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How To Create Rock Solid Arguments In Your Dissertation, Thesis Or Assignments

The 6 essential ingredients (with examples).

By: Derek Jansen | August 2017

Arguments happen all the time and that’s okay.

Whether we realise it or not, we have arguments every day. We may quarrel with a significant other over dirty dishes, disagree with an acquaintance over a political hot topic, or even argue with ourselves over the fact that we procrastinate too much. On a more serious note, we also face arguments in our professional and academic lives. For example:

  • We debate in class or write assignments on how a company should resolve a particular crisis
  • We propose and defend our theses, both orally and written
  • We give a presentation to our boss(es) on how best to target a specific market segment

The point with arguments is that we try to convince someone (or ourselves) that we are right . So why don’t we always win our arguments? The art of persuasion is not a natural gift to all of us (it definitely isn’t for me). I’ve learned that I can’t stand on my passion and beliefs alone; I need cold hard facts to back me up.

This blog post will not make you an expert (and I do not claim to be an expert) at argument, but it will provide you with a framework and checklist to help you build strong arguments within your assignments, exams and dissertation or thesis. After all, strong, rigorous arguments are a mainstay of mark-earning work.

argument development

So, what do you need in an argument?

A strong argument has six essential ingredients:

  • A clear, well-communicated objective/conclusion
  • Premise(s) backed by relevant evidence
  • Sound logic
  • Clear qualifications
  • Acknowledgement of counter-arguments
  • Emotion and energy

Ingredient #1:

A clearly stated objective or conclusion.

First, an argument, just like any other assignment or research project, will go nowhere without an objective or conclusion. If you do not have a clear focus, you risk confusing yourself, your audience, and your marker. Therefore, you need to ensure that you are very clear about the point you are trying to make (your conclusion or objective). Sounds simple, but you’d be amazed just how many students are unclear about what their point is and, consequently, end up going nowhere slowly.

Throughout this post, I’ll use the example of Company X and its Product Z:

  • Company X’s Product Z had great success in the UK, with over 100% ROI within the first two quarters.
  • Strong demand for a product like Product Z exists in Germany, France, and Spain.
  • Market competition Product Z is relatively low in the targeted European countries.
  • Therefore, Company X will most likely launch product Z in Germany, France, and Spain.

The objective of my argument is to convince you that Company X will most likely successfully launch product Z in the targeted European countries. With this conclusion in focus, I will be able to identify and weigh my strategic options, and then articulate the best way to achieve the objective.

So, the ultimate goal of the argument is to convince someone to agree with your conclusion… but why? Why are you trying to change someone’s mind? It’s not just to get great marks. You must have reasons for your conclusion – these reasons are called premises .

Ingredient #2:

Well-grounded premises.

Once you have your objective, you need to clearly communicate your premises. Premises are the building blocks that underpin your conclusion (objective); they provide evidence to lead the audience to agree with your conclusion (Side note: I use proof and premise as synonyms so that I remember the importance of including premises in my arguments). While there can only be one conclusion in an argument, there can be one or (ideally) many premises to support the conclusion. For example, in the case of Company X and Product Z: the two premises are that demand exists in these target countries, and market competition is relatively low.

Great premises have (at least) two requirements:

  • They must be backed by credible, verifiable data; and
  • They must be relevant to the conclusion.

Data trumps gut

Strong arguments are not based on gut instinct. An argument without data-backed premises is, by definition, baseless. Let’s return to the above example: Demand exists in these target countries, and market competition is relatively low. To make these great premises, I need to add credible data points.

For example:

  • An independent consulting firm conducted a market research study of 6,000 people in the targeted countries, and results revealed that high demand exists for a product like Product Z.
  • The data collected from an independent consulting firm is a verifiable, citable source. Always double check your sources to make sure you understand and defend them.

Remember, data may not always come from an independent source – it may be outsourced/sponsored by a company, or a company may have an internal research arm. Be ready to ensure the credibility of the information if/when you are asked.

  • IBISWorld’s latest industry report shows that market competition Product Z is relatively low in the targeted European countries.
  • IBISWorld is a well-recognized provider of industry information and may be a source that your marker recommended. Similar to the point above, this data point is credible and can easily be verified.

To gather information, I suggest you prioritize using class- or school-prescribed sources first; use additional sources to complement, not replace, the class recommended sources.

Relevance is essential

While your premises must be data-backed, they must also be relevant to your conclusion. In other words, relevant premises have evidence that is clearly and logically linked to your conclusion. Be wary of following into the “my premise is true so it must be relevant” trap. If a premise is deemed irrelevant, your argument loses weight because you appear to lose focus.

