An argument essay has certain characteristics that distinguish
it from its cousin, the persuasive essay. The better you understand
the characteristics of the argument genre, the more likely you
are to craft writing prompts that foster the critical thinking
such essays require.
The defining characteristics of arguments make them just as applicable
to a debate topic for oral presentation in an English or speech
class as they are for written essays and research papers
7 marks of argument essay
Familiarize yourself with the seven characteristics listed here
so you can incorporate them in assignments that require students
to write arguments.
1. Written for a specific audience
Writing for "the general public" is not normal or comfortable
for most people. In ordinary situations, we usually write for
a specific audience or audiences.
Writing for a vaguely defined audience is especially difficult
for beginning writers. Writing for people whose positions
can be researched and whose responses can be
predicted helps beginners find their feet.
2. Treats readers with respect
Respectful disagreement is permitted; personal attacks are not.
An argument essay may convey a position about which the writer
is passionate, but it should not attack the reader.
3. Provides context
The essay introduction should lead readers to
see why they need to be concerned about the topic
before it presents the writer's position on the topic.
For that reason, starting an essay with the thesis statement
is not appropriate.
4. Discusses a debatable thesis
A debatable thesis
is a statement on which a reasonable person using
the same definitions of key terms could argue for the opposite
position, supporting that opposing position with
A debatable thesis is not a:
- statement of fact (The moon revolves around
- matter of taste (Broccoli is gross.)
- personal opinion (Rap is better than jazz.)
- definition (Abortion is murder.)
The thesis also should be presented in neutral terms,
free of inflammatory language. If the thesis implies something
unflattering about anyone who disagrees, it is not appropriately
worded for debate.
5. Discusses a matter of public interest
A matter of public interest is a topic in which many
people not directly involved have an interest.
Your son's problems in sixth grade are a matter of private interest.
The difficulties of middle school children with attention deficit
disorder are a matter of public interest.
6. Supports the thesis with evidence
The evidence for an argument essay must be more
than just the experience of the writer. Information from others,
preferably from experts, is required.
Generalizations are not evidence. Generalizations
do not come from an identified source. For example,
"students do not have adequate grammar background to use
a handbook" is a generalization. No person or group of persons
is identified as the source.
Evidence might be a statement that "In a survey of 100 USC
students in their first college writing class, 87 reported not
being able to understand The Little, Brown Compact Handbook,
according to Paul Poll."
The two sides in the debate may disagree over the value of certain
evidence, but they should be clear as to the source
of the information.
7. Recognize and/or refute opposition
An argument essay must not only consider what
readers are likely to say in opposition to the thesis, but also
must actively note and, if possible, provide
evidence to contradict the opposing position.
Arguments don't require passion
Did you notice I didn't say anything about the paper being on
some deeply held conviction? Being passionate on a topic
is not necessary.
Passion may even hinder writers from doing a
thorough job. Writing is hard enough to master without having
the additional burden of putting your most cherished beliefs on
Extend students the courtesy of adequate time to master the major
types of nonfiction writing before you make them write on a topic
that's important to them for an audience that's important to them.
No one wants to embarrass themselves in front of people
who matter to them.