How to Use Specific Sections of Text to Strengthen an Argument

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

An important part of writing well is learning how to create a strong argument. This lesson will explain how to strengthen your argument by using topic sentences, quotations or examples, and relative clauses when writing.

Creating Strong Paragraphs

Have you ever watched the sand in an hourglass trickle through to the other side? It starts off in a wide area as it gets more and more narrow, then gets wide again as it piles up at the bottom of the hourglass. Writing a strong paragraph and paper is just like an hourglass--you should start with a general idea or topic, then get more narrow from there before explaining the overall importance of the topic. As you narrow and apply your topic, you will want to focus on strengthening your argument--particularly by using topic sentences, relative clauses or phrases, and quotations or examples. We will talk about each of these in turn in this lesson to work on creating the strongest argument possible.

Starting Strong

One of the best ways to create a strong argument is to have strong topic sentences. A topic sentence is essentially a mini thesis statement for each of your paragraphs: it should explain explicitly what the paragraph is going to talk about and connect it to the bigger picture of the paper. Let's say you were writing a paper on Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and this particular paragraph was about the Tabard Inn in the story. You might start off broad by talking about how The Canterbury Tales is the first literary work in Middle English, then get more narrow by talking about taverns in the 14th century in England, then even more narrow by talking about the Tabard Inn in the story.

While this ''hourglass'' structure will be a good set up, you want to make your paragraph even stronger by adding a topic sentence. What is the main point you are trying to make in the paragraph? How does this relate to the bigger picture? For this example, you might include a topic sentence that states, ''Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, while an important literary work since it is the first in Middle English, would have been accessible to common people in the 14th century because the Tabard Inn reflects a usual 14th century tavern.'' This topic sentence sets up your paragraph to discuss more details of how this happens and shows how this topic is important to a bigger picture.

Quotations and Examples

Once you create a topic sentence and argument, you need to strengthen it by providing support. This can be in the form of quotations, or word for word sentences from another text, or other types of examples. What type of examples you use depends on the type of paper you are writing: if you were writing a persuasive essay about eliminating poverty in the United States, you might want to use data or even a personal narrative to strengthen your argument, whereas if you were writing about the Tabard Inn, you might want to use quotations from The Canterbury Tales or a history of 14th century England.

Whatever the topic and paper type, examples are the building blocks of a strong argument. To make sure they strengthen your paper, however, you should make sure they are specific and relevant to your topic sentence. In our continuing example, you would not want to write about taverns in 14th century Germany because, while it might be interesting, it is not really relevant to your topic. Focusing on the particulars and using your examples to support those is key to writing a strong paper.

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