as the following statement:

  • Swearing in any form should be banned from network primetime television.

If your answer to the question-at-issue is "no," then add the word "not":

  • Swearing in any form should not be allowed on network primetime television.

A Complete Thesis Statement Contains Premises

 Complete thesis statements are main points that also contain the main premises of support, in the order that they are addressed in the essay. With a complete thesis statement in the introduction of the essay, you are setting up the basic structure of the argument. The whole purpose of the body of the argument should be to develop and support each of the premises stated in the thesis.

A premise, simply put, is a "proposition upon which an argument is based." In other words, a premise is a sound "reason," and reasons should be "arguable" rather than factual. Premises must be supportable. A "sound" premise is one that is supported by fact, not a fact in and of itself. Your job in the body of the essay is to provide, by reasoning and research, the factual information that will support the truth of each premise.

 Here are two examples of solid complete thesis statements:

  • Swearing in any form should be allowed on network primetime television because often it is a necessary element to the realism of fictional stories, especially dramas; also, attempting to hide socially perceived inappropriate language only makes its use more appealing to youngsters. Finally, cuss words are an integral, powerful part of the human language that help to clarify meaning rather than cloud it, which make them, in a real sense, educational. 

  • The United States government should not ban all products that produce methane, especially cows, because the meat from cows provides critical nutritional elements necessary for the American diet, the milk is necessary for the strength of American bones and a preventative mechanism for various diseases such as Osteoperosis. Finally, no animals, whether domesticated or wild, including humans, should be discriminated against for being physiologically flatulent.

In outline form, the complete thesis would look like this, and thus set the basis for the draft of the essay:

Thesis:Swearing in any form should be allowed on network primetime television

Premise One: it is a necessary element to the realism of fictional stories, especially dramas

Premise Two: attempting to hide socially perceived inappropriate language only makes its use more appealing to youngsters

Premise Three:cuss words are an integral, powerful part of the human language that help to clarify meaning rather than cloud it, which make them, in a real sense, educational


See:
 Complete thesis statement examples from past students, with feedback.

 

A Checklist for Testing your Complete Thesis Statement

 1. Is the topic on the Forbidden  Topicslist?

2. Is the topic clearly in one of the theme areas of Language and/or Fear in the Media without having to create an elaborate argument to wedge it in?

3. Is the topic an "issue" (a "topic of concern or controversy")? See The Difference between an Issue and a Problem.

4. Does the writer take a clear position on the issue?

5. Is the scope of the issue narrow and manageable?

6. Are the premises included to form a "complete" thesis, and are they arguable?

 

V: Drafting the Essay

 The draft is your first attempt at the essay. The word "attempt" is really key. There's no need to try and be perfect about everything. Your job here is to take your "working" complete thesis statement and continue on, defending each of your own premises as best you can with your own reasoning as well as incorporating strong supporting sources. See Research Gathering to begin your hunt for supporting research and MLA Research Incorporation and Citation for instructions on how to include and cite your sources in the essay.

 In addition to supporting research (support for your premises and thus the thesis), you should also work strongly to incorporate opposing viewpoints into your essay. Opposing viewpoints are often experts in the subject area you are writing about, and other people affected by your issue who have viewpoints in opposing to your own. It is critical to include those points-of-view and to argue against them.

The way to include both supporting research and opposing research is to model your essay in Full Argument structure. The basic structure of the argument draft should be derived from your complete thesis statement and should be in Full Argument form.

