Developing Arguments

Most academic essays are expected to contain a well reasoned and supported argument (also called a position or thesis). An academic argument is your objective point of view in relation to the topic. It needs to be supported with reliable evidence. Your argument should be designed to convince the reader of your viewpoint, and therefore needs to be logical, well structured and persuasive.

Be clear about the focus of your assignment
What is the assignment asking you to do? It is important to take time to understand this, because your argument needs to be a clear and direct response to the essay topic. Try turning your topic into a main (primary) question. Your answer to this question will be your overall argument. Take the following example:

Topic: Justify why ethics is important in psychological research

Questions asked by topic

  • What is research ethics?

  • How does research ethics impact the lives of people - researchers, research participants, society in general?

  • What could happen if there was no research ethics?

Your argument should:

  • Be designed to convince the reader that research ethics is important in the lives of people. This can include research participants, researchers, and society in general.

  • Show clearly how research ethics impact the way people work, study, or live

  • Show the consequences of having research ethics

  • Show examples where research ethics were not followed or research was conducted under different ethical guidelines than exist today

Collect information
You will not be able to formulate your argument until you have read widely on the topic. Remember that the information you use must be suitable evidence to support your argument. Suitable evidence is usually found in academic journals and books, not popular magazines or the personal experiences of people. Since every discipline may have different requirements for acceptable evidence, make sure that you have familiarised yourself with some arguments within your discipline.

You might already have some ideas about this topic, but you will need to weigh up all available information before finally deciding on your argument. Don’t disregard arguments that don’t fit in with what you think. Consider them carefully.

There might be competing points of view. As you read, you will need to evaluate the evidence the writers have used to support their claims. Note the strengths and weaknesses of different viewpoints.
Clarify your argument
Before writing, jot down your argument in a sentence or two. You need to be both clear and concise. This statement will become your thesis statement in the introductory paragraph of your essay. For example:

Topic: Justify why ethics is important in psychological research

Possible Thesis Statement: Research ethics is important because it has a significant impact on the lives of people by affecting how research is done. The lack of appropriate research ethics would have negative effects on people who are involved in the research, including the research participants.
Develop your argument
State your argument clearly in the introduction, and restate it in the conclusion. For an argument to be developed and supported, paragraphs also need to be put to work.

Paragraphs must be linked to your argument – they should expand or support some aspect of it. A useful check is to ask yourself what your main point is in each paragraph, and how it defends your argument. Do your topic or concluding sentences link back to your argument? You need to be very explicit; your audience cannot read your mind.
To sum up

  • Remember, your argument must be clear. If you are unsure about your overall point of view, your writing loses its force.

  • Make sure your argument directly responds to the essay topic and the overall focus of your course. Use paragraphs to develop and defend your overall point of view.

  • The more you improve your skills in this area, the better you’ll be at thinking critically, weighing evidence, and persuading others of your point of view.