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1.15 Developing an argument

It is very important that you recognize which type of essay questions are looking for some sort of judgement, and then to be able to construct an effective, convincing argument in your answer. A major cause of complaint from tutors is that students at all levels do not do this very well, and make their writing descriptive rather than argumentative. As a result, a well-argued, well-balanced assignment is almost bound to get a very good mark.

The following essay titles all require a judgement or argument:

Should capital punishment be reintroduced in the UK?

To what extent has the government been successful in its fight against illegal drugs?

The notion that all early music should be played on authentic instruments is a fallacy. Discuss.

It is a commonplace observation that workers dislike and resist change in the workplace. How far do you think this is a rational response to their economic position and how far simply a result of the mismanagement of change?

If you were to write a very general essay, for example, about capital punishment, without answering the specific question asked, your mark is going to be low. Instead, what you need to do is:

decide basically what your opinion/standpoint is on the question, either from your own experience, from what you have covered on your course, or from additional reading on the subject.

think what the main points of your argument would be.

do extensive reading to find evidence to back up your points, and at the same time note down counter-arguments and contradictory evidence. There is always more than one side to an argument, and it is very important in a piece of academic writing to show that you are aware of these different opinions. Your approach must be balanced, not one-sided.

structure your answer carefully. You should state what your conclusion will be right at the start in your introduction; then present both, or all, sides of the argument in a logical, coherent manner, showing clearly which side you stand on by the specific use of language (see below) and use of appropriate examples and evidence; and finally include a well-developed conclusion which draws all the strands together andmakes completely clear where you stand. In an argumentative essay the conclusionis probably the most important part, so don’t make it too short.

What is an appropriate position to take?

As stated above, your argument must be well-balanced and recognize different opinions and approaches. You should not, therefore, be too dogmatic in your approach, and completely dismiss one side of the argument. At the same time, you should not “sit on the fence” and take an indecisive approach, as this may be interpreted as you not having an opinion, or simply not knowing. (In terms of pure argument, you don’t necessarily have to completely agree with what you are saying).

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Sample piece of argumentative writing

Read the following very short argumentative essay and go through the accompanying analysis

Discuss the funding of childcare provision in the UK

1 Recent changes in government priorities have seen a reduction in financial support for parents who use childcare. This is occurring at a time when there is increasing social and financial pressure on parents, particularly
mothers, to work. The issue of childcare and working mothers has been the subject of dispute for some time. Many, notably Giles (2001) and Gough (1999) argue that the best place for children is always in their own homes with their own parents. However, it is my contention that there are many advantages to be had from using childcare and the government should provide more financial assistance to parents who do so.

2 Pollock (2000) argues that children who attend childcare centres at an early age miss out on important early learning that occurs in parent-child interaction. These children, so this argument goes, may be educationally disadvantaged later in life. However, childcare centres may actually assist children in their early learning. They give children an opportunity to mix with other children and to develop social skills at an early age. Indeed, a whole range of learning occurs in childcare centres.

3 Another argument against the use of childcare facilities (Vaughan 2001) is that children can be emotionally deprived in these facilities compared to the home. This argument assumes that the best place for children is to be at their parents', especially mothers', side for twenty four hours a day. It claims that children's emotional development can be damaged when they are left in childcare facilities. However, parents and children need to spend sometime apart. Moreover, children become less dependent on their parents and parents themselves are less stressed and more effective care-givers when there are periods of separation. In fact, a recent study conducted by MCC (2003) indicates that the parent-child relationship can in fact be improved by the use of high-quality childcare facilities.

4 It could further be asserted that the government and the economy as a whole cannot afford the enormous cost involved in supporting childcare for working parents. However, working parents actually contribute to the national economy. They are able to utilise their productive skills and pay income tax, while non-working parents can become a drain on the tax system through dependent spouse and other rebates.

5 In conclusion, government support for childcare services assists individual families and is important for the economic well-being of the whole nation.

Paragraph 1
This is the introduction, which clearly states the main premise in the final sentence:

However, it is my contention that ... Note that two exponents of the counter-argument are acknowledged.

Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4
These paragraphs all follow a similar pattern. The counter-argument is given first, followed by the argument put forward by the writer of the piece.

The counter-argument is “weakened” or “problematized” by phrases such as:

so this argument goes
This argument assumes ...
It claims that ...
It could further be asserted ...

It is important to show this opposing argument, as by doing so you are showing that you have considered both sides of the argument, and also that you are able to anticipate and criticize any opposing arguments before they are even stated.