For example: Company X recently built a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the United States.

Your marker will ask: how is this a manufacturing facility in the US connected to your conclusion? The answer is, that premise does not connect. Yes, it is true, but it does not seem logical that a manufacturing facility is strategically linked to a product launch in Europe. Use logic to make sure that your premises are relevant.

Need a helping hand?

argument methods dissertation

Ingredient #3:

Ensuring that your arguments are underpinned by firm logic is… logical. You want to convince your audience, so you need to make sense when building and stating your argument. When making your argument, select your line of reasoning: deductive or inductive.

When making your argument, select your line of reasoning: deductive or inductive. Logically (pun intended), sound deductive reasoning means that your conclusion can be deducted from your valid premises; cogent inductive reasoning means that your conclusion can be inferred from your strong premises.

Deductive reasoning

In deductive reasoning, the premises are a series of consequential statements that lead to the conclusion. To form a conclusion through deduction, you use general premises to point to a specific conclusion. Deductive reasoning is typically focused on the past or present: the general premises have been tested and lead to a specific past or present conclusion.

To identify if an argument is sound, you first check whether the argument is valid. Then, assess if the premises are true or false. Here is an example of deductive reasoning:

  • Premise : Most tech companies have a Chief Innovation Officer.
  • Premise : Company X is a tech company.
  • Conclusion : We may conclude that Company X has a Chief Innovation Officer.

In the above example, the premises start general and then get more specific as they get to the conclusion. Deductive arguments are classified as valid or invalid and deemed to be sound or unsound. To check the validity of the argument, ask this question:

Assuming that the premises are true, does it logically follow that this conclusion is also true?

If the answer is yes, like with the example above, then the argument is valid. It is important to note that the premises do not actually have to be true in order for an argument to be valid. For example, Company X could actually be a healthcare company. However, the argument is still valid because it makes sense that if Company X were hypothetically a tech company, it makes sense that it would have a CIO.

To see if the argument is sound, next check to see if the premises are actually true. An argument is not sound if it is based on false premises. Since in our example we have maintained that Company X is a tech company, we know that premise to be true. Based on other information, we also know that most tech companies have a Chief Innovation Officer. We have two true premises, so we have a sound argument. If Company X actually turned out to be a healthcare company, then we would have one false premise. The argument is therefore unsound because it is based on a false premise.

Inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deductive reasoning: specific premises infer a general conclusion. Inductive reasoning is typically geared towards conclusions that will happen in the future. In other words, the conclusion is a prediction that will be tested through future observation. The example we have been using throughout this post is an example of inductive reasoning:

  • Premise : Company X’s Product Z had great success in the UK, with over 100% ROI within the first two quarters.
  • Premise : An independent consulting firm conducted a survey of 6,000 people in Germany, France, and Spain, revealing a strong demand for Product Z.
  • Premise : IBISWorld’s latest industry report shows that market competition Product Z is relatively low in the targeted European countries.
  • Conclusion : Therefore, Company X will most likely successfully launch product Z in Germany, France, and Spain.

Inductive arguments are classified as strong or weak and deemed to be cogent or uncogent. In terms of the strength of an inductive argument, there is a little more grey area than when gauging the validity of a deductive argument. The validity of a deductive argument is pretty clear-cut: you assess if a conclusion from the past or present is either true or false. However, in an inductive argument, the conclusion is a prediction, so you cannot be 100% sure if it is actually true or false. Therefore, you ask:

Assuming that the premises are true, is there more than a 50% chance that the conclusion will actually happen?

If the answer is yes, like in the example above, then the argument is strong.

Just as with deductive arguments, the next step in assessing an inductive argument is evaluating the truth of its premises. A true premise is backed up with data. For example, in the above argument, the premises contain data. If, after verification that the data is true, then the argument is cogent. If it turns out that the data is false – for example, if market research reveals that there is not much demand for Product Z, then the argument is not cogent.

Pro tip: Look at the argument’s premise and conclusion indicator words to identify if or inductive reasoning was used. Words that refer to the past or present are used in deductive reasoning; words that refer to the future, or form a hypothesis , are used in inductive reasoning.

That was a lot of information to throw at you. Here are the main points to take away:

  • In deductive reasoning, validity and soundness are different concepts. Validity refers to the feasibility of the conclusion; soundness refers to the truthfulness of the premises.
  • In inductive reasoning, strength and cogency are different concepts. Strength refers to the feasibility of the conclusion; cogency refers to the truthfulness of the premises.

argument methods dissertation

Ingredient #4:

The conclusions you draw in your argument are not universally applicable (surprise!); there will typically be limitations to the generalisability of your argument – in other words, it will not necessarily be a sound argument in all contexts (in fact, very little is every universally true or relevant). For example, it may only be true in a certain country, for certain people, in a specific organisation, at a certain time of year, etc.

