How to Write an Argumentative Essay

How to Write an Argumentative Essay

Arguing is fundamental to human conversation. We argue with our friends, our family members, and our bosses at work. An argument does not need to be a hostile or threatening situation. In fact, writing an argumentative essay will help you to develop stronger communications skills. Learning how to write an argumentative essay can become one of the most important skills you learn.  

Some argumentative essays are impassioned, filled with emotion because you strongly believe in what you are writing about. Other argumentative essays rely more strictly on research or evidence. All argumentative essays are designed to help you state your case in a clear and convincing way.

This article will help you write an argumentative essay. First we will discuss why argumentative essays are popular assignments at all levels of school. Then, we will show you how to write an argumentative essay using standard formats and outlines. Finally, we will offer you suggestions for some good argumentative essay topics.

Why An Argumentative Essay Is Important

The reason why argumentative essays are frequently assigned in high school and university is that they prepare you to better hone your communications skills. Writing an argumentative essay helps you to frame your arguments intelligently, using facts instead of only relying only your emotions. Argumentative essays are important because they help you improve your skills in research, critical thinking, and writing.

In fact, argumentative essays are frequently assigned as early as junior high school because they are considered the most important priority in mastering communication. If you have struggled writing argumentative essays, you are not alone. Many students struggle with argumentative essays because they have yet to learn some tricks, tips, and techniques that can help them. If you need to, ask for help from a writing tutor or your instructor so that you can write the best possible argumentative essay in every class.

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How to Write an Argumentative Essay

First, there is no one “right” way to write an argumentative essay. Each argumentative essay should be unique, because no two arguments are the same. Even when you have a standardized essay format to work with, you will have some flexibility in how you present your case.

Second, the best way to write an argumentative essay is to start with what you know. If you have been asked to pick your own topic, choose something that you believe in strongly.

Alternatively, some students find writing an argumentative essay more enjoyable when they are encouraged to learn something new. Instead of writing about the subjects you already know about, challenge yourself to think critically about a new topic. You may be surprised how much fun it can be to present an argumentative essay about a topic you previously knew nothing about. Sometimes the best argumentative essays are about things that you just learned about through your research, because you have fewer biases or assumptions about the subject. Although you do want to be passionate about the argumentative essay subject you choose, biases and assumptions weaken your argument.

Finally, the best argumentative essays are based on research and evidence. When you start writing an argumentative essay, do some research online or at the library first. When you research the topic, you will strengthen your argument with logic and reason.

Argumentative Essay Format

Argumentative essays can be formatted in a number of different ways. For example, you could start with a powerful story or example that grabs your reader’s attention with a potent emotional appeal. Alternatively, you could start your argumentative essay by stating why you are personally qualified to write about the subject. You could also format your argumentative essay by leading in with facts and figures and then later showing the reader why those facts are important.

Argumentative essays are always strongest when they rely on the three primary principles of rhetoric: pathos, ethos, and logos. Pathos refers to emotions. Ethos refers to ethics and credibility. Logos refers to logic. Together, these three are the most important aspects of an argumentative essay. In your argumentative essay, it is best to use all three of these methods of rhetorical persuasion.

The overall format of the argumentative essay will vary depend on your instructor’s preferences and the subject area. Although most argumentative essays will be formatted similarly to an essay or a term paper in that they have an introduction, body, and conclusion, the most important thing is to stay focused on your topic, and use pathos, ethos, and logos together throughout the argumentative essay.

Importance of Pathos (Emotion) in an Argumentative Essay

Pathos refers to emotions. Most good argumentative essays contain some appeal to emotions. Human beings are driven by their emotions, which is why even the most logical appeal should ultimately be grounded in some kind of real feeling. Using emotional appeals strengthens your argumentative essay, but be careful: do not overuse pathos in your argumentative essays.

Too much pathos makes for a weaker argumentative essay than one that also includes the other two principles of rhetorical reasoning: logos and ethos. Each argumentative essay will have a different balance between pathos, ethos, and logos. When Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, he used strong emotional appeals to argue against segregation and other racist policies. However, King also used facts (logos) and ethical appeals to substantiate his own credibility as a leader (ethos).

Importance of Ethos (Ethical Credibility) in an Argumentative Essay

The concept of ethos is one that some students have trouble grasping. It is important to develop a stronger understanding of what ethos is and how to use it in an argumentative essay. Your instructors expect you to use ethos throughout your argumentative essay because without it, your position could seem weak.