Once you include opposing views into your argument and interact with them, you can consider your argument full. An argument in which only your views are presented and supported, which you will do in your draft, is not an argument, since an argument has opposing views. Instead, your argument should be Full Structure. The basic strategies below for creating a full argument are called "point-by-point" argument. Your premises equal the words "points" in this context. In math, it would look like this:

Premise = Point

The most typical, and probably best, strategy for integrating opponents into an argument is to think of argument as a reasoned discussion, as mentioned in the Written Argument: Basic Principleslecture, where those with contrary views argue particular opposing "points" on an issue; these points are what in your draft are referred to as "premises," the arguable reasons, or main points, that support your position on the issue. Your job, after you have drafted and clarified your own points and support for you points, it to now include viewpoints contrary to your own and then respond to those points, either with agreement (concession) or disagreement (refutation). Essentially, your aim is to hopefully respond to opposing "points" with the points, or "premises" you should have already developed and supported in your draft. Your job now, then, is to integrate opposing view"points" into your argument, and the detailed strategies are seen below, but first, for education purposes, here is a fake argument using the concession/refutation (point-by-point) argument model:

 

For point-by-point argument, the "ideal" is to argue against an opposing viewpoint for each of your own points. If the points/premises are arguable, then there should logically be a contrary argument to the particular point, and so that is what you should hunt for on your research: the points opposite to your own. If there are no points contrary to your own, then your point may not be "arguable" and may need to be revised.

Structurally, then, introduce discussion of each point/premise with the opponent's contrary view, and then refute with your own premise. The goal here is for you, the writer in control of the argument, have the final say.

Example: If someone argues that global warming is real and the first premise/reason is that the "weather across the globe is becoming extreme," then the opposing view would be that "extreme weather is a part of natural climate cycles that have occurred throughout history." Thus, the writer has found an opposing "point" (rather than just another writer who disagrees with the thesis itself. So then an intro of that point/premise might look like this in the essay:

          "Those who disagree that global warming is a concern argue that extreme weather cycles are naturally
            occurring phenomena, and their support is as follows [provide opponent's support here, then refute:]; however,
            what are seen as natural cycles are actually caused by increased climatic temperatures caused by the
            global warming process. For instance . . ."

Another example: Say that Student Bill is writing an essay that argues that all public school students should be required to submit to drug tests (thesis) and one of his main premises is that it will ensure "student safety from the influence of drugs."

What Bill will want to find, through research, are not simply viewpoints that contradict his thesis about the drug tests, but viewpoints that contradict his "point," or premise, about "safety." The key word in opposing "viewpoints" is "points." Once Bill finds an opposing point to his safety premise, he will convert safety premise from his draft into a refutation.

Rule: In your essay, your "premises" should become "refutations" to opposing views; thus, opposing views should be placed before your refutations (formerly known as premises) so that you have the final word on the point.

Here's how Bill might write it out in the essay, to introduce his first premise (and the key here is that he will introduce his premise with the opposing viewpoint):

               Jerry Jeff Walker, a founder of Americans for the Right to Freedom and Security, asserts that forcing
        public school students to take mandatory drug tests will only increase drug use because students will react
        angrily to the mandate ("Safety in Numbers"). However, Walker is incorrect. Though some students may
        react angrily, the influence of drugs in the schools will be greatly lessened by testing.


Now that Bill has effectively introduced his premise by addressing the opposing view first, at least a little, with an overview of the opponents position in the point (and note he is summarized and citing and actual opposing view, which is ideal), Bill's job now is to provide support for his "safety" premise, with the purpose of refuting  the opposing view and thus having the final word on the matter before moving onto the next point/premise.

To break down the preceding paragraph, here are the basic parts, in order:

1. The opposing viewpoint:"Jerry Jeff Walker, a founder of Americans for the Right to Freedom and Security, asserts that forcing public school  students to take mandatory drug tests will only increase drug use because students will react angrily to the mandate."

2. The turn to Refutation: "However, Walker is incorrect."


3. The Refutation (which used to be merely a premise)
: "Though some students many react angrily, the influence of drugs in the schools will be greatly lessened by testing."

Note that this example is a brief inclusion of an opposing viewpoint rather than a through one. A thorough inclusion of an opposing view may be a complete paragraph devoted to stating the opposing premise, including the opponent's supporting reasons as well, in more detail. In the above example, Student Bill at least gives the main reason of support for the opponent's view ("because students will react angrily," which is good). Then, the next paragraph would begin the "turn to refutation".

Now, what follows is a more formal, detailed presentation of the Refutation and Concession/ Point-by-Point argument model:

Argument Design/Structure (Refutation and Concession)

Refutation Model of Argument ("Full Argument" design).