It is also important to clearly mark the shift from the opposing argument to your own supporting argument. In these three paragraphs, this is done by the use of the word however.

Paragraph 5
This is a very short conclusion.

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Language Summary: ways of showing that you are aware of the opposing opinion

1 When you can think of the opposing opinion but you have not seen it written anywhere:

It may be argued that ..... However, ...
asserted
could be contended
maintained
might be claimed
said


2 When you have seen the opposing opinion written in another text:

It is
has been
argued by x (2003) that ..... However, ...
asserted
contended
maintained
claimed
stated

or

x (2003) argues that ..... However, ...
asserts
contends
maintains
claims
states


Alternatives to “however”:

nevertheless, nonetheless, despite ..., although ...


A model argumentative essay

Should marine mammals be kept in captivity in marine parks?

The issue of whether we should allow marine parks to stay open has been widely debated in our community recently. It is an important issue because it concerns fundamental moral and economic questions about the way we use our native wildlife. A variety of different arguments have been put forward about this issue. This essay will consider arguments for having marine parks and point to some of the problems with these views. It will then put forward reasons for the introduction of laws which prohibit these unnecessary and cruel institutions.

It has been argued that dolphin parks provide the only opportunity for much of the public to see marine mammals (Smith, 1992). Most Australians, so this argument goes, live in cities and never get to see these animals. It is claimed that marine parks allow the average Australian to appreciate our marine wildlife. However, as Smith states, dolphins, whales and seals can be viewed in the wild at a number of places on the Australian coast. In fact, there are more places where they can be seen in the wild than places where they can be seen in captivity. Moreover, most Australians would have to travel less to get to these locations than they would to get to the marine parks on the Gold Coast. In addition, places where there are wild marine mammals do not charge an exorbitant entry fee - they are free.

Dr Alison Lane, the director of the Cairns Marine Science Institute, contends that we need marine parks for scientific research (The Age, 1993). She argues that much of our knowledge of marine mammals comes from studies which were undertaken at marine parks. The knowledge which is obtained at marine parks, so this argument goes, can be useful for planning for the conservation of marine mammal species. However, as Jones (1991) explains, park research is only useful for understanding captive animals and is not useful for learning about animals in the wild. Dolphin and whale biology changes in marine park conditions. Their diets are different, they have significantly lower life spans and they are more prone to disease. In addition, marine mammals in dolphin parks are trained and this means that their patterns of social behaviour are changed. Therefore research undertaken at marine parks is generally not reliable.
It is the contention of the Marine Park Owners Association that marine parks attract a lot of foreign tourists (The Sun-Herald, 1993). This position goes on to assert that these tourists spend a lot of money, increasing our foreign exchange earnings and assisting our national balance of payments. However, foreign tourists would still come to Australia if the parks were closed down. Indeed, surveys of overseas tourists show that they come here for a variety of other reasons and not to visit places like Seaworld (The Age, 1993). Tourists come here to see our native wildlife in its natural environment and not to see it in cages and cement pools. They can see animals in those condition in their own countries Furthermore, we should be promoting our beautiful natural environment to tourists and not the ugly concrete marine park venues.

Dolphin parks are unnecessary and cruel. The dolphins and whales in these parks are kept in very small, cramped ponds, whereas in the wild they are used to roaming long distances across the seas. Furthermore, the concrete walls of the pools interfere with the animals' sonar systems of communication. In addition, keeping them in pools is a terrible restriction of the freedom of fellow creatures who may have very high levels of intelligence and a sophisticated language ability. Moreover, there are many documented cases of marine mammals helping humans who are in danger at sea or helping fisherman with their work.

In conclusion, these parks should be closed, or at the very least, no new animals should be captured for marine parks in the future. Our society is no longer prepared to tolerate unnecessary cruelty to animals for science and entertainment. If we continue with our past crimes against these creatures we will be remembered as cruel and inhuman by the generations of the future.


Bibliography

The Age (1993) Use of Marine Parks for Scientific Research 19.2.93

The Age (1993) Should Animals be Kept in Marine Parks/ 16.8.93

Jones, G. (1991). The Myths about Animal Research in Marine Parks. Scientific Australian. Vol 12, No 3.

Smith, H. (1992). Marine Parks: Good for Business, Good for Australia. Leisure Business Review. Vol 24, No. 4

The Sun-Herald (1993) Increase in Tourists Visiting Marine Parks 20.7.93

Source: http://www.eslplanet.com/teachertools/argueweb/modelmp.htm

Links to further resources on developing an argument


Kent University
Leeds University

 

 

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Steve Gould
Last updated: 4 January 2011

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