15 Tips to Help You Write a Stellar Essay
Essay-writing can be easier than you might think if you have a grasp of the basics and a willingness to engage with the subject matter. Here are 15 top tips for writing a stellar essay.
This is one of the most important tips you’ll ever receive. Research thoroughly, even if it means you have too many notes. It’s better to have to leave stuff out than not have enough to write about.
Make an Outline
Without a properly structured outline (with an intro, a four- to five-point body and a conclusion), your essay may be hard to write and to follow.
While you might just be writing your essay for a teacher or professor that is paid to read it, it still pays to grab their attention. A “hook” like a quote or surprising statistic in your intro can make your reader want to read on.
Lay Out Your Thesis
The intro isn’t all about flair and grabbing attention. It’s also about laying out your thesis. Make your main argument clear in the first few sentences, setting up a question to answer or statement to prove.
Avoid Passive Voice
If you want your writing to be persuasive, passive voice should be avoided. (That sentence was full of it, by the way. For example, “You should avoid passive voice” is a more convincing way to say “passive voice should be avoided.”)
Avoid First-Person Voice
If you’re writing an academic essay, you should almost certainly avoid first-person voice. In other words, avoid saying “I” or “my.” Also restrict your use of the second-person voice (e.g., don’t use “you” unless it’s necessary).
Start With Your Strongest Point
In general, it’s a good idea to start with your strongest argument in your first body paragraph. This sets the scene nicely. However, this might not be appropriate if you are structuring your essay points chronologically.
Relate All Points Back to Your Thesis
Make it clear to your reader how each point you make relates back to your thesis (i.e., the question or statement in your introduction, and probably your title too). This helps them to follow your argument.
Contextualize Without Losing Focus
Add contextualizing information for a richer presentation of your topic. For example, it’s fine (or even desirable) to discuss the historical background for certain events. Just don’t get bogged down by irrelevant details.
Use Transition Phrases
Transition phrases, such as “furthermore,” “by contrast” and “on the other hand,” can also help your reader to follow your argument. But don’t overuse them at the cost of clarity. Read your essay aloud to gauge how it flows.
Conclude With a Return to Your Thesis
A conclusion can do many things, but it’s useful to think of it as an answer to the question or statement in your intro. It’s sensible to summarize your key points, but always relate back to your thesis.
Make Your Conclusion Seem Obvious
Restating your thesis in your conclusion (after having made all of your points and arguments in the body) can be persuasive. Aim to make your conclusion feel irrefutable (at least if it’s a persuasive essay).
If your spelling is sloppy, it’s natural for your reader to assume your approach to writing the essay was too. This could harm the strength of an otherwise persuasive essay.
Grammar is also important, for the same reason. It’s usually easy to pick up on dodgy grammar if you read your essay aloud. If you’re not a native English speaker, however, you might want to ask someone who is to check your essay.
To avoid harming your persuasiveness and authority, it’s fundamentally important to use the right words. Overly obscure language can detract from the clarity of your argument, but if you feel you have to use it, then you better know what it means.
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12 Essential Steps for Writing an Argumentative Essay (with 10 example essays)
Bonus Material: 10 complete example essays
Writing an essay can often feel like a Herculean task. How do you go from a prompt… to pages of beautifully-written and clearly-supported writing?
This 12-step method is for students who want to write a great essay that makes a clear argument.
In fact, using the strategies from this post, in just 88 minutes, one of our students revised her C+ draft to an A.
If you’re interested in learning how to write awesome argumentative essays and improve your writing grades, this post will teach you exactly how to do it.
First, grab our download so you can follow along with the complete examples.
Then keep reading to see all 12 essential steps to writing a great essay.
Download 10 example essays
Why you need to have a plan
One of the most common mistakes that students make when writing is to just dive in haphazardly without a plan.
Writing is a bit like cooking. If you’re making a meal, would you start throwing ingredients at random into a pot? Probably not!
Instead, you’d probably start by thinking about what you want to cook. Then you’d gather the ingredients, and go to the store if you don’t already have them in your kitchen. Then you’d follow a recipe, step by step, to make your meal.
Here’s our 12-step recipe for writing a great argumentative essay:
- Pick a topic
- Choose your research sources
- Read your sources and take notes
- Create a thesis statement
- Choose three main arguments to support your thesis statement —now you have a skeleton outline
- Populate your outline with the research that supports each argument
- Do more research if necessary
- Add your own analysis
- Add transitions and concluding sentences to each paragraph
- Write an introduction and conclusion for your essay
- Add citations and bibliography
Grab our download to see the complete example at every stage, along with 9 great student essays. Then let’s go through the steps together and write an A+ essay!
1. Pick a topic
Sometimes you might be assigned a topic by your instructor, but often you’ll have to come up with your own idea!
If you don’t pick the right topic, you can be setting yourself up for failure.
Be careful that your topic is something that’s actually arguable —it has more than one side. Check out our carefully-vetted list of 99 topic ideas .
Let’s pick the topic of laboratory animals . Our question is should animals be used for testing and research ?
Download our set of 10 great example essays to jump to the finished version of this essay.
2. Choose your research sources
One of the big differences between the way an academic argumentative essay and the version of the assignment that you may have done in elementary school is that for an academic argumentative essay, we need to support our arguments with evidence .
Where do we get that evidence?
Let’s be honest, we all are likely to start with Google and Wikipedia.
