Structuring Your Essay Argument

In an essay, your argument is how you choose to present the evidence. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • A discussion: Giving both sides to a debate.

  • An explanation: Describing your evidence in detail.

  • An exposition: Arguing a point of view.

How you choose to present your evidence will depend on how you analyze and organize your research information, and sometimes vice versa. (It's kind of like the chicken and the egg: In some cases, you'll be hardpressed to know which came first. Other times, you'll know the point of view you intend to take when you begin.)

When you analyze the evidence you've gathered, you break it down into its logical parts. From that exercise, you'll be able to discern how those parts relate to each other. How you demonstrate that relationship within your essay depends on the point of view you adopt. You may choose to present information from different sources that examine unique aspects about your topic, deconstruct that information to illustrate the relationships between the different sources, and then merge them into a whole concept.

In some shape or form, the simplest way to describe the process is that you assemble your evidence so that piece by piece they eventually merge to present the “big picture.” This can be accomplished using different organization patterns:

  • Advantages and disadvantages: This format takes a pro-and-con approach, describing both sides of the equation, and then drawing conclusions from that evidence.

  • Cause and effect: This is the format most often used to describe a life-changing experience or to write about someone who or something that has greatly influenced your life. You describe how you understand and appreciate the effect that other incident or person had on your development and maturity.

  • Chronological: This journal-style format progresses point by point, with details about each point given in the order in which it occurred.

  • Comparison and contrast: This method compares one aspect of an object or situation with another, such as describing what it's like to live at the poverty level in the United States versus the poverty lifestyle in a third-world country.

  • Description: Similar to the chronological structure except that instead of systematically proceeding through increments of time, it is a point-by-point explanation of a place, person, or thing.

  • Example: This is the structure of the traditional academic essay, which begins with a main argument or thesis statement, continues with at least three pieces of evidence that support the thesis statement argument, and concludes by stating what the essay has shown.

  • Narrative: This method involves writing your essay in story format, and is often used in what are referred to as personal essays — those that describe a personal event in the writer's life and the writer's reaction to that event. By design, it will incorporate another method as well, such as when the story is described in a chronological order of events.

It's a common misconception that formal academic writing must be done in the third person. The voice you choose for your essay will depend on your topic. First person can also be effective, and, unless instructed otherwise by your professor, should be used when writing personal experience or opinion essays.

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