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Argumentative Essay: Definition, Format & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is an…
  • 0:36 Elements
  • 3:34 Format
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Argumentative essays are kind of like superpowers: they allow you to get what you want using the superpower of persuasion. View this lesson and learn how to channel persuasion to write a good essay.

What is an Argumentative Essay?

Myrtle is a teenager whose parents have set a curfew for her, but she wants to stay out longer. She thinks that she might be able to convince her parents to extend her curfew if she makes a sound argument. To make her case, she's decided to write them a letter.

An argumentative essay is a writing piece meant to persuade someone to think the way you do. Though it's usually organized as an essay, Myrtle's letter to her parents is also a type of argumentative writing. To help Myrtle write her essay, let's take a closer look at the elements and format of an argumentative essay.

Elements

Myrtle wants to convince her parents to give her a later curfew, and she's going to write an argumentative essay to do that. But where does she even start? What information does she need to include in her essay?

There are some specific elements that are needed in an argumentative essay. The first and most important element in a persuasive essay is the position, or what side the author is on. For example, Myrtle's position is that her curfew should be later. The position is not all that Myrtle needs to include in her essay. In fact, if all she does is state her position, it won't be very convincing. All her letter would say is, 'I think you should let me stay out later.' Her parents would just shrug and say, 'We disagree.'

In order to convince her parents, then, Myrtle also needs to include reasons, or why the author believes the way he or she does. For example, Myrtle could support her position by offering reasons like the fact that she's responsible, she's older than she used to be, and that a later curfew will allow her to study at the library for longer.

By offering these reasons, Myrtle has made her letter more convincing. She can take this even further, however, by supporting her reasons with evidence, or facts and data that support reasons. For example, remember that one of Myrtle's reasons is that a later curfew will allow her to study at the library for longer. She can support this reason with evidence. Maybe she has scientific articles that show that studying at the library is more effective than studying at home. Or perhaps she has data showing that kids with later curfews spend more time in the library. Both of those pieces of evidence could support her reason.

Of course, to be truly effective, Myrtle will want to include the source of her evidence. After all, if she just made it up, it's not really evidence. Further, the source of some evidence can be questionable. Imagine that she has an article about how kids with later curfews spend more time at the library, but it was written by someone who, like Myrtle, is trying to convince his parents to let him stay out later. In this case, the article might not be completely accurate and true.

If all Myrtle includes in her essay is her position, reasons, and evidence, she could make a pretty convincing case. But the best essays also include counterarguments, sometimes shortened to counters, which are reasons why the other side's arguments are not correct. For example, let's say that one thing that Myrtle's parents say to her consistently is that teenagers need sleep. She knows this is one reason why her parents don't want to extend her curfew. In her essay, she can address this and provide a counter. For example, she could write something like, 'You believe that extending my curfew will mean I get less sleep. But I stay up late already, and just because I'm home early doesn't mean that I'll go to bed early.'

Myrtle's reasons and evidence support her side. By providing counters, too, Myrtle is defeating arguments from the other side, which makes her essay even more convincing.

Format

Okay, Myrtle understands the things that she needs to include in her letter to her parents. But how should she organize all that information? What's the format for an argumentative essay?

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