The term argumentative essay refers to a written attempt to present a coherent discussion of a subject with a view to defending a specific thesis. The thesis of an argumentative essay is its main conclusion: it is usually a position or point of view, but may consist of a simple statement. The key phrase in the definition is defending a specific thesis. This is what makes an essay argumentative in nature, for any attempt to defend a conclusion requires premises. An argumentative essay can thus be regarded as an extended argument.
There are three elements in every essay: content, structure, and style. The content – the particular facts and ideas that form the subject matter – is different for each essay and is thus beyond the scope of our discussion. Questions about the structure and style, by contrast, tend to be the same for each argumentative essay, regardless of content. Let’s consider some of these questions first from the standpoint of the author, and then from the point of view of criticism.
First, however, we need to address an aspect of good writing that is often overlooked. The goal of all writing is communication with an audience. This means we must know what audience we are writing for, and write for that audience. We must take the audience into account when deciding what we want to say and how we are going to say it. What is their level of education?
How much religious / political / scientific the sophistication is what you have? How much background information that may have? What are your values that can be? The answers to these and similar questions are important to many of the decisions you must make when writing.
Writing a paper on capital punishment for a graduate seminar in criminology clearly requires a different approach from writing a column on the same subject for the Toronto Sun. When writing anything, we should always pay attention to the intended audience. An argumentative essay, obviously, is intended for an audience that is capable of being persuaded by arguments.
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