Now, Wikipedia can be a useful starting place if you don’t know very much about a topic, but don’t use Wikipedia as your main source of evidence for your essay.
Instead, look for reputable sources that you can show to your readers as proof of your arguments. It can be helpful to read some sources from either side of your issue.
Look for recently-published sources (within the last 20 years), unless there’s a specific reason to do otherwise.
Good places to look for sources are:
- Books published by academic presses
- Academic journals
- Academic databases like JSTOR and EBSCO
- Nationally-published newspapers and magazines like The New York Times or The Atlantic
- Websites and publications of national institutions like the NIH
- Websites and publications of universities
Some of these sources are typically behind a paywall. This can be frustrating when you’re a middle-school or high-school student.
However, there are often ways to get access to these sources. Librarians (at your school library or local public library) can be fantastic resources, and they can often help you find a copy of the article or book you want to read. In particular, librarians can help you use Interlibrary Loan to order books or journals to your local library!
More and more scientists and other researchers are trying to publish their articles for free online, in order to encourage the free exchange of knowledge. Check out respected open-access platforms like arxiv.org and PLOS ONE .
How do you find these sources?
If you have access to an academic database like JSTOR or EBSCO , that’s a great place to start.
Everyone can use Google Scholar to search for articles. This is a powerful tool and highly recommended!
Of course, if there’s a term you come across that you don’t recognize, you can always just Google it!
How many sources do you need? That depends on the length of your essay and on the assignment. If your instructor doesn’t give you any other guidance, assume that you should have at least three good sources.
For our topic of animal research, here’s a few sources that we could assemble:
Geoff Watts. “Animal Testing: Is It Worth It?” BMJ: British Medical Journal , Jan. 27, 2007, Vol. 334, No. 7586 (Jan. 27, 2007), pp. 182-184.
Kim Bartel Sheehan and Joonghwa Lee. “What’s Cruel About Cruelty Free: An Exploration of Consumers, Moral Heuristics, and Public Policy.” Journal of Animal Ethics , Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 1-15.
Justin Goodman, Alka Chandna and Katherine Roe. “Trends in animal use at US research facilities.” Journal of Medical Ethics , July 2015, Vol. 41, No. 7 (July 2015), pp. 567-569.
Katy Taylor. “Recent Developments in Alternatives to Animal Testing.” In Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change . Brill 2019.
Thomas Hartung. “Research and Testing Without Animals: Where Are We Now and Where Are We Heading?” In Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change . Brill 2019.
Bonus: download 10 example essays now .
3. Read your sources and take notes
Once you have a nice pile of sources, it’s time to read them!
As we read, we want to take notes that will be useful to us later as we write our essay.
We want to be careful to keep the source’s ideas separate from our own ideas . Come up with a system to clearly mark the difference as you’re taking notes: use different colors, or use little arrows to represent the ideas that are yours and not the source’s ideas.
We can use this structure to keep notes in an organized way:
Download a template for these research notes here .
For our topic of animal research, our notes might look something like this:
Grab our download to read the rest of the notes and see more examples of how to do thoughtful research!
4. Create a thesis
What major themes did you find in your reading? What did you find most interesting or convincing?
Now is the point when you need to pick a side on your topic, if you haven’t already done so. Now that you’ve read more about the issue, what do you think? Write down your position on the issue:
Animal testing is necessary but should be reduced.
Next, it’s time to add more detail to your thesis. What reasons do you have to support that position? Add those to your sentence.
Animal testing is necessary but should be reduced by eliminating testing for cosmetics, ensuring that any testing is scientifically sound, and replacing animal models with other methods as much as possible.
Add qualifiers to refine your position. Are there situations in which your position would not apply? Or are there other conditions that need to be met?
For our topic of animal research, our final thesis statement (with lead-in) might look something like this:
The argument: Animal testing and research should not be abolished, as doing so would upend important medical research and substance testing. However, scientific advances mean that in many situations animal testing can be replaced by other methods that not only avoid the ethical problems of animal testing, but also are less costly and more accurate. Governments and other regulatory bodies should further regulate animal testing to outlaw testing for cosmetics and other recreational products, ensure that the tests conducted are both necessary and scientifically rigorous, and encourage the replacement of animal use with other methods whenever possible.
The highlighted bit at the end is the thesis statement, but the lead-in is useful to help us set up the argument—and having it there already will make writing our introduction easier!
The thesis statement is the single most important sentence of your essay. Without a strong thesis, there’s no chance of writing a great essay. Read more about it here .
See how nine real students wrote great thesis statements in 9 example essays now.
5. Create three supporting arguments
Think of three good arguments why your position is true. We’re going to make each one into a body paragraph of your essay.
For now, write them out as 1–2 sentences. These will be topic sentences for each body paragraph.
For our essay about animal testing, it might look like this:
Supporting argument #1: For ethical reasons, animal testing should not be allowed for cosmetics and recreational products.
Supporting argument #2: The tests that are conducted with animals should be both necessary (for the greater good) and scientifically rigorous—which isn’t always the case currently. This should be regulated by governments and institutions.
Supporting argument #3: Governments and institutions should do more to encourage the replacement of animal testing with other methods.
Optional: Find a counterargument and respond to it
Think of a potential counterargument to your position. Consider writing a fourth paragraph anticipating this counterargument, or find a way to include it in your other body paragraphs.