Before finalising your assignment or dissertation and concluding that you have solved the world’s problems, consider the situations in which your arguments might not work. In doing so, you identify your argument’s qualifications.

Remember to use qualifying indicator words (such as “in many cases”, “most”, “predictably”) to help explain your conclusion. For example:

  • Premise: Company X’s Product Z had great success in the UK, with over 100% ROI within the first two quarters.
  • Premise: An independent consulting firm conducted a survey of 6,000 people in Germany, France, and Spain, revealing a strong demand for Product Z.
  • Premise: IBISWorld’s latest industry report shows that market competition Product Z is relatively low in the targeted European countries.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, Company X will most likely successfully launch product Z in Germany, France, and Spain.
  • Qualification: However, Company X must consider cultural and importation barriers that can hinder the success of Product Z’s expansion.

Ingredient #5:

Acknowledgement of the counter-arguments.

Similarly to qualifying your argument, a good argument needs to anticipate the opposition. There will almost always be counter-arguments to any argument – very little is cut and dry. Therefore, analysing and addressing counter-arguments shows the marker that you have put in considerable time and thought to develop the best scenario.

Additionally, if you have a strong defence against an opposing view, you may very well be likely to turn naysayers into advocates. Potential challenges you can anticipate and address are:

  • A different conclusion may be drawn using your own premises
  • A question of the importance or validity of your premises
  • There may be significant drawbacks to your conclusion

You have some options in addressing counter-arguments:

  • Point out and prove errors in the counter-argument.
  • Acknowledge the strength or validity of the counter-argument, but show why it is not as strong or valid as your original argument, or within your particular context (i.e. a specific industry or country)
  • If the counter-argument points a flaw in one aspect of your conclusion, rewrite your conclusion in a more detailed manner.

Here’s an example:

  • Counter argument: Product Z will face tremendous cultural and financial barriers if launched across Europe.
  • Response to counter-argument: The launch will occur in phases. Company X will first beta test Product Z in order to understand how to tailor the product and better understand how to import and market the product.

Ingredient #6: Emotion and energy

Lastly, arguments need to do demonstrate a level of emotion in order to be convincing. This might seem contradictory to my previous point about arguments needing to be built on data-backed premises, but it’s not. Simply put, your argument needs to be fueled by data and demonstrated and communicated with emotion and energy.

 Imagine standing up in front of your class and just saying, “We need to implement strategy X because we will increase our market share.” without intonation. No matter how great your prepared argument is, you will lose the attention of your audience if you do not exhibit emotion and energy. We’ve all had that one lecturer who drones on and on, and we quickly lose interest in the subject. Don’t be like that lecturer. Be you. I’m not saying to gesticulate wildly and shout at top volume; it is possible to be poised and passionate at the same time.

Remember: emotion can also be felt in writing. Think of your favorite author, journalist, or researcher. How does she write? She must show emotion in her writing in order to keep you engaged. Try to channel that passion/emulate her writing to make sure that your voice can be heard in your writing.

Wrapping up

In this post, I have discussed six elements of a good argument. Build your arguments using these ingredients and you will no doubt improve the quality of your academic work.

Here’s the checklist for quick reference – a good argument should have:

These elements will help you convey to your marker an articulate, sensible argument that was created after the consideration of several scenarios.

argument methods dissertation

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

You Might Also Like:

Dissertation and thesis defense 101

I’ve never come across a much simpler explanation of the Inductive and Deductive concept. Thanks for this.

Eileen Douglas

I concur. I love it when things are written in understandable language.

Georgios Varoutsos

I enjoyed this article! Easily understandable.

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Georgios!

Lizzy Zhang

This article is so helpful for me who is ready to write my postgrad dissertation! Thank you!

Great to hear that, Lizzy. Good luck with your dissertation!

Dwight Merrick

Straightforward and to the point! I like that, especially since I don’t have time to beat around the bush.

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Identifying an argument

Ultimately, you are aiming to produce a series of propositions in relation to your material: usually a main proposition (thesis or argument) with some sub-propositions.

