Structuring Argument in Your Paper

In a traditional argument-based paper, the claim is generally stated in the thesis (often at the end of the introduction), with the reasons appearing as the topic sentences of body paragraphs. The content of the body paragraphs is then focused on providing the evidence that supports the topic sentences, ultimately supporting the claim. Such organization helps to ensure that the argument is always at the forefront of the writing, since it provides guideposts in key places to direct the reader’s attention to what the author wants to persuade him/her of. There may be occasions, though, when it is preferable to delay stating the claim until later. Sometimes, particularly if the audience is likely to be so opposed to your position that you are concerned they may not read further if your claim appears at the start of the paper, it is preferable to postpone stating the claim until after the reasons and evidence have been provided. Doing so allows you to demonstrate the merits of your case, hopefully persuading your reader in the process, before explicitly stating the claim that the reader may have been hesitant to accept initially. Note that this approach is more of an exception than the rule, so you should anticipate you likely will not format your argument-based papers in this way.

In addition, regardless of what the reasons are that you plan to use to support your claim, they will not be equal in their strength/ability to do so. Realistically, the reasons will fall along a spectrum from strongest to weakest (note that “weakest” does not mean weak), so, when writing an argument-based paper, you will need to determine the best order in which to place your reasons. The most common suggestion for ordering is to place your weakest reasons in the middle of the paper, with your strongest appearing at the beginning and end. This approach makes sense in terms of wanting to show the reader early in the writing that your claim is backed by sound reasoning and to leave him/her with a final impression that your argument is solid. You also should consider the complexity of the reasons, though; if some of your ideas are more complicated to understand than others, you will need to strike a balance between strength and complexity in the structure to ensure that your reader is not only persuaded throughout the paper, but also that he/she can fully understand the logical progression from one point to the next.

organizing reasons effectively

Imagine that you are assigned an argument paper that must focus on an education-related issue, with the audience consisting of your peers. You select as your claim the idea that all undergraduate writing courses that fulfill a general education requirement should include a tutor, who would attend all class meetings and assist students as needed. As you plan your paper, you decide to use the following reasons to support your claim:

  1. Students may be more comfortable seeking individualized help with their writing from a peer (advanced undergraduate student or graduate student) than their instructor.
  2. The tutor could provide valuable feedback to the instructor to assist him/her with teaching that students may be uncomfortable  sharing or otherwise unable to do so.
  3. Student grades and retention would improve.

To support the first reason, your evidence consists of anecdotes from fellow students. To support the second and third reasons, your evidence consists of published research that suggests these benefits. In what order would you place the reasons in your paper, and why?