 

(Also refer to the Rogerian Model of Argument section in The Art of Thinking.)

I: Introduction.

Define the issue for the reader by presenting a respectful overview (summary and/or paraphrase) of another writer or speaker's opposing overall thesis to your own, and then by contrast ("however"), state your thesis, which should directly oppose the arguer's, and your premises (reasons to support your thesis).

II: Body of Essay

Begin discussion of each of your premises by stating a contrary position to your premise from the opponent you summarized in the introduction, and then refute the premise with strong reasoning and support, such as:

  • Analogies (comparisons with other similar subjects)
  • Anecdotes (relevant stories from real events)
  • Facts from research
  • Statistics
  • Historical cases 
  • Scenarios (imagined stories that reveal likely consequences)

III: Conclusion. The conclusion should be more developed than in a typical argument, because your purpose will be to summarize with some sort of compromise between the two alternative positions, while at the same time not giving up on your thesis.

 

See: Opposing Views Exercise and this sample essay, which effectively employs basic point-by-point design: "Why not to be Scared of the Avian Flu".

VI: Focused Research

Recommended Reading: "Library and Internet Research," The St. Martin's Guide to Writing, page 728+.

Once you have a working complete thesis and a draft done, start narrowing the focus of your research, hunting for research in your subject area to incorporate into your second draft and/or revision, and even more specifically, 1) for research that supports your premises, and 2) Opposing viewpoints to your own.

Begin here and refer back to these resources often:

      Research Gathering
      Evaluating Sources: Bias and Credibility
      Research Incorporation and Citation
      Anoka Ramsey Library

          Gale "Opposing Views" Database
        
         EBSCO
         MnLink

 

VII: Source Integration and the Annotated Bibliography.

There are two main purposes to integrating sources, both of which are subservient to your main purpose of formulating your own argument:

1)Supporting Sources. Strengthening your premises/claims by using such things as expert sources, data and statistics. The key for source support is not merely to find experts who will "repeat" your claims, but to find evidence that will "support" your claims.


2) Opposing Views. To place viewpoints into your argument that contradict your own specific points/premises, and to then refute or concede to (see next section) those points. A refutation is a response to claim, or a “come-back,” as some like to call it, that argues against a point; a concession indicates a point of agreement.

 

One of your jobs here is to begin gathering sources and analyzing them through the Annotated Bibliography

 

In order to know good source material from bad source material, you need to evaluate for credibility and bias. Read, Evaluating Sources: Bias and Credibility.

Once you decide which sources to include in your argument, integrate them smoothly into the flow of your argument by understanding the mechanics of Research Incorporation and Citation


VIII: Revising and Editing

After writing your draft – the first attempt at the essay – check to be sure you’re fairly close to sound Full Argument Structure, and lastly, check the essay forEditing, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

Read the specific essay specifications again to make sure you've hit all the points: word count, source requirements, formatting, etc.

 

Arguing a Position Essay on the term "Stranger Danger."
"Why not to be Scared of the Avian Flu".

 

© 2016, Scott Wrobel

In The Uses of Argument, first published in 1958, Stephen Toulmin proposed a new model for the layout of arguments, with six components: claim, data, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal, backing. Toulmin’s model has been appropriated, adapted and extended by researchers in the fields of speech communications, philosophy and artificial intelligence. The present volume aims to bring together the best contemporary reflection in these fields on the Toulmin model and its current appropriation. The volume includes 24 articles by 27 scholars from 10 countries. All the essays are newly written, have been selected from among those received in response to a call for papers, and have been revised extensively in response to referees’ comments. They are not exegetical but substantive, extending or challenging Toulmin’s ideas in ways that make fresh contributions to the theory of analysing and evaluating arguments. Collectively, they represent the only comprehensive book-length study of the Toulmin model. They point the way to new developments in the theory of argument, including a typology of warrants, a comprehensive theory of defeaters, a rapprochement with formal logic, and a turn from propositions to speech acts as the constituents of argument.

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