Argumentative Essay Construction: Basic Strategy


Preliminary Steps in Constructing an Argumentative Essay

  1. "The issue is whether or not _____________________________.”
  2. Take the claim that you wrote into the blank above, and assert both it and its negation. For example, you may have written: "if it is discovered that homosexuality is genetic, this should make a difference in our social evaluation of it as a practice." If you did, then you  would write:
  3. If it is discovered that homosexuality is genetic, this should make a difference in our social evaluation of it as a practice.
  4. It is not the case that if it is discovered that homosexuality is genetic, this should make a difference in our social evaluation of it as a practice.
  5. After you have done (2), write down below for both (3) and (4), the three strongest reasons in support of each of these claims. I emphasize that you are to write down the strongest reasons that you can think of on both sides of the issue.  This should lead you to enter some phrases in a web browser, e.g.:  "Should it matter if homosexuality is genetic?"
  6. Take the six claims that you wrote down in step (5), and assert these as conclusions to arguments. Next, write down the premises that you believe support these conclusions.  Typically, completing (6) puts you in a position of having lots of inductive support for the conclusions which will then serve as premises for your larger issue.
  7. By the time that you have completed steps (1) - (6), you will have much more speedily accomplished an amount of research and organization that just a generation ago may have taken days if not weeks.  In principle, the payoff is that you now have much more time to think carefully about the ideas themselves that are suggested by the information that you have gathered.


Moving on in the Construction of Your Argumentative Essay:  An Idealization


Now that you have:

  1. Stated your issue;
  2. Stated each side of your issue as a claim;
  3. Written down 3 claims that represent the 3 strongest reasons for believing (to be true) each of the claims you wrote down in (2);
  4. Constructed 6 arguments, using the 6 claims you generated in step (5) as the six conclusions to each respective argument,

what do you do now? First, in order to have completed steps (1) - (5), you were almost certainly driven to do some research, both in order to find out if you were right about what seem to be the strongest claims in support of even the side of the issue toward which you are not leaning, and also to test your ideas about what constitute the best reason for the side of the issue toward which you are leaning.


Now things are probably beginning to seem increasingly complicated, since the claims and arguments on each side of the issue may call for varying amounts of support, seem comparatively weak or strong, and so on. Use the various skills that you are gradually acquiring, and bring them to bear on your essay: for example, are you defining terms? What kinds of definitions are you offering? Are they appropriate for your purposes? Does your writing contain ambiguities or vagueness? Are your sources credible? Are you relying upon the right sorts of experts to substantiate various of your claims? Are your arguments valid? Inductive? The list of things to look for will increase, the more time you spend adding "tools" to your critical thinking repertoire. 


Now, however, you are ready for a general strategy for presenting the material on either side of your issue. Let's say that you have Side 1 (S1) and Side 2 (S2). On each side, you have three seemingly very strong arguments (A1, A2, and A3, and then A1', A2', and A3'). Presumably you can structure things so that, roughly, A1 is somehow "connected to" (an admittedly vague expression, but necessarily so in this context) A1', A2 is connected to A2', and A3 is connected to A3'.


How can you present this in a way that makes it readable? First, state your issue, or ask a leading question. Do not include rhetorical questions, but you might want to ask something like: "Is a restriction on semi-automatic handguns a violation of our second amendment rights? Several reasons have been offered in support of either side of this important issue, which may affect not only our feeling of safety or lack of safety on our streets, but also our trust that our basic rights as citizens are being respected and upheld." Now you can present your material in one of the following two basic fashions. These are only suggestions:




A3 (summary of strengths of S1)




A3' (summary of strengths of S2)




In the conclusion you state what you think the strongest arguments are, and which side (S1 or S2) you are "on," and why. Or, you may conclude that you are not quite on either side, but want to shore up the merits and demerits of endorsing S1 or S2, respectively.  This approach has the advantage of making each side of your issue felt by the reader with full-force, before proceeding to the other side. It can also come across as being quite fair, since you demonstrate a sensitivity to both sides of the issue you are addressing by focusing on each side for quite some time. Or:


S1 v. S2

A1 v. A1' (resolution)

A2 v. A2' (resolution)

A3 v. A3' (resolution)



Here, minor resolutions take place throughout, and then at the end you state your own position in light of all you've already made clear.  It may be, of course, that your position is that more research is required, or that this issue cannot be resolved until some new breakthrough in our understanding has occurred.  (Sometimes the rational thing to do is to suspend judgment on an issue.)  Your research may also have uncovered an ambiguity that, once resolved, makes it clear that what seemed like an issue was actually not an issue.  Other possible resolutions exist.  The advantage of this method is that throughout the essay's conversion to a prose format, you show the tensions between the two sides of the issue, and how each one is best resolved. This keeps your reader focused on the fact that there is a genuine tension between the two sides of the issue you are addressing, and this approach is sometimes the more effective one in keeping your reader caught up in the "drama" that the issue represents.