For our essay, that might be:
Possible counterargument: Animal testing is unethical and should not be used in any circumstances.
Response to the counterargument: Animal testing is deeply entrenched in many research projects and medical procedures. Abruptly ceasing animal testing would upend the scientific and medical communities. But there are many ways that animal testing could be reduced.
With these three arguments, a counterargument, and a thesis, we now have a skeleton outline! See each step of this essay in full in our handy download .
6. Start populating your outline with the evidence you found in your research
Look through your research. What did you find that would support each of your three arguments?
Copy and paste those quotes or paraphrases into the outline. Make sure that each one is annotated so that you know which source it came from!
Ideally you already started thinking about these sources when you were doing your research—that’s the ideas in the rightmost column of our research template. Use this stuff too!
A good rule of thumb would be to use at least three pieces of evidence per body paragraph.
Think about in what order it would make most sense to present your points. Rearrange your quotes accordingly! As you reorder them, feel free to start adding short sentences indicating the flow of ideas .
For our essay about animal testing, part of our populated outline might look something like:
Argument #1: For ethical reasons, animal testing should not be allowed for cosmetics and recreational products.
Lots of animals are used for testing and research.
In the US, about 22 million animals were used annually in the early 1990s, mostly rodents (BMJ 1993, 1020).
But there are ethical problems with using animals in laboratory settings. Opinions about the divide between humans and animals might be shifting.
McIsaac refers to “the essential moral dilemma: how to balance the welfare of humans with the welfare of other species” (Hubel, McIsaac 29).
The fundamental legal texts used to justify animal use in biomedical research were created after WWII, and drew a clear line between experiments on animals and on humans. The Nuremburg Code states that “the experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment” (Ferrari, 197). The 1964 Declaration of the World Medical Association on the Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects (known as the Helsinki Declaration) states that “Medical research involving human subjects must conform to generally accepted scientific principles, be based on a thorough knowledge of the scientific literature, other relevant sources of information, and adequate laboratory and, as appropriate, animal experimentation. The welfare of animals used for research must be respected” (Ferrari, 197).
→ Context? The Nuremberg Code is a set of ethical research principles, developed in 1947 in the wake of Nazi atrocities during WWII, specifically the inhumane and often fatal experimentation on human subjects without consent.
“Since the 1970s, the animal-rights movement has challenged the use of animals in modern Western society by rejecting the idea of dominion of human beings over nature and animals and stressing the intrinsic value and rights of individual animals” (van Roten, 539, referencing works by Singer, Clark, Regan, and Jasper and Nelkin).
“The old (animal) model simply does not fully meet the needs of scientific and economic progress; it fails in cost, speed, level of detail of understanding, and human relevance. On top of this, animal experimentation lacks acceptance by an ethically evolving society” (Hartung, 682).
Knight’s article summarizes negative impacts on laboratory animals—invasive procedures, stress, pain, and death (Knight, 333). These aren’t very widely or clearly reported (Knight, 333). → Reading about these definitely produces an emotional reaction—they sound bad.
Given this context, it makes sense to ban animal testing in situations where it’s just for recreational products like cosmetics.
Fortunately, animal testing for cosmetics is less common than we might think.
A Gallup poll published in 1990 found that 14% of people thought that the most frequent reason for using animals to test cosmetics for safety—but figures from the UK Home Office in 1991 found that less than 1% of animals were used for tests for cosmetics and toiletries (BMJ 1993, 1019). → So in the early 1990s there was a big difference between what people thought was happening and what actually was happening!
But it still happens, and there are very few regulations of it (apart from in the EU).
Because there are many definitions of the phrase “cruelty-free,” many companies “can (and do) use the term when the product or its ingredients were indeed tested on animals” (Sheehan and Lee, 1).
The authors compare “cruelty-free” to the term “fair trade.” There is an independent inspection and certification group (Flo-Cert) that reviews products labeled as “fair trade,” but there’s no analogous process for “cruelty-free” (Sheehan and Lee, 2). → So anyone can just put that label on a product? Apparently, apart from in the European Union. That seems really easy to abuse for marketing purposes.
Companies can also hire outside firms to test products and ingredients on animals (Sheehan and Lee, 3).
Animal testing for recreational, non-medical purposes should be banned, like it is in the EU.
Download the full example outline here .
7. Do more research if necessary
Occasionally you might realize that there’s a hole in your research, and you don’t have enough evidence to support one of your points.
In this situation, either change your argument to fit the evidence that you do have, or do a bit more research to fill the hole!
For example, looking at our outline for argument #1 for our essay on animal testing, it’s clear that this paragraph is missing a small but crucial bit of evidence—a reference to this specific ban on animal testing for cosmetics in Europe. Time for a bit more research!
A visit to the official website of the European Commission yields a copy of the law, which we can add to our populated outline:
“The cosmetics directive provides the regulatory framework for the phasing out of animal testing for cosmetics purposes. Specifically, it establishes (1) a testing ban – prohibition to test finished cosmetic products and cosmetic ingredients on animals, and (2) a marketing ban – prohibition to market finished cosmetic products and ingredients in the EU which were tested on animals. The same provisions are contained in the cosmetics regulation , which replaced the cosmetics directive as of 11 July 2013. The testing ban on finished cosmetic products applies since 11 September 2004. The testing ban on ingredients or combination of ingredients applies since 11 March 2009. The marketing ban applies since 11 March 2009 for all human health effects with the exception of repeated-dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and toxicokinetics. For these specific health effects, the marketing ban applies since 11 March 2013, irrespective of the availability of alternative non-animal tests.” (website of the European Commission, “Ban on animal testing”)
Alright, now this supporting argument has the necessary ingredients!
