Argumentation

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the purpose, structure, and style of an argumentative essay

Argumentative Essays

A politician at a debate.

Figure 1. In political debate, politicians often tackle controversial topics. These same types of topics, where you are asked to defend a certain point of view, are often suitable for an argumentative essay.

When you hear the word “argument,” what do you think of? Maybe you think of a shouting match or a fistfight? Well, when instructors use the word “argument,” they’re actually referring to is a position supported by the analysis; they’re talking about defending a certain point of view through writing or speech. Usually called a “claim” or a “thesis,” this point of view is concerned with an issue that doesn’t have a clear right or wrong answer (e.g., four and two make six). Also, this argument should not center around personal opinion (e.g., I really like carrots). Instead, an argument attempt to convince the reader about the validity of the author’s point of view (e.g., gun control should be imposed because it will eliminate school shootings). The argumentative essay (sometimes called a persuasive essay) is one of the most common types of essays you’ll encounter in college courses. People can and often do disagree with the argument you make in an argumentative essay, which is precisely why so many instructors find this type of assignment so useful—it makes you think.

What distinguishes an argumentative essay from a descriptive essay or “report” is that the argument must take a stance; if you’re merely summarizing “both sides” of an issue or pointing out the “pros and cons,” you’re not really writing an argument. For example, “Stricter gun control laws will likely result in a decrease in gun-related violence” is an argument. In contrast, “A survey of research studies indicates that gun control laws may decrease gun-related violence” is a discussion of research that does not center on persuasion. In the latter example, the writer might disagree with the quality of the research studies, but the task is to discuss, not persuade.

Key Takeaways

While argument essays usually “articulate an opinion,” this opinion is always carefully defended with good reasoning and supported by plenty of research. Part of learning to write effective arguments is finding reliable sources (or other documents) that lend credibility to your position. It’s not enough to say “capital punishment is wrong because that’s the way I feel.”

We will examine techniques for writing argumentative essays more closely when we learn about argumentation in more detail, but for now, look at these options for organizing an argumentative essay. Remember, the discussion below is to help you think about how to get started; it is not the only way to think about approaching an argumentative essay. In college, we always want to strive for organic rather than formulaic writing.

Argumentative Essay Organization

The two most common organization methods for the argument essay are as follows: the block method, with arguments supporting your position, then a rebuttal at the end, or an essay that includes the rebuttal throughout. The block example is shown below:

  1. Introduction & Thesis Statement
    1. Background information on topic: this section is necessary for solution arguments but sometimes unnecessary for position arguments. Here you could give details about the history of the death penalty, definitions, or the severity of the problem. This is sometimes included in the introduction or introduced following the introduction.
    2. Statement of your position on the topic (thesis)
    3. Overview of arguments to be presented (structure)
  2. Body paragraphs:
    1. Topic sentence outlining first argument
      1. First claim: For death penalty because it will stop overcrowding
    2. Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      1. Give statistics on overcrowding
      2. Give statistics on future problems if no solution is provided
      3. Explain how the process will help
      4. Explain how/if appeal process is limited this will further help the situation
    3. Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    4. Transition
  3. 2nd claim: For the death penalty because it will stop repeat offenders
    1. Give statistics on repeat offenders who commit murder
    2. Give statistics if this is not stopped
    3. Explain how the process would work if implemented
    4. Explain how this would also stop overcrowding because repeat offenders would not be
      imprisoned
    5. Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
  4. Following body paragraphs
    1. These follow the same structure for as many arguments as you wish to put forward in support of the topic.
  5. Rebuttal: Rebuttal of antideath penalty arguments
    1. List a few of the opposition’s counterarguments (three)
    2. Take each one, one at a time, and supply statistics to prove it wrong, example would be to
      prove that innocent people won’t be executed
    3. #2 Rebuttal: No other democracy uses it, their side, your side with statistics to prove them
      wrong
    4. #3 Rebuttal: Death penalty cheapens the value of life: their side, your side with statistics to
      back it up.
    5. Transition
  6. Conclusion
    1. Summary of the main points of the body
    2. Call to action

Remember, the template above is suggested to help you organize your thinking. An organic approach to an argumentative essay does not have to follow this exact formula!

SAmple Argumentative Essay

In this student paper, the student makes a persuasive case for the value of technical high schools in Georgia. As you read, pay attention to the different persuasive devices the writer uses to convince us of her position. Also note how the outline gives a structure to the paper that helps lead the reader step-by-step through the components of the argument.

