Nearly all scholarly writing makes an argument. That’s because its purpose is to create new knowledge so it can be debated in order to confirm, dis-confirm, or improve it. That arguing takes place mostly in journals and scholarly books and at conferences. It’s called the scholarly conversation, and it’s that conversation that moves forward what we humans know.
Tip: Tutorial on Scholarly Publishing
View an overview of the different ways in which scholars share their work with each other and the public.
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Your scholarly writing for classes should do the same—make an argument—just like your professors’ journal article, scholarly book, and conference presentation writing does. (You may not have realized that the writing you’re required to do mirrors what scholars all over the university, country, and world must do to create new knowledge and debate it. Of course, you may be a beginner at constructing arguments in writing, while most professors have been at it for some time. And your audience (for now) also may be more limited than your professor’s. But the process is much the same. As you complete your research assignments, you, too, are entering the scholarly conversation.)
Making an argument means trying to convince others that you are correct as you describe a thing, situation, or phenomenon and/or persuade them to take a particular action. Important not just in college, that skill will be necessary for nearly every professional job you hold after college. So learning how to make an argument is good job preparation, even if you do not choose a scholarly career.
Realizing that your term paper, essay, blog post, or poster is to make an argument gives you a big head start because right off you know the sources you’re going to need are those that will let you write the components of an argument for your reader.
Happily (and not coincidentally), most of those components coincide with the information needs we’ve been talking about. Filling an information need by using sources will enable you to write the corresponding argument component in your final product.