Argumentation - Nipissing University

An argument attempts to persuade. Most essays that you will write in your university career will
attempt to persuade your reader to believe your opinion, claim, or idea. The best and most interesting
arguments are those which do not have a definite or immediate answer. You need to engage in a
discussion and develop your full thoughts about a topic. Further, you need to support your claims with
strong evidence and logical reasoning so that you convince the reader of your point.
The three aspects of effective arguments are outlined below:
1. Clear definition – It must be clear what you are discussing. All terms should be defined so that
there is no misunderstanding about the topic you are discussing. This is almost always done
before you begin the argument and is commonly found in the introduction of the paper. If the
reader has misunderstandings about your topic which is provided in the introduction, then there
is almost no point in the rest of your paper. The introduction should indicate the general subject
of your paper, then narrow the subject to a narrow topic, and finally provide a thesis which is
the central claim you are arguing in your paper.
Sample Introduction
Shakespeare's Hamlet is, by common consent an ambiguous play, with many
conflicting interpretative possibilities. At the heart of many disputes about the play is
the character of the hero himself. Just what sort of person is Prince Hamlet? The
play puts a lot of pressure on us to explore this question, simply because the
motivation for Hamlet's actions and inaction is by no means clear, and yet it is
obviously important. A comprehensive answer to this issue is beyond the scope of a
short essay. However, whatever Hamlet's character adds up to exactly, one very
curious feature about it is his attitude to and relationships with women. For there is
a distinctive pattern in Hamlet's language and behaviour whenever he is thinking
about or dealing with Ophelia and Gertrude. This pattern is so distinctive that we
can reasonably assume it indicates something important about the prince. In fact,
Hamlet's peculiarly aggressive and often cynical view of these two women and,
beyond them, of women in general, is an important indication of the general
unhealthiness of Hamlet's character.
The first highlighted sentence introduces readers to the general subject of the paper: the
character of Hamlet.
The second highlighted sentence introduces readers to a much narrower topic: Hamlet’s
language and behavior towards Ophelia and Gertrude.
The third highlighted sentence is the thesis statement and it is clear that the author will argue
that Hamlet’s treatment of the two women indicates that Hamlet is an unhealthy character.
As previously mentioned, any specific terms that are going to be used in the paper must be defined so
that there is no uncertainty surrounding terms. If, for example, you were to write an essay about how to
stop racial profiling in Canada, you would need to provide a definition of the term “racial profiling” so
that everyone shares the same understanding of racial profiling. If this is not done, readers may be
2. Deductive reasoning – This is a logical process by which we move from something we already all
agree to be true to the application of this general truth to a particular case (e.g., Killing people is
always wrong; capital punishment involves killing people; therefore, capital punishment is
always wrong).
3. Inductive reasoning – This is the logical process in which we proceed from particular evidence
to a conclusion which, on the basis of that evidence, we agree to be true or probably true (e.g.,
In this essay the writer frequently uses words like "perhaps," "maybe," and "alternatively." This
feature of the style creates doubts in the mind of the reader about the writer’s confidence in his
Most arguments combine both deduction and induction. Deduction supplies the shape of the argument
and induction establishes agreement about one or more stages in the argument.
The Body of the Paper
Once the argument has been established, you may proceed with the body of the paper. This involves
writing a series of sections that support the thesis. There are a number of things to remember about the
body of the argument:
1. The body should proceed one point at a time. Each point should be introduced and linked to the
thesis in turn.
2. You need to select the most important and strongest points to support your thesis. A few
thoroughly discussed points are more persuasive than many points discussed more generally.
3. Do not digress from the thesis. Make sure all your points link back clearly to the thesis.
How to Structure Paragraphs
It is important to remember that paragraphs should only deal with one idea at a time. This idea should
be established in the topic sentence—that is, the first sentence of the paragraph. All your ideas should
be supported by evidence. Evidence can include words from the text (if you are writing a literature
essay), research, and secondary sources. Evidence alone is not persuasive; evidence needs to be put into
context and made meaningful by the author. All the sentences in the paragraph should clearly link back
to the topic sentence. The use of transition words creates coherence across the paragraph. A list of
transition words is included below:
In addition, By contrast, Contrarily, Similarly Further, First, Next, Finally, Moreover, Indeed, However,
Therefore, For example, For instance, In fact, In conclusion, Also, Furthermore, Thus, As a result,
Nevertheless, But, Of course, After, Later, In summary
Sample Body Paragraph
The argument that we need capital punishment in order to reduce the
cost of maintaining the penal system is quite misplaced. There is no
evidence that executing murderers will save us money. A number of
studies of this question have shown that, on average, it costs about
$50,000 per year to keep a maximum security offender in jail (Schneider,
1990; Ross and Sinclair 1996). A person who serves, say, a 25-year
sentence, therefore, costs the state about $1,250,000. However, in
countries which show some concern about the rights of the accused to a
full and fair process, a system which has capital punishment for murder
requires far more elaborate trials and a much lengthier and more
expensive appeal process for capital offences than for non-capital
offences. In addition, the cost of the execution itself is not insignificant.
Recent studies by Gardner (1998) have shown that in the United States
the cost of the various judicial processes and of the execution for
convicted murderers is up to 30 percent higher than the cost of keeping
them in jail for life. Other similar studies by McIntyre (1990) and
Jackson (1995) have come to the same conclusion. There is, in other
words, compelling reason seriously to question one of the most frequent
claims made in support of capital punishment: that it will reduce costs
significantly. In fact, if saving money is the main concern in the penal
system, we should get rid of capital punishment immediately.
The sentence highlighted in yellow is the topic sentence. It states what this paragraph is about.
The sentences highlighted in green are evidence. There is more evidence than just these two sentences
in the paragraph but, for the sake of clarity, I have just highlighted two examples.
The words highlighted in purple are transition words and create unity and coherence among the
An argumentative essay ends with a conclusion. It is best to write the conclusion last so that you have a
complete sense of the paper and your argument. The conclusion should not introduce new material;
instead, it should sum up the argument, restate the thesis, and leave the reader thinking about the
argument. Additionally, the conclusion requires confident language.
Sample Concluding Paragraph
Efforts to stamp out illegal narcotics are only succeeding in enriching
organized crime, providing the police with dangerous new powers, filling
prisons with young people, and encouraging many others to break the
law. It is important to remember that narcotics are less dangerous than
many legal substances in widespread use. Instead of devising new
utopian and increasingly expensive and futile schemes to eliminate drugs,
moves to change the law and to make cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and
their derivatives as legal as tobacco, alcohol, Valium, and Ritalin need to
be made.
This paragraph restates the thesis of the paper, does not introduce any new ideas, and uses clear,
confident language.
Sources and for further information about argumentation:
Johnston, I. (2000). Essays and Arguments: A Handbook on Writing Argumentative and
Interpretative Essays. Retrieved from