Asking yourself the following questions may help you think critically about your material and identify some potential arguments:

  • How can I bring together the various different ideas that interest me about my topic?
  • What difficulties am I experiencing in organising my material, comparing texts or coming to conclusions about them? Are these difficulties significant, i.e. do they tell me something interesting about the nature of the material I am dealing with?
  • Did my reading and research throw up anything unexpected?
  • What are the polemical aspects of this topic? How can I bring out those contradictions, account for them or investigate them further?
  • How do my interpretations converge or diverge from analysis that has already been published on the topic?
  • Does my analysis support one or more viewpoints in an existing critical or theoretical debate in the wider field?

Writing summary statements

You need to reach the stage at which you can reduce your argument(s) down to one or more full sentences. Imagine explaining the central idea of your dissertation to a supervisor or fellow student. Try to express your main argument in a couple of summary sentences, and then expand these into four or five sentences, giving greater detail or including sub-points. It is best to have a draft of your summary sentences ready before you start writing, as this will dictate how you should organize your material. But it is entirely normal (and very healthy!) for your ideas to change as you start writing. If that happens, simply go back to your summary and your plan and make sure they reflect your current thinking. It is also very common (and again, a good sign) for your argument to change or develop quite radically after you have composed your first draft. Think of it as a continual, circular process: of refining your summary argument(s), which leads to changes in your written draft, which lead to further refinements of your argument(s), which lead to more alterations to the draft, etc.

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  • 1. Approaching the dissertation
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Structure of an academic argument.

Although every piece of academic writing is unique, each has the same goals: persuading the reader of one main idea, ensuring the integrity of your research process, and clearly stating your central finding. Researchers often refer to this central claim as the argument. In this resource we'll focus on the most common structure of academic arguments and on the steps in the story line, or the means by which a narrative thread is developed to carry the argument from the beginning to the end of a piece of writing.

The key elements of an argument include the following:

Statement of problem

  • Literature review
  • Precise focus of your research stated as a hypothesis, question, aim, or objective
  • Method and methodology


  • Discussion and conclusion (including implications for future research)

The amount of writing used to accomplish each step will differ widely depending on the discipline and a journal’s specific guidelines. Because of the short length of journal articles, the first three elements are often, but not always, provided in the Introduction , leaving the bulk of the paper free to describe the methods and discuss the results or to present evidence to support the argument.

Academic writing is argumentative writing—instead of simply asserting your own position, however, you need to enter the ongoing conversation, using what others say as a launching pad. —Graff & Birkenstein (2010)

Like other academic writing, journal papers open with an unresolved problem or an explanation of something important we need to know. This is done to get the reader’s attention, establish the significance of the research, and address the literature the research will contribute to. In some papers, this is accomplished in a few paragraphs; in others it may take several pages, depending on the discipline and the nature of the problem identified. Here’s an example of a clearly-defined problem statement:

Volcanic ash adsorption poses a great environmental hazard because adsorbed volatiles can be rapidly deposited and subsequently leached into the ground. Adsorption can be influenced by magma type, particle size, and humidity conditions. For example, leachate content from volcanoes in close proximity to each other appears alike due to similar magma types. In fact, the greatest hazard to the environment is posed by magmas with a relatively high halogen content and by magmas with high F:SO 4 2- ratios in which many hazardous leachate fluoride concentrations are found. Aside from the magma type, particles <2 mm across seem to have a greater adsorption, and therefore a high leachate hazard exists even with low ash deposition. Additionally, under high humidity conditions, adsorption can be further increased as bigger sulfuric acid droplets make ash adsorption more likely. Unfortunately, currently no uniform leachate analysis methods exist and thus data are difficult to compare. Ideally, the measuring and reporting of leachate results should be standardized. (Witham, 2005)

In the preceding paragraph, the writer provides varying conditions that contribute to the central problem as to why “. . . no uniform leachate analysis methods exist . . . data are difficult to compare.” It’s a solid argument that readers—even those not in the field—find interesting because valid reasons are presented to clearly define the problem.

Student writing in library

The gap in the literature

This section of an article, often referred to as the literature review, should

  • critically engage with the research and ideas of others in the field(s) the new research intends to address and
  • identify limitations of the previous research.

The limitation may be an unresolved question, a missing piece of information, a paradox, a theoretical inconsistency, or some other weakness within the existing understanding of the phenomenon under study.

Identifying a knowledge gap is important because it:

  • introduces and explains findings that support the new research;
  • synthesizes the main conclusions of literature relevant to the topic;
  • highlights unresolved issues or questions within the literature; and
  • establishes the originality or “significance” of the new research.

Hypothesis, question, aim, objective

The literature review is followed by a statement of the precise focus of the research, and this statement builds on the knowledge gap in the problem statement. This can take many forms, including a hypothesis, a question, or, more commonly, a statement of the aims or objectives of the research. To avoid repetition and to keep the focus precise, it’s important to use only one of these forms. Once the focus is clear, it frames the design, the variables and relationships in the subject of study, and the type of knowledge generated.