You don’t need to use all of the evidence that you found in your research. In fact, you probably won’t use all of it!
This part of the writing process requires you to think critically about your arguments and what evidence is relevant to your points .
8. Add your own analysis and synthesis of these points
Once you’ve organized your evidence and decided what you want to use for your essay, now you get to start adding your own analysis!
You may have already started synthesizing and evaluating your sources when you were doing your research (the stuff on the right-hand side of our template). This gives you a great starting place!
For each piece of evidence, follow this formula:
- Context and transitions: introduce your piece of evidence and any relevant background info and signal the logical flow of ideas
- Reproduce the paraphrase or direct quote (with citation )
- Explanation : explain what the quote/paraphrase means in your own words
- Analysis : analyze how this piece of evidence proves your thesis
- Relate it back to the thesis: don’t forget to relate this point back to your overarching thesis!
If you follow this fool-proof formula as you write, you will create clear, well-evidenced arguments.
As you get more experienced, you might stray a bit from the formula—but a good essay will always intermix evidence with explanation and analysis, and will always contain signposts back to the thesis throughout.
For our essay about animal testing, our first body paragraph might look like:
Every year, millions of animals—mostly rodents—are used for testing and research (BMJ 1993, 1020) . This testing poses an ethical dilemma: “how to balance the welfare of humans with the welfare of other species” (Hubel, McIsaac 29) . Many of the fundamental legal tests that are used to justify animal use in biomedical research were created in wake of the horrors of World War II, when the Nazi regime engaged in terrible experimentation on their human prisoners. In response to these atrocities, philosophers and lawmakers drew a clear line between experimenting on humans without consent and experimenting on (non-human) animals. For example, the 1947 Nuremberg Code stated that “the experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment” (Ferrari, 197) . Created two years after the war, the code established a set of ethical research principles to demarcate ethical differences between animals and humans, clarifying differences between Nazi atrocities and more everyday research practices. However, in the following decades, the animal-rights movement has challenged the philosophical boundaries between humans and animals and questioned humanity’s right to exert dominion over animals (van Roten, 539, referencing works by Singer, Clark, Regan, and Jasper and Nelkin) . These concerns are not without justification, as animals used in laboratories are subject to invasive procedures, stress, pain, and death (Knight, 333) . Indeed, reading detailed descriptions of this research can be difficult to stomach . In light of this, while some animal testing that contributes to vital medical research and ultimately saves millions of lives may be ethically justified, animal testing that is purely for recreational purposes like cosmetics cannot be ethically justified . Fortunately, animal testing for cosmetics is less common than we might think . In 1990, a poll found that 14% of people in the UK thought that the most frequent reason for using animals to test cosmetics for safety—but actual figures were less than 1% (BMJ 1993, 1019) . Unfortunately, animal testing for cosmetics is not subject to very much regulation . In particular, companies can use the phrase “cruelty-free” to mean just about anything, and many companies “can (and do) use the term when the product or its ingredients were indeed tested on animals” (Sheehan and Lee, 1) . Unlike the term “fair trade,” which has an independent inspection and certification group (Flo-Cert) that reviews products using the label, there’s no analogous process for “cruelty-free” (Sheehan and Lee, 2) . Without regulation, the term is regularly abused by marketers . Companies can also hire outside firms to test products and ingredients on animals and thereby pass the blame (Sheehan and Lee, 3) . Consumers trying to avoid products tested on animals are frequently tricked . Greater regulation of terms would help, but the only way to end this kind of deceit will be to ban animal testing for recreational, non-medical purposes . The European Union is the only governmental body yet to accomplish this . In a series of regulations, the EU first banned testing finished cosmetic products (2004), then testing ingredients or marketing products which were tested on animals (2009); exceptions for specific health effects ended in 2013 (website of the European Commission, “Ban on animal testing”) . The result is that the EU bans testing cosmetic ingredients or finished cosmetic products on animals, as well as marketing any cosmetic ingredients and products which were tested on animals elsewhere (Regulation 1223/2009/EU, known as the “Cosmetics Regulation”) . The rest of the world should follow this example and ban animal testing on cosmetic ingredients and products, which do not contribute significantly to the greater good and therefore cannot outweigh the cost to animal lives .
Edit down the quotes/paraphrases as you go. In many cases, you might copy out a great long quote from a source…but only end up using a few words of it as a direct quote, or you might only paraphrase it!
There were several good quotes in our previous step that just didn’t end up fitting here. That’s fine!
Take a look at the words and phrases highlighted in red. Notice how sometimes a single word can help to provide necessary context and create a logical transition for a new idea. Don’t forget the transitions! These words and phrases are essential to good writing.
The end of the paragraph should very clearly tie back to the thesis statement.
As you write, consider your audience
If it’s not specified in your assignment prompt, it’s always appropriate to ask your instructor who the intended audience of your essay or paper might be. (Your instructor will usually be impressed by this question!)
If you don’t get any specific guidance, imagine that your audience is the typical readership of a newspaper like the New York Times —people who are generally educated, but who don’t have any specialized knowledge of the specific subject, especially if it’s more technical.
