Arguments used in essays

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1. The term ‘arguments’ is used to describe your response to an essay question. Your arguments might sometimes be no more than an explaining or evaluating a subject, interpreting a text, solving a problem, or reporting on a project.

2. In its more particular sense, an argument can be a proposition which is put forward and then illustrated, discussed, and defended. It might be the assertion and defence of a particular moral belief ("Killing people is always wrong") the judgement of a work of art ("Bleak House is Dickens’s greatest novel") or the inspection of someone else’s belief ("How valid is Chomsky’s notion of a Universal Grammar?").

3. An academic argument should not be confused with the sort of personal dispute we might have with a family member ("You ate the last piece of cake! No I didn’t!") – though it is true that both are forms of persuasion. Academic essays should not include literary abuse or personal criticism.

4. The difference between these two notions is that an academic argument should be put forward in an objective and relatively neutral manner. It must also be accompanied by illustrative examples, evidence to support your propositions, and logically persuasive discussion.

5. The argument might be a single claim or a theory for which ‘proof’ is offered. Alternatively, it might be an idea or a notion which is explored in a discursive manner. In this case, the order of the topics being examined forms the structure of the ‘argument’.

© Roy Johnson 2003


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