A Different Take on How to Approach Argumentative Papers

When I receive tips about how to write a strong English paper – or any argumentative paper – I usually get answers such as:

  1. Make sure that your thesis statement is the strongest part of your paper – think of it as the foundation.
  2. Have topic sentences that clearly outline what you want to talk about in each of your body paragraphs.
  3. Make sure to tie back to your thesis at the end of every paragraph.

Now I completely agree with #3.  And don’t get me wrong, the other two tips aren’t bad. But when I listened to my professor talk about what she likes to see in an academic English paper those other two tips listed weakened. This is because she introduced better advice that can make any argumentative paper much more solid and, well, argumentativeMy professor was able to break down exactly what to include in your paper to make it as strong as possible:

Focus on your thesis. But. . .

Body paragraphs are more important. After all, your body paragraphs make up more than 80% of your paper (your introduction and conclusion not included). So while a strong thesis statement is always a sign of a good paper, it does not guarantee that the rest of your paper will transition smoothly.

What to include in your body paragraphs:

Each body paragraph should be seen as a unit of thought

This leads to the idea that the your body paragraphs are more important than your thesis statement. If your body paragraphs are a single unit of thought you will have a clear, concise, and argumentative idea in each body paragraph.

Make sure you have argumentative openers instead of a general topic sentence that only tells what you will talk about later in your paragraph

An argumentative opener is like a sub-argument of your thesis statement, like a mini-thesis. You need to write something that makes a claim, somewhere around 1-2 sentences. Remember that all openers should be a cohesive idea and that it can build on itself, which means that your body paragraphs should have a specific order it should go in.

An example of a general topic sentence:

Jane Eyre focuses on mental illness through the character, Bertha Mason.

An example of an argumentative opener:

Not only does Jane Eyre condemn the social rejection of its plain and poor protagonist, but in depicting the social rejection of Bertha – who is both beautiful and wealthy – the novel also criticizes societal prejudices based on mental illness.

Strong evidence

Use textual quotes – whether it’s a phrase, block quote, etc. – instead of simply paraphrasing. Try to avoid paraphrasing at all times. This is because the reader can’t analyze paraphrase. When it comes to analysis, one needs to use specific evidence, which means paraphrasing is a no-go.

This also means to never use generalizations! Making generalizations weakens the argument of your paper as a whole. The reason for writing academic English papers in the first place is to be as debatable and controversial as possible using strong evidence. When sweeping generalizations come into play, it brings down the legitimacy of your paper,

An example of a generalization:

Moreover, mentally insane individuals often act in animalistic and even inhuman ways.

This is a generalization because do mentally insane people often act in these ways? Unless you have some article to back you up, then it’s best not to assume that most of these individuals act in that way.

Argumentative closure / expansion

At the end of each body paragraph, make it a goal to have the “so what?” of your argumentative sentence answered to subsequently have the general “so what” of your thesis answered as well. Remember, the argumentative closing sentences must relate to your thesis statement.

For more help with the argumentative closure, take a look at this web page that explains how to correctly add concluding sentences in your body paragraphs.


The opportunity to listen to my professor give our class a subtle but fresh take on how to create effective papers really did give me a larger perspective than just the three main points that are often thrown at me when it comes to getting advice.  Being able to follow these points will most definitely give your paper a subtle yet potent boost.   


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