That means that you should explain any words or phrases that aren’t everyday terminology!
Equally important, you don’t want to leave logical leaps for your readers to make. Connect all of the dots for them!
See the other body paragraphs of this essay, along with 9 student essays, here .
9. Add paragraph transitions and concluding sentences to each body paragraph
By now you should have at least three strong body paragraphs, each one with 3–5 pieces of evidence plus your own analysis and synthesis of the evidence.
Each paragraph has a main topic sentence, which we wrote back when we made the outline. This is a good time to check that the topic sentences still match what the rest of the paragraph says!
Think about how these arguments relate to each other. What is the most logical order for them? Re-order your paragraphs if necessary.
Then add a few sentences at the end of each paragraph and/or the beginning of the next paragraph to connect these ideas. This step is often the difference between an okay essay and a really great one!
You want your essay to have a great flow. We didn’t worry about this at the beginning of our writing, but now is the time to start improving the flow of ideas!
10. The final additions: write an introduction and a conclusion
Follow this formula to write a great introduction:
- It begins with some kind of “hook”: this can be an anecdote, quote, statistic, provocative statement, question, etc.
(Pro tip: don’t use phrases like “throughout history,” “since the dawn of humankind,” etc. It’s good to think broadly, but you don’t have to make generalizations for all of history.)
- It gives some background information that is relevant to understand the ethical dilemma or debate
- It has a lead-up to the thesis
- At the end of the introduction, the thesis is clearly stated
This makes a smooth funnel that starts more broadly and smoothly zeroes in on the specific argument.
Your conclusion is kind of like your introduction, but in reverse. It starts with your thesis and ends a little more broadly.
For the conclusion, try and summarize your entire argument without being redundant. Start by restating your thesis but with slightly different wording . Then summarize each of your main points.
If you can, it’s nice to point to the larger significance of the issue. What are the potential consequences of this issue? What are some future directions for it to go in? What remains to be explored?
See how nine students wrote introductions in different styles here .
11. Add citations and bibliography
Check what bibliographic style your instructor wants you to use. If this isn’t clearly stated, it’s a good question to ask them!
Typically the instructions will say something like “Chicago style,” “APA,” etc., or they’ll give you their own rules.
These rules will dictate how exactly you’ll write your citations in the body of your essay (either in parentheses after the quote/paraphrase or else with a footnote or endnote) and how you’ll write your “works cited” with the full bibliographic information at the end.
Follow these rules! The most important thing is to be consistent and clear.
Pro tip: if you’re struggling with this step, your librarians can often help! They’re literally pros at this. 🙂
Now you have a complete draft!
Read it from beginning to end. Does it make sense? Are there any orphan quotes or paraphrases that aren’t clearly explained? Are there any abrupt changes of topic? Fix it!
Are there any problems with grammar or spelling ? Fix them!
Edit for clarity.
Ideally, you’ll finish your draft at least a few days before it’s due to be submitted. Give it a break for a day or two, and then come back to it. Things to be revised are more likely to jump out after a little break!
Try reading your essay out loud. Are there any sentences that don’t sound quite right? Rewrite them!
Double-check your thesis statement. This is the make-or-break moment of your essay, and without a clear thesis it’s pretty impossible for an essay to be a great one. Is it:
- Arguable: it’s not just the facts—someone could disagree with this position
- Narrow & specific: don’t pick a position that’s so broad you could never back it up
- Complex: show that you are thinking deeply—one way to do this is to consider objections/qualifiers in your thesis
Try giving your essay to a friend or family member to read. Sometimes (if you’re lucky) your instructors will offer to read a draft if you turn it in early. What feedback do they have? Edit accordingly!
See the result of this process with 10 example essays now .
You did it! Feel proud of yourself 🙂
We regularly help students work through all of these steps to write great academic essays in our Academic Writing Workshop or our one-on-one writing tutoring . We’re happy to chat more about what’s challenging for you and provide you customized guidance to help you write better papers and improve your grades on writing assignments!
Want to see what this looks like when it’s all pulled together? We compiled nine examples of great student essays, plus all of the steps used to create this model essay, in this handy resource. Download it here !
Emily graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.
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8 Effective Strategies to Write Argumentative Essays
In a bustling university town, there lived a student named Alex. Popular for creativity and wit, one challenge seemed insurmountable for Alex– the dreaded argumentative essay!
One gloomy afternoon, as the rain tapped against the window pane, Alex sat at his cluttered desk, staring at a blank document on the computer screen. The assignment loomed large: a 350-600-word argumentative essay on a topic of their choice . With a sigh, he decided to seek help of mentor, Professor Mitchell, who was known for his passion for writing.
Entering Professor Mitchell’s office was like stepping into a treasure of knowledge. Bookshelves lined every wall, faint aroma of old manuscripts in the air and sticky notes over the wall. Alex took a deep breath and knocked on his door.
“Ah, Alex,” Professor Mitchell greeted with a warm smile. “What brings you here today?”
Alex confessed his struggles with the argumentative essay. After hearing his concerns, Professor Mitchell said, “Ah, the argumentative essay! Don’t worry, Let’s take a look at it together.” As he guided Alex to the corner shelf, Alex asked,
Table of Contents
“What is an Argumentative Essay?”
