What a Student Learns From Writing an Argumentative Essay
Mastering the argumentative essay is a key skill for writing success, and instructors assign argumentative essays in a variety of topics ranging from science to English. The argumentative essay helps students to develop critical thinking and research skills, as well as the ability to develop and logically defend a position.
Argumentative essays almost always require some research into the subject matter. Students might need to read secondary sources on a piece of literature, compile empirical data on a scientific hypothesis or examine statistics on a political or social issue. Doing this helps students master basic research skills such as finding credible sources, summarizing relevant research and synthesizing data. The research an argumentative essay requires also ensures that students learn plenty about the subject matter. A teacher might assign an argumentative essay on Shakespeare, for example, to help students learn more about Shakespeare's legacy in literature.
Logic and Rhetoric
No matter how good an argument or idea is, it won't work if a student can't logically outline her research and make a coherent analysis. Argumentative essays help students master the basic rules of logic, such as avoiding emotional appeals, using sound rather than fallacious arguments and making specific, clear statements rather than generalizations. Students will also master rhetorical skills such as emphasizing the importance of an issue or the potential outcomes of a particular policy.
In addition to the basic grammar and mechanics that students learn through almost every writing assignment, argumentative writing can help students master the importance of paper structure. A well-written argumentative essay has a clear, narrowly-tailored thesis that is supported by each subsequent paragraph. Students master the importance of staying on topic, of compellingly supporting their arguments and of sticking to a thesis that they can defend in the allotted space.
In addition to outlining a clear argument, students writing argumentative papers must anticipate objections to their position. This might entail outlining alternative perspectives or addressing potential questions the reader might have. This approach helps students master the art of being charitable to differing arguments. It also helps students develop critical thinking skills and improve their own argumentative skills by understanding potential weaknesses in their positions.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.