Mining Topics and Finding Nuggets to Explore in Writing an Argumentative Essay
Critical thinking stands at the core of higher education. Before thought can be analyzed and evaluated, it must be expressed physically in language (understood broadly to include music, painting, dance, etc.). Such expression is likely an integral and essential part of the critical-thought process.
The analytical or argumentative essay nurtures and assesses a writer's growth in critical-thinking skills. Each essay should defend a specific thesis on a controversial and important topic (based on a student-selected freewrite in the Dropbox) in such a way as to convince an informed, rational, intelligent, but highly dubious reader that the position is the correct one. Take the E4 D1 draft and figure a way to begin forming an extended argument that contains five distinct sections set off by these bullets:
• Section I comprises a single declarative sentence which states the position (thesis) clearly, precisely, and succinctly. (Example: "Thomas Freidman and Michael Mandelbaum's book That Used to Be Us argues ... (agree or disagree) because ...” Introductory or background information and a clear statement of the main point comprise Section I.
• Section II defends the thesis by use of solid reasoning utilizing clear concepts, verifiable facts, and generally accepted principles. (Each distinct argument presented anywhere in the paper should have its own distinct paragraph.) Distinguish between the thoughts belonging to Freidman and Mandelbaum and those that belong to the writer. In each paragraph indicate an idea and give credit where it is due. Once the point is absolutely clear, writers can much more easily see when they have gone off track (either by including extraneous material or by omitting something central).
• Section III presents the case for the opposite view and raises possible objections to the points raised in Section II. This is a concession or acknowledgement of the weaknesses or disadvantages of the thesis. Combining form and function sometimes enables simple paragraph-counting to point out shortfalls. If the number of paragraphs in Sections III and IV are not the same, for example, the writer has failed to address some important point.
• Section IV responds directly to the points raised in Section III. Bring out the most persuasive points to win the argument related to the thesis.
• Section V summarizes, evaluates, and reaffirms the position stated in Section I, and also takes the argument in a new direction that further supports the original thesis. Writers commonly omit the ties between factual information and the conclusion that the facts are intended to support. That is, writers may fail to construct arguments. They may somehow feel that the reasons they mention support the thesis but do not (and, too often, cannot at first) say what the tie is. Once writers understand how to tie every sentence in the paper to the thesis, they will learn how to build arguments.
These five Sections inform any expression of critical analysis and evaluation, no matter what the discipline. One could, for example, use the genre to defend a particular interpretation of a poem, or to make a case that current fiscal policy must eventually result in serious inflation. In this context, the separation of Sections in a draft helps in the final writing. Specifying a clear function for each Section enables writers to organize their thinking. It also presents them with major challenges in separating their ideas out and in recognizing where each idea fits.