The professor replied, “An argumentative essay is a type of academic writing that presents a clear argument or a firm position on a contentious issue. Unlike other forms of essays, such as descriptive or narrative essays, these essays require you to take a stance, present evidence, and convince your audience of the validity of your viewpoint with supporting evidence. A well-crafted argumentative essay relies on concrete facts and supporting evidence rather than merely expressing the author’s personal opinions . Furthermore, these essays demand comprehensive research on the chosen topic and typically follows a structured format consisting of three primary sections: an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.”
He continued, “Argumentative essays are written in a wide range of subject areas, reflecting their applicability across disciplines. They are written in different subject areas like literature and philosophy, history, science and technology, political science, psychology, economics and so on.
“When is an Argumentative Essay Written?”
The professor answered, “Argumentative essays are often assigned in academic settings, but they can also be written for various other purposes, such as editorials, opinion pieces, or blog posts. Some common situations to write argumentative essays include:
1. Academic assignments
In school or college, teachers or professors may assign argumentative essays as part of coursework. These essays help students develop critical thinking and persuasive writing skills .
2. Debates and discussions
Argumentative essays can serve as the basis for debates or discussions in academic or competitive settings. Moreover, they provide a structured way to present and defend your viewpoint.
3. Opinion pieces
Newspapers, magazines, and online publications often feature opinion pieces that present an argument on a current issue or topic. These essays aim to influence public opinion.
4. Policy proposals
In government and policy-related fields, argumentative essays are used to propose and defend specific policy changes or solutions to societal problems.
5. Persuasive speeches
Before delivering a persuasive speech, it’s common to prepare an argumentative essay as a foundation for your presentation.
Regardless of the context, an argumentative essay should present a clear thesis statement , provide evidence and reasoning to support your position, address counterarguments, and conclude with a compelling summary of your main points. The goal is to persuade readers or listeners to accept your viewpoint or at least consider it seriously.”
Handing over a book, the professor continued, “Take a look on the elements or structure of an argumentative essay.”
Elements of an Argumentative Essay
An argumentative essay comprises five essential components:
Claim in argumentative writing is the central argument or viewpoint that the writer aims to establish and defend throughout the essay. A claim must assert your position on an issue and must be arguable. It can guide the entire argument.
Evidence must consist of factual information, data, examples, or expert opinions that support the claim. Also, it lends credibility to the argument by strengthening the writer’s position.
Acknowledging the opposing viewpoint is crucial in an argumentative essay. Presenting a counterclaim demonstrates fairness and awareness of alternative perspectives.
After presenting the counterclaim, the writer refutes it by offering counterarguments or providing evidence that weakens the opposing viewpoint. It shows that the writer has considered multiple perspectives and is prepared to defend their position.
The format of an argumentative essay typically follows the structure to ensure clarity and effectiveness in presenting an argument.
How to Write An Argumentative Essay
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write an argumentative essay:
- Begin with a compelling sentence or question to grab the reader’s attention.
- Provide context for the issue, including relevant facts, statistics, or historical background.
- Provide a concise thesis statement to present your position on the topic.
2. Body Paragraphs (usually three or more)
- Start each paragraph with a clear and focused topic sentence that relates to your thesis statement.
- Provide evidence and support for your argument. Explain the facts, statistics, examples, expert opinions, and quotations from credible sources that supports and add relevance to your thesis.
- Use transition sentences to smoothly move from one point to the next.
3. Counterargument and Rebuttal
- Acknowledge opposing viewpoints or potential objections to your argument.
- Address these counterarguments and explain why they do not weaken your position. Provide evidence and reasoning to support your rebuttal.
- Restate your thesis statement in different words to remind the reader of your main argument.
- Summarize the key points you’ve made in the body of the essay.
- Leave the reader with a final thought, call to action, or broader implication related to the topic.
5. Citations and References
- Properly cite all the sources you use in your essay using a consistent citation style.
- Include a bibliography or works cited page at the end of your essay.
6. Formatting and Style
- Follow any specific formatting guidelines provided by your instructor or institution.
- Use a professional and academic tone in your writing.
- and edit your essay for grammar, spelling, and .
Remember that the specific requirements for formatting an argumentative essay may vary depending on your instructor’s guidelines or the citation style you’re using (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). Always check the assignment instructions or style guide for any additional requirements or variations in formatting.
Prof. Mitchell continued, “An argumentative essay can adopt various approaches when dealing with opposing perspectives. It may offer a balanced presentation of both sides, providing equal weight to each, or it may advocate more strongly for one side while still acknowledging the existence of opposing views.” Turing the page, the professor continued, “Check this page to know the importance of writing an argumentative essay in developing skills of an individual.”
Importance of an Argumentative Essay
After understanding the benefits, Alex was convinced by the ability of the argumentative essays in advocating one’s beliefs and favor the author’s position. Alex asked,
“How are argumentative essays different from the other types?”
Prof. Mitchell answered, “Argumentative essays differ from other types of essays primarily in their purpose, structure, and approach in presenting information. Unlike expository essays, argumentative essays persuade the reader to adopt a particular point of view or take a specific action on a controversial issue. Furthermore, they differ from descriptive essays by not focusing vividly on describing a topic. Also, they are less engaging through storytelling as compared to the narrative essays.
Alex said, “Given the direct and persuasive nature of argumentative essays, can you suggest some strategies to write an effective argumentative essay?
Turing the pages of the book, Prof. Mitchell replied, “Sure! You can check this infographic to get some tips for writing an argumentative essay.”
