• 4-minute read
  • 17th November 2019

Academic Writing: How to Argue in an Essay

Something often overlooked in academic writing is that a good essay must present a good argument. Admittedly, not a shouting-at-each-other-until-red-in-the-face kind of argument. Rather, it should be a structured set of premises leading to a logical conclusion, backed up by evidence. But what does this mean precisely? Herein, we look at how to argue in an essay.

The Anatomy of an Argument

One key aspect of knowing how to argue in academic writing is understanding what we mean by “argument” in this context: i.e., a set of premises that, together, lead to a conclusion. To explain this further:

  • A “premise” is any statement you hold to be true.
  • A conclusion is a position that follows from the truth of the premises.

For example, we could put forward the following premises:

  • “Dogs are color blind.”
  • “Vincent van Gogh’s paintings are colorful.”

Then, in light of accepting these premises, we would have to accept the conclusion that “Dogs do not appreciate the brilliance of Vincent van Gogh.”

Deductive vs. Inductive Arguments

Part of knowing how to argue involves knowing what kind of argument you’re making. And there are two main types of argument – deductive and inductive – though both follow the basic formula set out above.

The stronger of these are deductive arguments, since the conclusion of a deductive argument follows from the truth of its premises:

1st Premise: Dogs are mammals.
2nd Premise: All mammals are vertebrates.
Conclusion: Dogs are vertebrates.

Simply put,  you cannot dispute the conclusion of the above argument if you accept the premises. This makes the argument “valid.”

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The premises of an inductive argument, by comparison, simply present the conclusion as probable, rather than logically necessary:

1st Premise: My dog is furry.
2nd Premise: My neighbor’s dog is furry.
3rd Premise: Every dog I’ve seen so far has been furry.
Conclusion: The next dog I see will be furry.

In the above argument, the premises provide a compelling reason to accept the conclusion. However, they don’t show it is certain, since there are hairless dog breeds, even if they’re rarer. As such, the inductive argument is about plausibility or probability, not logical certainty.

Knowing whether you’re making a deductive or an inductive argument is very important, as it affects the kind of conclusions you can draw.

How to Argue Your Point in an Essay

So, how do you put this into practice in your writing? To make a good argument in an essay, you may need to do several things. These include:

  1. Develop a thesis statement. This will outline your premises and the conclusion you will draw. The idea of this to to set up the basic outline of your argument, which you will develop in the main body of your essay.
  2. Link the points in your argument. Depending on the length of your essay, address each part of your argument in a separate paragraph or section. In addition, you should discuss them in a logical order, drawing connections between them where possible.
  3. Include evidence. In an academic essay, this usually means drawing upon past research (e.g., existing studies) or experimental data (e.g., a questionnaire) to support each point. Without evidence, all you have is an unsupported claim.
  4. Consider counterarguments. This lets you address potential objections to your point preemptively, strengthening your own argument.
  5. Create a strong conclusion. This should follow clearly from the preceding points (your premises). It’s important to not just summarize your essay, but to also show how the evidence you’ve presented supports your claim and how each point works with the others to contribute to your argument as a whole.

It’s vital to ensure that everything – from the literature review to the conclusion – supports your main argument. Knowing what you’re arguing and how your points support this will help you to express yourself clearly. Still not sure how this structure should work? Check out this handy graphic we’ve put together.

And if you’d like someone to help ensure your essays are always error free, you can submit a document for proofreading today.

Comments (4)
17th October 2020 at 06:33
How can I built an argumentative essay for this question? 'Can all tactics be justified in information warfare? Do the benefits of achieving information superiority outweigh the potential legal, financial reputational and/or political consequences? Use examples to justify your argument.'
    17th October 2020 at 14:09
    Hi, Sirena. I'm afraid we can't write your arguments for you, but as a general outline I'd suggest: - Writing an introduction where you set out the question you'll answer and explain how you'll attempt to do it, plus a provisional hypothesis - Finding a few key points to support the position you're taking and explaining them in a series of sections or paragraphs (how many and how you structure this will depend on the word limit of the essay) - Finding at least one or two counterarguments to consider, plus explaining why you've rejected them - Writing a conclusion where you sum up your arguments and how they led you to a specific inclusion - Ending on a reference list of the sources you've used And if you need any help with the proofreading, we have expert editors available!
21st April 2021 at 12:01
I would like to compose an argumentative essay with this topic "are cellphones dangerous?". Tips.
    22nd April 2021 at 09:01
    Hi, Helmut. We have some tips on writing a persuasive essay here: https://proofed.com/writing-tips/how-to-write-a-persuasive-essay/

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