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How to Write a Good Argumentative Essay: Logical Structure

in this tutorial I'm going to review the

minimal five-part structure that an

essay has to have to qualify as a good

argumentative essay and talk a bit about

strategies for organizing the structure

on the page now by minimal I mean that

any good argumentative essay is going to

have at least these five elements or

parts they can have many more parts but

they can't have any fewer as we've seen

an essay will have at least these three

parts an introduction a main body and a

conclusion we'll talk more about what

should go into the introduction and the

conclusion later here I want to focus on

the main body of the essay the main body

is obviously going to include the main

argument of the essay this is the

argument that offers reasons in support

of the main thesis of the essay now

technically we could stop right here

we've got an essay and we've got an

argument so we've got an argumentative

essay right well we're not going to stop

here why because our aim isn't just to

write an argumentative essay our aim is

to write a good argumentative essay and

a good argumentative essay is always

going to have more structure than this

in fact a good argumentative essay is

going to contain at least three distinct

arguments within the main body for

starters a good argumentative essay is

always going to consider an objection to

the main argument that was just given

and this objection is itself going to be

an argument the conclusion of this

argument the objection is that the main

argument that was just given is in fact

a bad argument that the main argument

fails in some way it's going to argue

that the main argument relies on a false

or implausible premise or that the logic

is weak or that it fails to satisfy some

other necessary condition for an

argument to be good now why do we need

to consider objections

remember we're aiming for a good

argument we want our essay to give the

most persuasive case possible for the

intended audience of the argument but

it's important to remember that the

intended audience of the argument isn't

the people who are already inclined to

agree with your thesis that's what we

call preaching to the choir if this was

your audience then you wouldn't need to

give an argument in the first place

since there already

Vinh stove the conclusion no for an

argumentative essay we have to assume

that our audience is the people who

aren't convinced yet of the main thesis

who are inclined to be skeptical of the

conclusion and will be looking for

reasons to reject your argument so if

your essay is going to have any hope of

persuading this audience is going to

have to consider the skeptics point of

view that's why any good argumentative

essay is always going to have a section

that deals with objections to the main

argument of course raising an objection

isn't going to help your case unless you

could come up with a convincing reply to

it if you can't meet the objection then

it'll have the opposite effect you'll be

making the case for the opposition so a

good argumentative essay is always going

to have a section where you defend your

argument by replying to the objections

raised it's important to remember that

the objection is a distinct argument and

the reply is another distinct argument

the conclusion of the objection is that

your main argument is a bad argument the

conclusion of your reply is that the

objection just given is a bad objection

so the main body of your argumentative

essay is actually going to contain at

least three distinct arguments a main

argument an objection and a reply this

is where we get the minimal five-part

structure the introduction is the first

part then you've got at least the three

arguments in the main body giving us

four parts and the conclusion makes five

I call this a minimum five part

structure because it's the bare minimum

that an essay has to have if it's going

to qualify as a good argumentative essay

you can summarize it by saying that a

good argument of essay is going to have

an introduction and a conclusion and a

main body where an argument is presented

objections are considered and replies

are offered that defend the argument

against those objections now here's a

very important point about objections it

may be tempting to pick a weak objection

one that's easy to refute and reply to

that but doing this won't strengthen

your argument because it won't satisfy a

thoughtful skeptic what the skeptic

wants to know is how you would respond

to what they consider the strongest and

best objections if you can successfully

refute with your audience regards as the

strongest objections to your position

then you've got the best chance of

winning them over so a good

argumentative essay is always going to

look for the strongest possible

objections to its main argument present

them accurately and fairly and then

attempt to systematically respond to

those objections now here's a question

that my students sometimes ask me let's

say you've developed what you think is a

pretty good argument and then you come

across an objection to that argument

that really stumps you it really does

seem to point out a weakness in your

argument and you honestly don't know how

you should respond to it now what do you

do how do you proceed with the essay

well if you were only concerned with the

appearance of winning the argument then

you might consider using a rhetorical

device like misrepresenting the

objection in a way that makes it look

weaker than it actually is and then

respond to that weaker version but if

you've seen the tutorial course on

fallacies then you know that in doing so

you'd be guilty of a fallacy the straw

figure fallacy and more importantly a

thoughtful critic will likely see it as

a fallacious move too and it may

actually weaken your case in the eyes of

your intended audience which is the

opposite effect of what you intended and

I think that if you're really stumped by

an objection then you can do one of two

things one you can change your mind you

can accept that your argument fails and

either give up the thesis or look for a

better argument for it but maybe you're

not willing to give up your argument so

soon in the face of a tough objection

there's nothing wrong with saying that's

a good objection I'll have to think

about that maybe with a little thought

you can come up with a good response

but until then in my view rationality

dictates that you should at least

suspend judgment about whether your

argument is really as good as you

thought it was maybe it is and you can

come up with a good defense but maybe

it's not what you're admitting when you

can't come up with a good reply is that

you're not in a position to be confident

about that okay another question we've

got this three part structure to the

main body with a main argument followed

by an objection and then reply the

question is should this be the way you

actually organize the essay on the page

with a section devoted to the main

argument followed by the objection

followed by the reply the answer is yes

you could but know you don't

have to the logical structure I've given

here is what people will be focusing on

when they try to extract the

argumentative content from your essay

but just as you can write the same

argument in many different ways you can

organize an argumentative essay in many

different ways that preserves the same

logical structure how you choose to

organize it will depend on a bunch of

different things like whether your

audience is already familiar with the

main argument or whether an objection is

going to focus on the truth of a

specific premise or whether it's going

to challenge the logic of the main

argument taken as a whole or whether

you're going to focus on lots of

different objections rather than one big

objection or where you're going to focus

more on replies to common objections and

so on and some of it will come down to

stylistic choices how you want to lead

the reader through the argument there's

no one set way of doing this just to

illustrate here's an example of an

alternative organizational structure you

start off by presenting your main

argument you lay out premise one and

premise two of your main argument but

you anticipate that premise two is going

to be contentious for some audiences so

instead of waiting to address the

natural objection you deal with it right

here you consider the objection to

premise two and you respond to the

objection right away then you move on

and finish the argument now your main

argument is presented you've dealt with

one objection but maybe now you want to

consider another objection

one that turns on the logic of the

argument as a whole so you raise that

objection and follow up with a reply

this is a perfectly good way of

presenting the argument to the reader

even though some of the replies and

objections are mixed into the

presentation of the main argument this

is also a perfectly good way of

organizing the essay into paragraphs not

every element in the reasoning needs its

own paragraph it all depends on context

and how much actually needs to be said

to make a particular point for example

sometimes you can state an objection in

a single sentence let's say that the

objection to premise 2 above can be

phrased as a single sentence then it

might be very natural to combine the

reply and the objection into a single

paragraph like this there are no set

rules for how to do this you might find

yourself adding and deleting and

reorganizing paragraphs as you work

through the essay but however you

organize it the three-part structure

of argument objection and reply needs to

be clear oK we've covered a lot here so

let's sum up an argument of Si has a

minimum 5 part structure it has an

introduction a conclusion and a main

body that itself contains at least three

distinct arguments the main argument of

the essay is a distinct argument but you

also have to consider the strongest

objections that you can think of an

offer replies to those objections and

each of these are distinct arguments as

well and finally the organization of the

logical elements of the main body can

vary you can present a whole argument

then proceed to list objections then

consider replies or you can consider

objections and replies on the fly as you

work through the main argument

regardless your final paragraph

structure should reflect the logical

structure of these argumentative

elements however that logical structure

is organized