Argumenative Writing

Argumenative Writing

Argumentative writing can feel like a balancing act. Although you want to argue your position well, you also want to avoid ranting. Additionally, it can be difficult to determine whether your argument effectively persuades readers to agree with your position.

The following suggestions can guide you through argumentative writing.

Pretend You are Having a Debate or Discussion with Someone

Imagine that everything you write is being said aloud to another person. Consider how this person might react to what you are saying and how you are saying it. As with any debate, it is important to not let your emotions take over. Even when you are passionate about a topic or issue, staying composed allows for more effective argumentation. If you become emotional, your audience is less likely to listen to your argument.

Moreover, be careful not to rant. Rants are generally full of emotion, and they are one of the quickest ways to alienate those you are trying to convince. Consider whether anyone has ever successfully convinced you to see things from their point of view by ranting; this approach is likely unconvincing. For more on avoiding rants in argumentative writing, see the Stone Writing Center’s (SWC) handout on this topic.

Also, think about possible weaknesses in your argument. For example, when having a debate, do you ever say something and then immediately realize you have created an opportunity for the other person to use it against you? Look for such openings or weaknesses in your argumentative writing, and revise if necessary. Likewise, as you research the opposing side, think about weaknesses in their argument that you can address in your counterargument. For more on counterarguments, see the SWC handout on this topic.

Pay Special Attention to Word Choice

It might not seem like individual words matter much. However, one wrong or misplaced word can weaken an entire argument or give the opposing side a chance to counter.

For example, consider this argument:

“Cookie cake should be acknowledged as a traditional birthday cake alongside real cake, because it is delicious, some people do not enjoy cake, and it can be decorated for the person’s birthday.”

This argumentative statement introduces some valid points, but the sentence undermines itself with a single word, “real”: “Cookie cake should be acknowledged as a traditional birthday cake alongside real cake…”.

Although the writer claims that cookie cake should be recognized as a cake, the current wording admits that it is not “real cake.” Someone who disagrees might say, “Exactly—cookie cake is not a real cake; it is just a cookie, and what is so special about that? People eat cookies year-round, but cakes are eaten far more rarely and usually only during special occasions. Real cake is the only choice to celebrate birthdays.” This opposing viewpoint has taken what could have been a strong argument and turned it around, using the writer’s own words to support the opposing claim.

A minor change can strengthen this argumentative statement:

“Cookie cake should be acknowledged as a valid option for a birthday cake, alongside other varieties, because it is delicious, some people do not enjoy cake, and it can be decorated for the person’s birthday.”

By using topic-related terms carefully, this sentence prevents the opposition from having an opportunity to refute the argument.

Determine Your Stance on the Topic As You Begin Your Research Process

Write down a list of your thoughts and claims. You might change your mind while researching the topic, which is a natural part of the research process. Your list can help narrow the focus of your research and determine the direction of your argument.

Think from Both Sides of the Argument

Even when you are passionate about a topic, step away from it, and take a moment to consider the topic from the opposition’s point of view. Try to think and to see the way they do. If you can understand the reasoning behind the stance and the arguments of someone who might oppose your position, your writing will be stronger and harder to argue against. This strategy also helps when building a counterargument.

Page last updated July 6, 2023.