Making an argument in an essay, term paper, or other college writing task is like laying out a case in court. Just as there are conventions that attorneys must adhere to as they make their arguments in court, there are conventions in arguments made in college assignments. Among those conventions is to use the components of an argument.
This section on making an argument was developed with the help of “Making Good Arguments” in The Craft of Research, by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams, University of Chicago Press, 2003.
The arguments you’re used to hearing or participating in with friends about something that is uncertain or needs to be decided contain the same components as the ones you’ll need to use in essays and term papers. Arguments contain those components because those are the ones that work—used together, they stand the best chance of persuading others that you are correct.
For instance, the question gets things started off. The claim, or thesis, tells people what you consider a true way of describing a thing, situation, or phenomenon or what action you think should be taken. The reservations, alternatives, and objections that someone else brings up in your sources or that you imagine your readers logically might have allow you to demonstrate how your reasons and evidence (maybe) overcome that kind of thinking—and (you hope) your claim/thesis comes out stronger for having withstood that test.
Activity: Labeled Components
Read the short dialog on pages 114 and 115 in the ebook The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. The components of an argument are labeled for you.
Example: Argument as a Dialog
Here’s a dialog of an argument, with the most important components labeled.
Activity: Components of an Argument
Argument and Information Needs
Each component of an argument relates back to your information needs.
|Need||Component of Your Argument|
|To get background information and develop a research question (if your professor hasn’t given you a specific question)||Your research question, which probably will not appear in your term paper or essay but which drives the entire research process|
|To answer your research question||Your thesis (may also be called your claim)|
|To convince your audience your answer is correct or at least reasonable||
|To describe the situation around your research question and why it’s important||This is not an argument component but is usually an important part of term papers and essays. It is usually done in the introduction in order to help readers understand and to encourage them to continue reading.|
|To report what others have said that’s relevant||