Ethos is not just about ethics, even though the words share the same root. When we refer to ethos in an argumentative essay, we are talking more about the credibility of the writer’s position. If you are a student, you will lack substantial credibility on many academic topics. There may be some subject areas you are qualified to discuss, particularly when you have personal experience. Therefore, if you are permitted or encouraged to share a personal anecdote or story to bolster your argumentative essay, do so.

Most academic argumentative essays are written in the third person, which means you are not supposed to use the first person point of view. If you do not write about your own personal experience, how will you include ethos into your argumentative essay? Simple. Just do what the pros do and conduct research.

To include ethos in your argumentative essay, find credible sources such as articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. The articles you find online may lack the kind of ethical or professional credibility that your professors expect from your argumentative essay. However, there are many online resources that do have credibility, such as government websites or the websites of professional organizations.

It is also important to distinguish ethos from logos. An ethical argument is inherently logical, but its internal logic still needs to be based on external, concrete facts and evidence. That evidence is logos.

Importance of Logos (Logic and Fact) in an Argumentative Essay

No argumentative essay can be credible without some appeal to logic or evidence. Evidence may include statistics, scientific research, or references to primary source material. In an argumentative essay, you want to use facts, evidence, and logic to back up your essential claim. Avoid getting bogged down by facts and logic, which could turn a good argumentative essay into just a research paper or term paper. An argumentative essay needs to be persuasive, convincing, and impassioned as well as logical and reasonable.

When you conduct the research for your argumentative essay, you will naturally be gathering the facts that back up your claims. You will also make sure that your facts come from credible sources, which is why ethos and logos do go hand in hand. For example, if you cite statistics that you found on someone’s blog, those statistics make logical sense and seem like facts, but they lack credibility. If you find statistics on the website of the United States Department of Labor, on the other hand, then you have both logos (fact) plus ethos (credibility).

Argumentative Essay Topics

Now that you understand the basic concept of an argumentative essay, you can begin by coming up with an interesting topic. If you have been asked to pick your own topic for an argumentative essay and do not know where to begin, here are a few examples to get you started. You can also work with a writing tutor or your professor to narrow down your topic.

Based on what you now know about pathos, ethos, and logos, you want your argumentative essay topic to be about something that has some emotional appeal, and which also has sufficient credible evidence to back up your claims. For example, let’s say you want to write an argumentative essay about tree frogs in the Amazonian rainforest. Although tree frogs in the Amazonian rainforest are interesting creatures, and you can find sufficient scientific data about them, you will find it difficult transform the topic into a viable argument unless you inject some pathos, or emotion, into the argumentative essay. Therefore, you would want to argue that cutting down the Amazonian rainforest is a bad idea because it kills tree frogs. You can argue your case using pathos, ethos, and logos by appealing to your reader’s sense of sympathy or anger related to the causes and effects of rainforest destruction.

Here are several more argumentative essay topics you can work with, including a sample thesis statement for each one:

1. Should Donald Trump be impeached?

Although Donald Trump is not a good president, impeaching him would be a bad idea because it could lead to widespread economic, social, and political instability.

2. What is the ideal health care system for America?

The single payer model works well in most other industrialized nations, and there is no reason why the United States should not also adopt the single payer model for ethical, financial, and political reasons.

3. What were the primary causes of the Reformation?

The primary causes of the Reformation included increased rates of literacy throughout Europe, combined with weakening authority of the Church.

4. Do you agree that the drinking age should be lowered to 18?

The drinking age should not be lowered to 18 because it would lead to increased rates of drunk driving incidents, and might also cause more young people to drop out of school or college.

5. Should cannabis be legal at the federal level? Why?

Cannabis should be legal at the federal level because it has been proven safer than alcohol, because it would liberate valuable criminal justice resources, and because it would weaken organized crime syndicates.

6. What is the best leadership style and why?

The best leadership style is transformative leadership because it helps empower all members of the team and ensures the organization runs smoothly in the long run.

7. All companies should be required to offer one year of paid paternity and maternity leave for all full time employees.

Paid paternity and maternity leave would ultimately benefit individual companies and the economy, by creating a more satisfied workforce and stable labor market.

8. Should puppy mills be banned?

Puppy mills are unethical and should be banned because there are are already too many dogs that are being euthanized in shelters, and buying a purebred dog is completely unnecessary.

9. Should affirmative action be banned?

Bias and prejudice are often unconscious processes or phenomena, which is why affirmative action is still needed to ensure a more equitable and just society.

10. Should cell phones be banned in schools?

Although using a cell phone while in class should not be allowed, it is unfeasible and unreasonable to ban their use in schools.

11. Does social media cause bullying?

Social media is a tool that bullies use, but social media itself does not cause bullying.

