Strategies for Making a Successful Argument

When preparing to write an argument-based paper, you need a plan to make the process go as efficiently and successfully as possible. Below are some tips to help.

  1. Don’t decide on your claim until you have completed at least some preliminary research. It’s okay to have an opinion about the topic in the early stages of planning your argument, but, if you decide on your position before familiarizing yourself with others’ claims, reasons, and evidence, then you’re committing yourself to a premature stance.
  2. Read broadly. When conducting your research don’t focus only on sources that may agree with your preliminary/tentative position. You need to read as much as possible to understand the range of opinions on the topic, which you may want and/or need to incorporate into your paper and, where necessary, rebut to further strengthen your argument.
  3. Manage the source material you consult. Your personal preferences and assignment instructions will affect how you approach your research, but make sure as you read sources that you annotate (take notes on) the material, identifying the author’s/authors’ claim, reasons, and evidence. Being engaged in the text and understanding the author’s main purpose and audience will assist you in gathering the best source information to help you defend and support your own argument. In addition, as you draft, make sure to carefully and accurately document any content that must be cited; doing so will ensure that proper credit is given and plagiarism is avoided.
  4. Re-read sources, especially those that present complex, nuanced arguments. Just as you wouldn’t want your audience to mistake what you are arguing, you want to avoid misinterpreting what your sources’ authors are arguing as well.
  5. Change your claim if your position changes. Sometimes, during the course of our research and/or writing, we realize that our beliefs have changed, and we no longer support the position we once did. Provided that there is time to revise your writing before the deadline, if your position changes, your claim should also. Don’t argue an opinion you no longer agree with if you can avoid doing so.