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Assignment Guide: The Argumentative Essay


For this assignment, you will be writing an argumentative essay–a piece of writing that requires you to take a position, what rhetoricians call a claim, on a debatable topic (that is, a topic with more than one side). Specifically, you will present a policy claim where you argue for or against a change of some kind. This claim should be supported by reliable, credible evidence (i.e. scholarly sources) backed by research. In addition to presenting your claim, you will also need to acknowledge the other side, which is called the counterargument.



Length: This assignment should be at least 750 words.


Supporting Points: Plan to develop at least three strong supporting points to accompany your thesis and at least one counter. Each supporting point should equate to at least one body paragraph.


Page Formatting: See Appendix C – Formatting and Submitting Your Work. Please underline your thesis statement.


MLA Requirements: See Formatting your Essay: MLA 8th Edition



When we talk about argument writing, we are not talking about an emotional and heated argument, but one that is neutral in tone and uses evidence/facts to convince your readers of a claim. Your argument is your claim, or the point that you want to convince readers of–in this instance, you will be making a claim for or against a policy change. Because everything depends on the strength of this claim (and the supporting points that you use to scaffold it), the organizational structure of an argumentative essay is incredibly important to its success. Every idea, topic sentence, paragraph, and page should always align with your argumentative claim. Be sure that you use scholarly evidence purposefully to support the claim you are making and do not veer too much into exploratory or informative writing, which is trickier than it sounds. You’ll also need to think carefully about how to integrate researched evidence with your own ideas, to build a fully developed and supported stance throughout. Finally, you will want to acknowledge the counterargument in the body paragraphs, even if you cannot refute it entirely.


Rhetorical Considerations


Remember that this is an argumentative essay: that means your goal is to prove your claim for or against a policy change to readers. This piece of writing should be aimed at convincing readers through the inclusion of a strong argumentative thesis, specific supporting points, acknowledgement of the counter, and carefully chosen scholarly evidence.



The argumentative essay is written for someone else–a community of readers that is most impacted by the policy you are proposing to change (or keep the same). In this instance, you are writing to argue for or against a change (and thus convince readers that a change should or should not occur). Keep this audience in mind by angling everything in your essay towards a strong argument that can appeal to a more general population.



This is a formal writing project, written in third-person, relying on strong organizational strategies, integrating researched evidence (the academic sources you choose), and following MLA formatting guidelines.



Selecting the right topic is an important step in ensuring your success in writing a Argumentative essay. You’ll want to choose a topic that has the following features:


Of interest to you





Narrow in scope

Academic or “scholarly” in nature

Topics to avoid, as they are either too complex to argue in a single essay, or not considered appropriate for an academic or scholarly essay, are as follows:


The death penalty

Euthanasia or self-assisted death


The (il)legalization of drugs (e.g. marijuana)

Religion or religious readings (e.g. existence of a higher order/being, or life after death)

Gun rights/rules

Global warming

Please do not select one of the above 7 topics, as your essay may be returned without grading, and you will be asked to rewrite it.


Need assignment ideas?


Take a look at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center for topic ideas and additional resources.


Mini-Lesson on ETHOS – PATHOS – LOGOS

Plan to use these appeals heavily throughout your Argumentative essay.




This is an ethical appeal. It relies on your reliability and credibility as the author.


Includes reliable sources

Is written from an unbiased perspective

Shows the writer’s expertise through the presentation of careful insight and research



This is an emotional appeal. It relies on the construction of careful connection between the claims presented and the emotions of the readers.


Includes the writer’s values and beliefs

Uses stories or examples that convey emotion

Contains broader appeal and focus



This is an appeal to logic and reason. It relies on facts and figures that can convince the reader of the claims.


Relies on fact and opinion

Focuses on reasonable claims and organization of ideas

Only includes relevant material with a narrow focus