In an essay you should aim to persuade the reader by developing one or more arguments in support of your thesis. Being able to write an effective and convincing argument is then an essential skill in academia. Below are four tips to help you craft effective arguments that will convert the strongest of sceptics.

Know your argument

Do extensive research and, from this, be sure of your position. How can you hope to convince your reader if you are not convinced yourself? It will be clear in your writing that you do not know what you’re talking about if your arguments are vague and confused. Your argument represents an informed position on the question you have been set. It is key to determining the reasoning and structure of your entire essay, so it’s important you get it right. Test whether you have a solid grasp on your position by condensing it into a single sentence. Once you are sure of your argument, think about its key themes, how you are going to demonstrate these and the evidence that relates to them.

Provide sufficient evidence

You simply cannot make a strong argument without sufficient evidence to back-up your position. Using compelling arguments is important, but you are unlikely to persuade the reader unless it is supported by facts, data and/or examples. For this, thorough research is essential to ensure you have a wealth of credible sources in support of your argument. Avoid using anecdotal or personal evidence. “In my experience…” is not the start of a convincing argument. Similarly, familiarise yourself with logical fallacies so that you can avoid them, as these will only serve to undermine your argument. For example, a “slippery slope” argument based on the premise that if A happens, so too will B, C, D and eventually Z, through false equivalency, lacks evidence and is unlikely to persuade the reader. Never simply assert that something is true.

Engage opposing viewpoints

It’s not enough to only provide evidence in support of your own viewpoint. You must also successfully predict and refute any potential opposing positions. You may have presented very strong evidence in favour of your position, but by failing to address potential counterarguments, you leave your viewpoint open to criticism by sceptical readers. Opposing viewpoints should be apparent in the literature when undertaking your research, or perhaps you have identified possible logical objections yourself. Ideally these would be mentioned in the background section of your introduction and investigated further in your discussion. By doing this you lend additional credence to your position.

Put it all together

Your main argument should be visible throughout, so it is useful to think about the relationship between the argument and the beginning, middle and end of the essay. Put simply, you should aim to first tell the reader what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then reflect on what you’ve told them. This will keep your position clear for the reader in the context of the essay question. After introducing the arguments, develop them by presenting information that supports your thesis and refutes contradictory viewpoints.

Here is one way you could structure your argument that considers evidence from both sides:

1. Evidence that supports your thesis
2. A critical evaluation of your supporting evidence
3. Evidence that contradicts your thesis
4. A critical evaluation of the contradictory evidence, exploring why you consider it insufficient
5. Reaffirm your thesis in relation to the argument

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