Published on September 7, 2013
Argumentative essay outline Explanation of the problem Stating your position Argument supporting your position Rebuttal of expected criticisms Resolution of the issue Writing an argumentative essay entails five basic steps: researching the issue, stating your position on the issue, arguing for your position, rebutting objections to your position, and resolving the issue. The outline of such an essay might look like this:
Explanation of the problem This very first step in constructing an extended argument or writing an argumentative essay is to become thoroughly acquainted with the complexity of the issue at stake. Your main concern shouldn’t be that of defending the position that you may already have on an issue; your goal is to discover which of the available positions on the question is the most valid one. It is likely that researching the question may cause you to discard your original position. Excellent preparation involves looking at all sides of the coin. Not only does this lead you in determining which position to defend, it also familiarizes you with the possible arguments for or against that position. It also familiarizes you with alternative positions on the problem and the reasons that are supporting them. Most important, you’ll understand the major criticisms of your position and the arguments supporting it, which you must successfully rebut as part of your essay.
Stating your position Before presenting your argument for your position, it is a good idea to indicate why the question at issue is an important one. The very fact that you are writing an argumentative essay suggests that there is an important unresolved or open question to be addressed. After you have carefully discussed the significance of the issue, you should state your position on it right at the start of your essay. This should be done similarly to the way a prosecutor does it in his or her opening statement at the beginning of a trial. Your research has already led you to the conclusion you’ll be defending, so you should declare it as quickly as simply as possible. If it is a problem to be solved, you should make it clear that you believe your proposal will help solve it. There is no need to spend a lot of space up front addressing the complexity of the issue. The complex nature of the question will become sufficiently clear as you present your argument in support of your position.
Arguing for your position The section in which you argue for your position is the most critical part of your essay. Here is where you’ll present the argument in support of your stated position. The argument for your position should look like a considerably expanded version of a standard-form argument. Typically, you should use one paragraph for each premise in your argument so that the reader is less likely to be confused about the parts of your argument. Remember that everything you say should help support the position, so you shouldn’t include extraneous material, even if it would make the essay more entertaining or colorful. Set forth the strongest evidence you have in support of your conclusion, making all your premises as explicit as possible and arranging them so that they flow from one to the next in logical way. Use examples sparingly so that the reader is less likely to confuse an illustration with a part of the argument. Also, if possible, try to make your argument a deductive one, to increase the relative strength of the argument.
Rebutting Objections to Your Position The fifth criterion of a good argument, the rebuttal criterion, deserves a special status. A good argument should provide an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges of most arguments. This is the most neglected feature of most arguments. Almost any arguer can find relevant and acceptable premises and what appears to be sufficient number of premises to support a conclusion, but such an argument would not be good one unless it could also effectively answer the criticisms of those who challenge its merit. You should include effective rebuttals to the strongest of those criticisms as a part of your essay. If you do not have an effective response to them, then you probably should not be defending that position. You should have discovered this during the research phase of the argumentative essay assignment. Since only one position can be the most defensible position on the question, you should also be able to identify significant flaws in arguments supporting alternative positions on the issue. However, since it may not be possible to land a knockout blow against each of those alternative positions, you should at least make it clear that the argument for your position comes closer to successfully meeting all the criteria of a good argument that the arguments for the alternative positions.
Resolving the issue Since you’ll have stated the conclusion of the essay at the beginning, you probably don’t have to state it again at the end. However, you probably will want to show how the position you have defended resolves the question, solves the problem, or settles the conflict, which was the main impetus for writing the essay. You might also point out how the argument successfully meets all the conditions of a good argument, including the effective rebuttal of criticisms of your argument, the position it supports, and the arguments for the strongest alternative positions. Finally, you may wish to suggest areas related to the question where further research may be usefully conducted; but do not leave the reader with any doubt about where you stand on the issue.
Putting together an argumentative essay outline is the perfect way to get started on your argumentative essay assignment—just fill in the blanks!
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