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Argumentative Essay

What is an argumentative essay?

The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic, collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner. Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that s/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.

A clear sense of argument is essential to all forms of academic writing. The conventions of the academic essay may vary in expression from discipline to discipline, but any good essay should show us a mind developing a thesis, supporting that thesis with evidence, deftly anticipating objections or counter-arguments, and maintaining the momentum of discovery.
Structure of an argumentative essay Four common organizing patterns
You should adopt the following essay structure:
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The introduction of an argumentative essay consists of two core parts:

1. Background:
- Introduce the issue(s) and/or provide relevant background information.
- Write the thesis statement stating your position.
- Give an overview of your essay, i.e. summarise the main points that you will use to support your discussion.
2. Thesis statement:
should clearly and directly state your position or your point of view in relation to the issue discussed;
should be narrow, focused and can be supported;
should be debatable (e.g. “Happiness is very important to our health” is not debatable. It is an accepted fact and we do not need to persuade people about it.)

Sample introduction (1)

Capital punishment is the execution of a criminal convicted of a crime. In much of Western Europe, capital punishment has been abolished altogether; but in about 125 countries, such as China and Singapore, the death penalty is still used. The subject of capital punishment is hotly debated. Some people strongly believe that all countries should abolish it, while others strongly support this punishment. I am against the death penalty and think it should be banned worldwide. My argument is based on both humanitarian grounds and statistical evidence.


background and showing views from both sides

state your position/thesis statement + reasons

Sample introduction (2)

It is certainly true that the position of women in society has undergone a dramatic change in the past twenty years but I do not feel that this is a direct cause of the indisputable increase in juvenile-related problems during this period.

Introducing the issue

State your position on the matter

Main Body

Constructing effective body paragraphs of an argumentative essay requires two skills: the general paragraph writing skill and the skill to present counterarguments and refutations.

1. General paragraph writing: topic sentence and support

Generally, each reason in support of your thesis should be placed in a separate paragraph. A typical supporting paragraph structure goes like this:
  • Topic sentence: This is a reason for your thesis statement, usually consisting of a topic and its controlling idea. e.g. Capital punishment itself is murder, and is a crime.
  • Support: there are many ways to support your reason. Some commonly used ones are:
    - statistics
    - explanation with examples
    - clarification
    - compare and contrast
    - cause and effect

2. Paragraphs of counterarguments and refutation

To write a good argumentative paper, it is necessary to possess knowledge on the subject and to research and analyse not only the pros but also the cons on the topic. In your essay, it is very important to discuss both the pros and cons. Even when the essay question is “give your point of view”, or “to what extent do you agree or disagree?”, you should state your opinion and also include the counter-arguments (the arguments opposite to yours) and refutation to show that you understand the issue and are fully aware of the major arguments from both sides. You need to introduce the counterargument(s) directly and clearly. For example:
  • Opponents/critics of this statement argue/claim that…
  • It is a common misconception that…
  • While we adhere firmly to our belief, there are many others who argue that…
Counterarguments can appear anywhere in an argumentative essay, but they most commonly appear:
  • as a body paragraph just after your introduction; or
  • as a body paragraph just before your conclusion.

Useful expressions

(1) After presenting a counter-argument, you need to refute it and explain why this counterargument is not true, or not valid. You need to use transitional words/phrases to clearly introduce your refutation, for example:
  • It is true that…however…therefore…
  • Certainly…but…in short…
  • Admittedly…on the other hand…so…
  • Of course…nevertheless…as a result…
  • Obviously…on the contrary…finally…
  • Sure…however…in addition…
  • Although…still…
  • Even though/even if…however…
(2) Presenting supporting arguments
  • The main/major/first/most important advantage of...
  • A further positive argument ...
  • One/Another/An additional point in favour of...
  • One point of view in favour of...
  • A better argument would be….
  • A whole new way to think about this topic is…
  • I am for the proposition that…
  • I support the proposition that…
  • One advantage of this argument is…
(3) Elaborating or developing ideas
  • This may be the result of…
  • The most likely reason for this is that…
  • A possible reason for this is…
  • One solution to address this problem would be …
  • I could develop this idea by adding…
  • Another way to put it would be…
  • We can see an example of this in…
  • In addition to the above, we have to think about…
  • There are also other points to think about, namely…
(4) Presenting counter-arguments
  • It is often suggested/believed/argued that...
  • Some/many people suggest/feel/argue that ...
  • Some/many people are in favour of/are convinced that ...
  • In arguing against this idea, one can point out that…
  • The main argument against… is that…
  • It can be argued that…
  • On the other hand…
(5) Refuting
  • I am against /object to the proposition that…
  • I do not find this argument convincing as…
  • This argument is irrelevant
  • One major disadvantage of ...
  • The main/most important disadvantage/drawback of...
  • There are many disadvantages to this because…
  • One/Another/An additional disadvantage of...

Sample body paragraph: counter-argument + refutation (1)

The pro-capital punishment argument emphasizes the potent deterrence of the death penalty. This could be a strong argument if it could be proved that the death penalty discourages serious criminals, such as murderers. However, if we look at crime statistics from around the world, the evidence is rather mixed. For example, Singapore, a country with the death penalty, is internationally known for its low crime rate. But the data of the U.S.A. show a different picture. Some states there enforce the death penalty and some do not. A survey by The New York Times (2000) found that between 1980 and 2000 the homicide rate in some states with the death penalty had been 48% to 101% higher than in states without the death penalty. It is clear that the death penalty does not deter crime in the U.S.A.