Effective Strategies to Write an Argumentative Essay
As days turned into weeks, Alex diligently worked on his essay. He researched, gathered evidence, and refined his thesis. It was a long and challenging journey, filled with countless drafts and revisions.
Finally, the day arrived when Alex submitted their essay. As he clicked the “Submit” button, a sense of accomplishment washed over him. He realized that the argumentative essay, while challenging, had improved his critical thinking and transformed him into a more confident writer. Furthermore, Alex received feedback from his professor, a mix of praise and constructive criticism. It was a humbling experience, a reminder that every journey has its obstacles and opportunities for growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
An argumentative essay can be written as follows- 1. Choose a Topic 2. Research and Collect Evidences 3. Develop a Clear Thesis Statement 4. Outline Your Essay- Introduction, Body Paragraphs and Conclusion 5. Revise and Edit 6. Format and Cite Sources 7. Final Review
One must choose a clear, concise and specific statement as a claim. It must be debatable and establish your position. Avoid using ambiguous or unclear while making a claim. To strengthen your claim, address potential counterarguments or opposing viewpoints. Additionally, use persuasive language and rhetoric to make your claim more compelling
Starting an argument essay effectively is crucial to engage your readers and establish the context for your argument. Here’s how you can start an argument essay are: 1. Begin With an Engaging Hook 2. Provide Background Information 3. Present Your Thesis Statement 4. Briefly Outline Your Main 5. Establish Your Credibility
The key features of an argumentative essay are: 1. Clear and Specific Thesis Statement 2. Credible Evidence 3. Counterarguments 4. Structured Body Paragraph 5. Logical Flow 6. Use of Persuasive Techniques 7. Formal Language
An argumentative essay typically consists of the following main parts or sections: 1. Introduction 2. Body Paragraphs 3. Counterargument and Rebuttal 4. Conclusion 5. References (if applicable)
The main purpose of an argumentative essay is to persuade the reader to accept or agree with a particular viewpoint or position on a controversial or debatable topic. In other words, the primary goal of an argumentative essay is to convince the audience that the author's argument or thesis statement is valid, logical, and well-supported by evidence and reasoning.
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Steps for Writing an Argumentation Essay
- Review all the reading material on the subject — notes, highlighting, etc.
- Divide the main points into those for your issue and those against your issue.
- Write a thesis statement identifying the issue and your position.
- Construct an outline which has the primary main ideas supporting your position and one or two opposing arguments for refutation. Choose a pattern of organization which is logical and convincing.
- Outline secondary supports for each of your major points, including evidence, examples, explanations, testimony, cause/effect, etc. and, of course, include your reference material.
- Begin your draft. Write the body of the essay based on your outline, using your major supports as topic sentences. Make sure that you use transitions between and within paragraphs. Make sure that opposition arguments are stated briefly and refuted at length, so that your reader knows you do not support the opposition's points.
- Write your introduction. Include briefly some background information so you set the stage for your argument. State that there is an opposition view and the main points you plan to dispute. Give your thesis and an essay map outlining the main points in support of your thesis.
- Write your conclusion. Make sure you restate the main premise, present one or two arguments which summarize your main points. Provide a general warning of the consequences of not following your premise and/or a general statement of how the community will benefit from following your premise.
- Do your paragraphs present arguments which support your main points as non-debatable or as facts? Do you have adequate and convincing support?
- Do one or two of your paragraphs present arguments which oppose your main premise as debatable and possibly untrue? Do you begin those parts with phrases such as "opponents believe" or "some people argue," etc.?
- Have you clearly marked the place where you shift from the opposing to the supporting points with such words as "however"?
- Do you have an introduction that draws your reader into your argument? Do you have a conclusion which leaves the reader feeling the strength and logic of your position?
- Revise, revise, and proofread. Take your paper to the writing center , please.
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How to Write an Argumentative Essay That Takes a Strong Stance and Supports It
You know what feels incredible? Winning an argument! Whether you’re going head to head in a debate or winning a mock trial in class, successfully arguing your side of the story is such a rewarding experience you won’t soon forget it.
And that’s because you’ve used logic to your advantage while leaving your competitor scratching their head. It feels good to win, and logic can help you get there.
What is logic you may ask? Logic is essentially using certain strategies to reason with someone else. And while there are many types of both formal and informal logic, all of them revolve around being rational and using good judgment to make and support your claim.
You may not realize it, but you argue in class discussions, on assignments, and as part of assessments every day in school. Plus, many adults get paid to argue for a living in careers like law, law enforcement, sales, and copywriting.
So, mastering the art of developing good arguments in academic essays can be beneficial in both school and your future career. And the best place to start is by learning how to write a good argumentative essay in class.
What is an Argumentative Essay
An argumentative essay is essentially a piece of academic writing in which you take a side on a particular topic and make an argument based on it in a rational and very logical way.
While certain topics may get you all fired up, which is totally natural, you don’t want your argumentative essay to sound like a verbal altercation. Instead, you want to sound like a cool, calm, and collected person who thinks deeply about certain topics and who can use supporting evidence to back up their claim.
Remember, this assignment is your chance to demonstrate to readers that you can investigate a topic thoroughly and collect enough evidence to prove that the side you’ve taken makes the most sense to any reasonable person.
Your goal here is to make your reader think. It is not to convince them of anything, per se, which makes the focus of an argumentative essay slightly different from a persuasive essay in that regard.
