In this tutorial I’m going to review the minimal five-part structure that an essay has to have to qualify as a good argumentative essay and talk a bit about strategies for organizing the structure on the page now by minimal.
I mean that any good argumentative essay is going to have at least these five elements or parts they can have many more parts but they can’t have any fewer as we’ve seen an essay will have at least these three parts an introduction a main body and a conclusion.
We’ll talk more about what should go into the introduction and the conclusion later here I want to focus on the main body of the essay the main body is obviously going to include the main argument of the essay this is the argument that offers reasons in support of the main thesis of the essay now technically we could stop right here we’ve got an essay and we’ve got an argument so we’ve got an argumentative essay right well we’re not going to stop here why because our aim isn’t just to write an argumentative essay our aim is to write a good argumentative essay and a good argumentative essay is always going to have more structure than this.
In fact a good argumentative essay is going to contain at least three distinct arguments within the main body for starters a good argumentative essay is always going to consider an objection to the main argument that was just given and this objection is itself going to be an argument the conclusion of this argument the objection is that the main argument that was just given is in fact a bad argument that the main argument fails in some way it’s going to argue that the main argument relies on a false or implausible premise or that the logic is weak or that it fails to satisfy some other necessary condition for an argument to be good now why do we need to consider objections remember we’re aiming for a good argument we want our essay to give the most persuasive case possible for the intended audience of the argument but it’s important to remember that the intended audience of the argument isn’t the people who are already inclined to agree with your thesis that’s what we call preaching to the choir if this was your audience then you wouldn’t need to give an argument in the first place since there already Vinh stove the conclusion no for an argumentative essay we have to assume that our audience is the people who aren’t convinced yet of the main thesis who are inclined to be skeptical of the conclusion and will be looking for reasons to reject your argument so if your essay is going to have any hope of persuading this audience is going to have to consider the skeptics point of view that’s why any good argumentative essay is always going to have a section that deals with objections to the main argument of course raising an objection isn’t going to help your case unless you could come up with a convincing reply to it if you can’t meet the objection then it’ll have the opposite effect you’ll be making the case for the opposition so a good argumentative essay is always going to have a section where you defend your argument by replying to the objections raised it’s important to remember that the objection is a distinct argument and the reply is another distinct argument the conclusion of the objection is that your main argument is a bad argument the conclusion of your reply is that the objection just given is a bad objection so the main body of your argumentative essay is actually going to contain at least three distinct arguments a main argument an objection and a reply this is where we get the minimal five-part structure.
The introduction is the first part then you’ve got at least the three arguments in the main body giving us four parts and the conclusion makes five I call this a minimum five part structure because it’s the bare minimum that an essay has to have if it’s going to qualify as a good argumentative essay you can summarize it by saying that a good argument of essay is going to have an introduction and a conclusion and a main body where an argument is presented objections are considered and replies are offered that defend the argument against those objections now here’s a very important point about objections it may be tempting to pick a weak objection one that’s easy to refute and reply to that but doing this won’t strengthen your argument because it won’t satisfy a thoughtful skeptic what the skeptic wants to know is how you would respond to what they consider the strongest and best objections if you can successfully refute with your audience regards as the strongest objections to your position then you’ve got the best chance of winning them over so a good argumentative essay is always going to look for the strongest possible objections to its main argument present them accurately and fairly and then attempt to systematically respond to those objections now here’s a question that my students sometimes ask me let’s say you’ve developed what you think is a pretty good argument and then you come across an objection to that argument that really stumps you it really does seem to point out a weakness in your argument and you honestly don’t know how you should respond to it now what do you do how do you proceed with the essay well if you were only concerned with the appearance of winning the argument then you might consider using a rhetorical device like misrepresenting the objection in a way that makes it look weaker than it actually is and then respond to that weaker version but if you’ve seen the tutorial course on fallacies then you know that in doing so you’d be guilty of a fallacy the straw figure fallacy and more importantly a thoughtful critic will likely see it as a fallacious move too and it may actually weaken your case in the eyes of your intended audience which is the opposite effect of what you intended and I think that if you’re really stumped by an objection then you can do one of two things one you can change your mind you can accept that your argument fails and either give up the thesis or look for a better argument for it but maybe you’re not willing to give up your argument so soon in the face of a tough objection there’s nothing wrong with saying that’s a good objection I’ll have to think about that maybe with a little thought you can come up with a good response but until then in my view rationality dictates that you should at least suspend judgment about whether your argument is really as good as you thought it was maybe it is and you can come up with a good defense but maybe it’s not. What you’re admitting when you can’t come up with a good reply is that you’re not in a position to be confident about that okay.
Another question we’ve got this three part structure to the main body with a main argument followed by an objection and then reply the question is should this be the way you actually organize the essay on the page with a section devoted to the main argument followed by the objection followed by the reply the answer is yes you could but know you don’t have to the logical structure I’ve given here is what people will be focusing on when they try to extract the argumentative content from your essay but just as you can write the same argument in many different ways you can organize an argumentative essay in many different ways that preserves the same logical structure how you choose to organize it will depend on a bunch of different things like whether your audience is already familiar with the main argument or whether an objection is going to focus on the truth of a specific premise or whether it’s going to challenge the logic of the main argument taken as a whole or whether you’re going to focus on lots of different objections rather than one big objection or where you’re going to focus more on replies to common objections and so on and some of it will come down to stylistic choices how you want to lead the reader through the argument there’s no one set way of doing this just to illustrate here’s an example of an alternative organizational structure you start off by presenting your main argument you lay out premise one and premise two of your main argument but you anticipate that premise two is going to be contentious for some audiences so instead of waiting to address the natural objection you deal with it right here you consider the objection to premise two and you respond to the objection right away then you move on and finish the argument now your main argument is presented you’ve dealt with one objection but maybe now you want to consider another objection one that turns on the logic of the argument as a whole so you raise that objection and follow up with a reply this is a perfectly good way of presenting the argument to the reader even though some of the replies and objections are mixed into the presentation of the main argument this is also a perfectly good way of organizing the essay into paragraphs not every element in the reasoning needs its own paragraph it all depends on context and how much actually needs to be said to make a particular point for example sometimes you can state an objection in a single sentence.
Let’s say that the objection to premise 2 above can be phrased as a single sentence then it might be very natural to combine the reply and the objection into a single paragraph like this there are no set rules for how to do this you might find yourself adding and deleting and reorganizing paragraphs as you work through the essay but however you organize it the three-part structure of argument objection and reply needs to be clear oK we’ve covered a lot here so let’s sum up an argument of Si has a minimum 5 part structure it has an introduction a conclusion and a main body that itself contains at least three distinct arguments the main argument of the essay is a distinct argument but you also have to consider the strongest objections that you can think of an offer replies to those objections and each of these are distinct arguments as well and finally the organization of the logical elements of the main body can vary you can present a whole argument then proceed to list objections then consider replies or you can consider objections and replies on the fly as you work through the main argument regardless your final paragraph structure should reflect the logical structure of these argumentative elements however that logical structure is organized.