Evidence to support refutation


The concluding paragraph pulls all the main ideas of the essay together and indicates that you have proven your point. It can:

  • summarize your points: You may give a brief review or summary of your reasoning. e.g. To conclude, I have examined/discussed two major aspects of…
  • restate your thesis: You can write a strong firm statement to rephrase your thesis. This restatement is important because it makes the whole essay/argument solid and complete. However, the wording must be different from those in the thesis statement in the introduction. e.g. To conclude, I have argued that…
Note: There should not be any new points or arguments in the conclusion because readers will expect you to elaborate on them.

Useful expressions

(1) Concluding
  • Overall, we can conclude that….
  • In conclusion, … (or, To conclude, …)
  • Therefore, my main point is…
  • After careful consideration, it can be seen that…
  • Taking everything into account, …
  • As was previously stated…
  • Without doubt, we can say that…

Sample conclusion (1)

In conclusion, I believe that the death penalty is inhumane and violates the right to life specifically and explicitly. It does not necessarily have the effect of reducing crimes. In the modern civilized world today, the death penalty should be banned universally.

Restating your position

Points to support

The questions of argumentative essays are in two general types:
  • Do you agree / disagree, or to what extent do you agree or disagree…?
  • Discuss the opinions / arguments from both sides and state your opinion.
No matter how the question is asked, the core requirement for an argumentative essay is:

(1) you must mention the major arguments from both sides to demonstrate your full understanding of the controversial issue;

(2) you must directly and clearly state your own opinion/stance/position and provide reasons.

Below are four common organizing patterns for argumentative essays. The major difference of these patterns is in body paragraphs and there is no main difference in the introduction paragraph or the conclusion paragraph.

Pattern 1


Your own arguments + support

Counterarguments + refutation


Pattern 2


Counterarguments + refutation

Your own arguments + support


Pattern 3


Argument from one side
Your agreement with this argument + support
(or your disagreement with this argument + refutation)

Argument from the other side
Your disagreement with this argument + refutation
(or your agreement with this argument + support)


Pattern 4

This pattern is slightly more complicated and requires the proper use of transitional phrases to show the different sides of the argument.


Counterargument 1
your argument + refutation 1

Counterargument 2
your argument +refutation 2


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Transitional devices/discourse markers Marking Criteria Reference
Transitional devices or discourse markers are like bridges or signposts in your essay. They can either help link sentences or ideas together smoothly, or show readers the directions that the writer is going. In this way, the ideas are more coherent and the language is more cohesive. There are many types of transitional devices, and each category leads readers to make certain connections or assumptions. Here is a brief list of some common discourse markers

To addalso, then, besides, furthermore, moreover, in addition, what’s more, next
To compare/ contrastin the same way, by the same token, similarly, likewise, whereas, but, on the other hand, however, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, in contrast, by comparison, although, conversely, while
To show effectbecause, for, since, that is, due to, thus, therefore, hence
To sequencefirst(ly), second(ly), finally, previously, formerly, next, then, later, lastly, and so forth, following, afterwards, subsequently, concurrently, simultaneously
To repeatin other words, as I have said (noted/mentioned), that is (i.e.)
To emphasize (use sparingly) definitely, extremely, obviously, indeed, absolutely, never, emphatically, unquestionably, without doubt, certainly, undeniably, without reservation
To provide example for example, for instance, to demonstrate, to illustrate, as an illustration
To conclude in brief, on the whole, summing up, to conclude, in conclusion, as a result, consequently, all in all, the bottom line is
Before you begin writing your argumentative essay make sure to check the marking guidelines. An assignment is usually marked based on three categories:

1. Content
- Thesis statement
- Arguments
- Major ideas and supporting evidence

2. Language - Grammatical accuracy
- Range of Sentence structures
- Range of vocabulary use

3. Organisation
- Text structure (introduction - main body – conclusion)
- Paragraph structure (topic sentence – relevant supporting sentences)
- Text coherence and cohesion

The definitions of the argumentative essay have been adapted from the following sources:



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Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5 Task 6 Rating Form
Task 1: Thesis Statements
Evaluate the following thesis statements. Indicate whether they are good or not good.
Qn. Thesis Statement Good Not Good
1. Anyone, including those with Down syndromes, can tell that this statement is true.
2. I am an ardent supporter of this policy and my reasons will be elaborated in the following paragraphs.
3. Pollution is bad for the environment.
4. Hong Kong's anti-pollution efforts should focus on reducing our daily waste (e.g. food waste) because it would allow most citizens to contribute to our environment and care about the outcome.
5. At least 25 percent of the Hong Kong government budget should be spent on limiting pollution because only with this resource can we effectively reduce the pollution by 40% within 5 years.
6. It is indeed a controversial issue and we should consider it carefully.
7. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that, contrary to the opinion of many experts, the potential benefits of learning vocabulary methodically are considerable.
8. The death penalty is wrong.
9. Media violence is harmful to society.
10. School uniforms provide many benefits to students, parents and educators.
(Correct answers are highlighted in yellow)
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