The Argumentative Essay

In my previous article I discussed the basics of a persuasive essay. To quickly recap, a persuasive essay uses a passive argument to convince you of a statement. A persuasive essay is often confused with an argumentative essay. This is not the case – an argumentative essay is the big brother of the persuasive essay.

You may be asking, “What do you mean by the big brother”? Let me explain with real world examples. An example of a persuasive essay is a sales letter or job application. You are using features and benefits to convince the reader to take action. It is passive persuasion – you don’t mention your competitor’s product when trying to sell your own. The argumentative essay differs as it actively takes into account both sides of the argument. A real life example of an argumentative essay is a lawyer defending you in court. You need to take into account the opposing views in an argumentative essay and actively counter them. This focus makes the argumentative essay more detailed than the persuasive essay, hence the analogy of the big brother.

As with the persuasive essay, the argumentative essay is supported by facts. These facts are common to both sides of the argument and are not debatable. For example, a bloody knife found at a crime scene is a known fact. Both sides of the argument draw interpretations from these facts. It is your role in the argumentative essay to counter the opposing argument and draw alternative conclusions that are better supported by the facts. Lawyers use expert witnesses to give authority to their argument. You can do the same in your essay by quoting well known sources or using testimonials.

At what audience do you aim your argumentative essay? If you are in a court of law, you are convincing the judge or jury. In an essay, the audience is not so well defined. The first thing to understand is that you will not persuade everyone with your argument. You will have the extremes in your audience that will agree or disagree with you regardless of what evidence you are presenting. This is especially the case if you have chosen an emotive topic. Science versus religion is a good example of this. It is the bulk of the people in the centre who may have an opinion but are not certain of their conclusions that you are really aiming for. What objections to your argument are they likely to have?You need to address these in your essay to persuade them of your ideas.

In summary, the argumentative essay is the big brother of the persuasive essay as it actively focuses on both sides of the argument. Instead of simply relying on features and benefits as with the persuasive essay, the argumentative essay is more weighted towards authority and how you can draw more supportive conclusions from the facts.