At the end of the assignment, you’ve done your job correctly if your reader understands where you're coming from, opposing arguments and why you’ve taken the side that you have. They should be able to pinpoint exactly what your claim is and what evidence you’ve included to support that claim.
Mastering the art of writing arguments is like any other formal writing that you do. With time and practice, your arguments will get better. And your reader will be able to think critically about the opposing position you have taken, in turn, asking themselves how they feel about it as well.
Requirements for a Good Argumentative Essay
To receive a top grade on your argumentative essay writing, discuss all of the requirements with your teacher before you begin and make sure that you’re meeting all of them along the way.
Your teacher is most likely looking for:
- An approved topic
- Pre-writing assignments like graphic organizers and outlines
- A strong claim
- Valid evidence that supports your claim
- That you followed the basic argumentative essay format
- Grammatically-correct writing
If at any time you’re unsure of what the requirements are, check in with your teacher and refer back to this list for help.
Topics for Argumentative Essays
If you can identify more than one side to a story, it’s possible to write an argument about it. And that makes writing an argumentative essay more fun than, say, other formal essays or pieces of writing—because you have endless options to choose from. Plus, you can even decide to write about the view opposing yours to keep things interesting.
For example, let’s say you decide to research and write about a new policy at your school. As soon as you heard about it, you knew that you didn’t agree with it. But, you decide to go ahead and stretch your argumentative writing muscle a bit and write your essay about the new policy at school being a good idea and all the reasons your classmates should support it.
Having the ability to draft a logical argument is a great skill to have both now and in the future.
And here are 10 topics for an argumentative essay you might want to consider diving into:
- Should animal testing be banned?
- Is abortion morally wrong?
- Do video games encourage violent behaviors?
- Should explicit rap lyrics be censored?
- Does fracking harm the environment?
- Is global warming real?
- Does white privilege actually exist?
- Should student loans be forgiven?
- Does gun control stop gun violence?
- Is mainstream media biased?
Do any of these draw your eye? If not, the good news is that you have plenty of opportunities to form an argument just by looking around you. And your teacher can help you decide which topic works best for this particular assignment.
Argumentative Essay Structure
The argumentative essay structure you will use for this assignment is the standard 5 paragraph essay:
- An introduction with a strong claim
- The first body paragraph with strong supporting points
- The second body paragraph with strong supporting points
- The third body paragraph with strong supporting points
- A conclusion that rephrases the main points of the entire essay
Of course, the 5 paragraph essay structure is just a starting point. Depending on your grade, you may be required to write additional body paragraphs. Or, you may decide to write additional body paragraphs on your own to make your argument stronger.
Either way, a good argumentative paper becomes a great argumentative paper when you follow the basic essay structure, have a plausible claim, and provide as much solid evidence as possible to support what you’re saying. Some teachers will even require you to include an additional paragraph in which you refute the other side of the argument which means you discuss why other people might disagree with you and show why they would be wrong in doing so.
How to Write an Argumentative Essay
Forming a sound argument in your head is very similar to writing an argument out in essay format—in that they both require you to be logical in how you go about them.
First , you want to choose a topic that you can take a clear stance on. You definitely don’t want to write about anything that you could go either way about, so select a topic that you’re sure you have a strong opinion on one way or the other.
Second , start planning your essay out with the help of a graphic organizer. The graphic organizer you use will help you map out an outline for your essay and will serve as a place to collect all of the supporting evidence you’ll use to back up your claim.
Next , start writing your first draft. Be sure that you incorporate all of extensive research and the information you’ve gathered previously while still staying calm as you write. A good argumentative essay will not sound as if you are yelling at the reader. Rather, it will sound like you are thinking intelligently about the issue and are sharing evidence that your opinion is valid.
Then , review the first draft and make any necessary changes to it. Asking for another person’s advice will also help you improve what you’ve written so far.
Lastly, complete a final draft and turn it in. Your assignment is now complete.
Argumentative Essay Examples
If you want to get good at something—like really good at something—the best way to approach it is to watch an expert do it first then try it out on your own. Teachers do this, doctors do this, and even servers at restaurants do this when they’re just starting out.
Not only does this practice show you how something is done for the first, but it also inspires you to do it in ways you may not have thought of on your own. So, it’s also a good idea to repeat the process later on even if you may have tried something once before.
And writing is no exception. If you’ve written an argumentative essay before, there’s always room to improve.
So, check out these argumentative essay examples and see what you can learn from them before you start writing one of your own:
You can become an expert at winning arguments simply by learning the science of logic. And once you know how to take a strong stance on a topic and support it with plenty of evidence, winning arguments—orally or in written form—becomes that much easier.
While many people hear the word argument and automatically think of a heated exchange by two or more angry people, arguments are really just an interaction between people with opposing views. And gaining practice in developing logical arguments can help you both in school and in your present and future career.
So, what’s stopping you? Use what you’ve learned today to start crafting your best argumentative paper yet. You can do this!
About the author
Penelope Lively is an Associate Professor at the Department of English at Indiana University Bloomington. She is a distinguished academic who has written extensively on various topics related to English literature. With a PhD degree from Tufts University, she is a highly qualified and respected scholar in her field.
She has extensive experience in teaching essay writing. She is known for her innovative and effective teaching methods that help students develop their writing skills. Lively has a talent for breaking down complex writing concepts into manageable steps, making it easier for students to understand and apply them.
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