Outline

Elizabeth Lamoureux
Dr. X
English 1101 Honors
April 25, 2019

Outline

Thesis: Technical high schools should be established in every county in Georgia because they can provide the technical training that companies need, can get young people into the workforce earlier, and can reduce the number of dropouts.

  1. Technical high schools can provide the technical training that companies in
    Georgia need.

    1. Businesses can provide input regarding jobs needed in specific technical fields.
      1. Education can focus on these specific technical fields.
      2. Education can work with businesses to fill these positions.
    2. Businesses can provide apprenticeship programs.
      1. Apprenticeship programs can be a vital part of a student’s education.
      2. Apprenticeship programs are integral to Germany’s educational program, providing a realistic model for technical high schools in Georgia.
  2. Technical high schools can prepare students to enter the workforce earlier.
    1. Students not interested in college can enter the workforce upon high school graduation.
      1. Students train during their high school years for their chosen profession.
      2. Students begin to work in a profession or trade where there is a need.
    2. Students can begin to earn a living upon graduation.
      1. Students will become independent and self-supporting at the age of eighteen when many of their peers are still dependent upon their parents.
      2. Students can make more money over the course of their lifetimes.
  3. Technical high schools can reduce the number of dropouts.
    1. Students would stay in school because they take courses that they enjoy.
      1. Students are more motivated to take courses in which they have an interest.
      2. Students will find both core and specialized classes more interesting and valuable when they can see the practical application of the subjects.
    2. Students would no longer need to drop out to support their families.
      1. Students would be able to earn a living wage while still taking classes that would eventually lead to full-time employment.
      2. Students would learn financial skills through experience with money management.

Student Essay

Elizabeth Lamoureux
Dr. X
English 1101 Honors
April 25, 2019

 

The Value of Technical High Schools in Georgia’s Business Marketplace

Businesses need specialized workers; young people need jobs. It seems like this would be an easy problem to solve. However, business and education are not communicating with each other. To add to this dilemma, emphasis is still put on a college education for everyone. Samuel Halperin, study director of the Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship for the W. T. Grant Foundation, co-authored two reports: “The Forgotten Half: Non-College Youth in America” and “The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families.” Halperin states: “While the attention of the nation was focused on kids going to college . . . the truth is that 70 percent of our adults never earn a college degree” (qtd. in Rogers). According to an article in Issues in Science and Technology, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be more need for skills obtained through “community colleges, occupational training, and work experience” (Lerman). As Anne C. Lewis points out, although the poor job situation is recognized as detrimental to American youth, President Bush tried to get rid of career and technical education (CTE) and “promote strictly academic programs.” Luckily, Congress did not support it (Lewis 5). The figure for U.S. teen joblessness in October 2009 was 27.6 percent, the highest since World War II (Karaim). According to Thomas E. Persing, Americans are “disregarding the 50 percent who enter college and fail to graduate. . . .” Since everyone does not want or need to go to college, young people need an alternative choice, namely, technical high schools. Technical high schools should be established in every county in Georgia because they can provide the technical training that companies need, can get young people into the workforce earlier, and can reduce the number of dropouts.

Technical high schools provide students with the technical training that companies need. By getting input from businesses on exactly what their specialized needs are, school systems could adapt their curricula to accommodate the needs of businesses. According to an article in Issues in Science and Technology, “employers report difficulty in recruiting workers with adequate skills.” The article goes on to say that “the shortage of available skills is affecting their ability to serve customers, and 84% of the firms say that the K-12 school system is not doing a good job preparing students for the workplace” (Lerman). Education can work with businesses to provide them with the workforce they need, and students can learn the skills they need through apprenticeship programs.

Businesses can be further involved by providing these apprenticeship programs, which can be a vital part of a student’s education. Currently, Robert Reich, economist and former Secretary of Labor, and Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, have spoken up for apprenticeship programs (Persing). In these programs, not only do students learn job-specific skills, but they also learn other skills for success in the workplace, such as “communication, responsibility, teamwork, allocating resources, problem-solving, and finding information” (Lerman). Businesses complain that the current educational system is failing in this regard and that students enter the workforce without these skills.