12. Should bullies be forced to receive therapy?

Bullying is problematic and violent behavior that should be taken seriously as a major risk factor, which is why bullies should be forced to attend therapy sessions or support groups.

13. Should the death penalty be abolished?

The death penalty should be abolished because there is too much likelihood that innocent people might be sentenced to death.

14. Is Oedipus a tragic hero?

Oedipus is a classical tragic hero who exhibits the quality of hubris, being blind to his own folly.

15. Is psychology a science or pseudoscience?

Although the scientific method does underpin a lot of psychological research, ultimately, the study of psychology is not a real science because it is impossible to accurately measure the subjective dimensions of the human experience.

16. What were the main causes of the Civil War?

The Civil War was caused primarily by the fact that the United States had condoned the practice of slavery for too long, enabling slavery to become entrenched in the identity and economy of the Southern states.

17. Who had a greater influence on European art in general: Caravaggio or Picasso?

Although both Caravaggio and Picasso were tremendously influential in their own times, Picasso’s radical deconstruction of form was far more important than Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro.

18. Should the United States continue to promote democratic forms of government in foreign countries?

As tempting as it might be to assume democracy is the ideal form of government everywhere, it is profoundly arrogant as well as unfeasible and dangerous to impose any form of government on any society.

19. Should there be a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal pay regardless of gender?

Because gender pay inequity continues to exist, the only way to remedy the situation is through top-down legislation and enforcement of a Constitutional Amendment for equal rights for women.

20. Should women be allowed in all combat positions?

There is no concrete evidence to suggest that women would in any way hamper the effectiveness of the armed forces, which is why anyone who is capable and competent should be allowed to serve in combat roles.

Argumentative Essay Outline

After you narrow down your topic, it is time to outline your argumentative essay. An outline helps you to organize your thoughts, which helps you make a better argumentative essay. You can use the following skeleton of an argumentative essay outline:

I. Introduction

            A. Hook

            B. Leading statements

            C. Thesis/Main Argument

II. Body Section 1

            A. Topic sentence

            B. Developing ideas with pathos, ethos, logos.         

III. Body Section II

A. Topic sentence

           B. Developing ideas with pathos, ethos, logos.

IV. Body Section III

            A. Topic sentence related to a counter-argument

            B. Refuting the counterargument using pathos, ethos, and logos

V. Conclusion

            A. Restate your core argument.

            B. Make suggestions for taking action.

Sample of Argumentative Essay Outline

I. Climate change is a serious threat to global politics, economics, and human societies worldwide. The time has come to stop pandering to those who either disbelieve that global warming exists, or to those who spend all their time focused only on the causes of climate change. We need to start thinking of solutions.

Thesis: To mitigate the effects of climate change, the United States should ban the internal combustion engine by 2040, just as China has also promised to do.

II. American scientists are already working on new transportation technologies to replace the internal combustion engine, including but not limited to electric cars.

III. It is feasible to invest more heavily in public transportation infrastructure, which would boost the economy.

IV. Although many people say that the economy would collapse without the internal combustion engine, examples from history as well as modeling of future economics data shows that innovation in alternative fuels will be more profitable than the current trajectory of continuing reliance on cars.

V. The United States can and should ban the internal combustion engine by 2040, and become the global leader in revolutionary new transportation technologies and infrastructures.

Citing Sources in an Argumentative Essay

Before you turn in your argumentative essay, be sure you avoid plagiarism by citing all your sources. In fact, your argumentative essay will look a lot more sophisticated and impressive if you use in-text citations or footnotes and have a strong bibliography than if you fail to refer to any credible sources at all. Remember pathos, ethos, and logos: citing your sources ensures you include ethos as well as pathos.


Writing a good argumentative essay is one of the most important communications tasks you can learn. If you are struggling with writing an argumentative essay, do not be afraid to ask for help now. It is better to seek help with an argumentative essay than to succumb to stress and anxiety, or worse, to procrastinate until you fail to meet your deadline.

Remember that writing an argumentative essay is much different from writing a research paper or a term paper. You do need to be passionate and emotional, but back up what you are saying with real facts from credible sources and not “fake news.” Use pathos, ethos, and logos. Appeal to emotion, but do not get so wrapped up in your feelings that you forget to rely on facts. At the same time, do not make the mistake of regurgitating what other people say about the topic without putting your own opinion into it.

Finally, an argumentative essay can be about anything from art and literature to politics or science. You will have argumentative essay assignments in almost any class you take. If you have been assigned a specific topic that you know nothing about, start slowly and learn all you can before you write an argumentative essay. You will enjoy the process much more if you relax, keep it simple, and follow simple steps for creating the best argumentative essay possible.

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