The United States could learn from other countries. Apprenticeship programs are integral to Germany’s educational program, for example. Because such large numbers of students in a wide array of fields take advantage of these programs, the stigma of not attending college is reduced. Timothy Taylor, the Conversable Economist, explains that most German students complete this program and still have the option to pursue a post-secondary degree. Many occupations are represented in this program, including engineering, nursing, and teaching. Apprenticeship programs can last from one to six years and provide students with a wage for learning. This allows both business and student to compete in the market place. According to Julie Rawe, “under Germany’s earn-while-you-learn system, companies are paying 1.6 million young adults to train for about 350 types of jobs. . . .”

A second important reason technical high schools should be promoted in Georgia is that they prepare students to enter the workforce earlier. Students not interested in college enter the workforce upon high school graduation or sooner if they have participated in an apprenticeship or other cooperative program with a business. Students train during their high school years for their chosen profession and often work for the company where they trained. This ensures that students begin to work in a profession or trade where there is a need.

Another positive factor is that jobs allow students to earn a living upon graduation or before. Even though students are considered adults at eighteen, many cannot support themselves. The jobs available to young people are primarily minimum wage jobs which do not provide them with enough resources to live independently. One recent study indicates that the income gap is widening for young people, and In March 1997, more than one-fourth of out-of-school young adults who were working full-time were earning less than the poverty line income standard of just over $16,000 annually for a family of four” (“The Forgotten Half Revisited”). Conversely, by entering the workforce earlier with the skills businesses need, young people make more money over their lifetimes. Robert I. Lerman considers the advantages:

Studies generally find that education programs with close links to the world of work improve earnings. The earnings gains are especially solid for students unlikely to attend or complete college. Cooperative education, school enterprises, and internship or apprenticeship increased employment and lowered the share of young men who are idle after high school. Young people can obviously profit from entering the workforce earlier.

One of the major benefits of promoting technical high schools in Georgia is that they reduce the number of dropouts. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the figure for dropouts for the Atlanta metro area is about thirty-four percent (McCaffrey and Badertscher A16). The statistic for Germany’s dropout rate is less than nine percent (Rawe). As Rawe maintains, students stay in school because they cannot get the job if they do not have the diploma. Beyond the strong incentive of a job, students are more motivated to take courses in which they have an interest. In addition to the specialized career classes, students are still required to take core classes required by traditional high schools. However, practical application of these subjects makes them more interesting and more valuable to the students.

Another reason students drop out is to support their families. By participating in a program in which they are paid a wage and then entering that job full time, they no longer need to drop out for this reason. It is necessary for many students to contribute financially to the family: by getting a job earlier, they can do this. Joining the workforce early also provides students with financial skills gained through experience with money management.

The belief of most Americans that everyone needs to have a college education is outdated. The United States needs skilled employees at all levels, from the highly technical to the practical day to day services society needs to sustain its current standard of living. Germany is doing this through its apprenticeship programs which have proven to be economically successful for both businesses and workers. If the State of Georgia put technical high schools in every county, businesses would get employees with the skills they need; young people would get into good-paying jobs earlier, and schools would have fewer dropouts.


Works Cited

“The Forgotten Half Revisited: American Youth and Young Families, 1988-2008.” American Youth Policy Forum. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

 

Karaim, Reed. “Youth Unemployment.” CQ Global Researcher 6 Mar. 2012: 105-28. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

 

Lerman, Robert I. “Building a Wider Skills Net for Workers: A Range of Skills Beyond Conventional Schooling Are Critical to Success in the Job Market, and New Educational Approaches Should Reflect These Noncognitive Skills and Occupational Qualifications.” Issues in Science and Technology 24.4 (2008): 65+. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

 

Lewis, Anne C. “Support for CTE.” Tech Directions 65.3 (2005): 5-6. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Apr. 2019.

 

McCaffrey, Shannon, and Nancy Badertscher. “Painful Truth in Grad Rates.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution 15 Apr. 2012: A1+. Print.

 

Persing, Thomas E. “The Role of Apprenticeship Programs.” On Common Ground. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Fall 1994. Web. 16 Apr. 2019.

 

Rawe, Julie. “How Germany Keeps Kids From Dropping Out.” Time Magazine U.S. Time Magazine, 11 Apr. 2006. Web. 16 Apr. 2019.

 

Rogers, Betsy. “Remembering the ‘Forgotten Half.'” Washington University in St. Louis Magazine Spring 2005. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

 

Taylor, Timothy. “Apprenticeships for the U.S. Economy.” Conversableeconomist.blogspot.com. Conversable Economist, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2019 <http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2011/10/apprenticeships-for-us- Economy.html>.

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