The statement of the research objectives should use the language of knowledge production. For example, research can provide insights, information, and knowledge; it can investigate, compare, examine and explore. It cannot, in itself, change policy, improve people’s lives, or produce any other physical outcome in the world. For this reason, research objectives are usually confined to claims about the kind or quality of knowledge that was produced.

Methods and Methodology

The first step in summarizing the research design, whether in the Introduction or within a research design section, is to say why you did what you did. Remind the reader of the research objective and  follow with a description of the methods. This description should include the following:

  • The method (e.g., survey, experiment, textual analysis),
  • where the research was conducted (geographical or institutional context,
  • with whom (sample population) and how many participants were involved (number), and
  • any other information the reader needs to understand the core elements of the design.

The next step is to interpret your findings by explaining what your data show or reveal. This is often referred to as the research methodology or the “theoretical framework,” which explains the assumptions that underpin the study design. You are effectively telling your reader how you wish them to read your findings. Within what methodological or theoretical frame or set of limits do you wish your findings to be read? Here are some methodology sentence stems: (a) “The data were analyzed to test the hypothesis that . . . .” ; (b) “The data were analyzed to determine whether a relationship exists between . . . .” ; or (c) “This approach looks at . . . and their involvement in . . . .” The example paragraph below includes all three aspects discussed above.

Example study design introduction, including objective, method and methodology

As you read through the example, you should have noted that the past tense is used to report methods because these were conducted in the past (e.g., “Interviews were conducted,” “Surveys were distributed”). The present tense is used to describe how data are presented in the chapter because this information is still true (e.g., “The results show that . . . “).

When trying to determine how much detail to include in this section, consider the following:

  • If the methodology, technique, or model is simple, well known, or uncontroversial, don’t add extensive detail. Consider covering the method within the introduction of the paper and adding any further detail to the section in the Results and Discussion sections.
  • When the methodology, technique, or model is less straightforward, requires more detail to explain, or is more open to question, consider dedicating a separate section to a discussion of method and methodology.
  • When the methodology, technique, or model is unique, highly detailed, or your study design is likely to raise significant questions in the reader's mind that could affect how they view your findings and the validity of your evidence, provide enough descriptive information and explanation to justify and clarify your research design and its rationale.

Whatever the level of detail necessary, always provide references and be as concise as possible.

In summary, research methods are the tools, techniques or processes we use in our research. These might be, for example, surveys, interviews, or specific experiments,. Methods and how they are used are shaped by methodology. Research methodology is about the principles that guide our research practices. Methodology, therefore, explains why we’re using certain methods or tools in our research.

The next step in the argument is to provide the results—or discussion of the evidence—to answer the question or support the argument stated in the introduction of the paper. Here you’re telling the reader what you found. In the introduction of the results section, identify the themes or topics you’ll cover. Then organize your evidence around the elements of your methods, central themes, theories, ideas, case studies, historical periods, policies, fields of literature, context, or geographical area. However you organize it, this section should be clearly tied to the overarching question or the argument of your thesis.

Report findings

Report all results or evidence pertinent to the research question or argument (not just those that support the hypothesis). Additionally, report results or evidence in order of importance or persuasiveness (most important first), or chronologically (for staged experiments), or in order of questions asked (for survey research).

Explain significance

Instead of stating that a result is significant, explain the significance of the result. For example: instead of saying, “Results for the distance traveled were highly significant,” write, “While the average distance traveled is five kilometers, the sample population traveled on average 10 kilometers farther. This can be explained by. . . “

Write results followed by specific data

Provide a statement of the main result(s) or argument in the introduction to the results section, then follow with the data. In reporting the data, provide precise measurements.

One way to ensure you are summarizing, synthesizing and interpreting data rather than simply reporting it is to state the result first, then follow with a description of the data that supports it. This will avoid a results section with a litany of figures and tables, quotes from research subjects, or descriptions of statistical outcomes with little story line to explain the data or draw out the significance to the central research question.

Use figures, tables, and graphs appropriately

Present complex data within figures, tables, or graphs, but if the data can be explained just as well in the text, don’t use them.

Avoid using a figure or table title as a topic sentence. Instead, cite tables and figures in brackets after relevant results statements. For example, instead of writing, “A summary of grocery retail transaction data are presented in Fig. 2,” write, “Grocery retail transaction data show that . . . (refer to Figure 2).”

Figures, tables, and graphs

  • are necessary only when they provide information that expands upon, or cannot be explained in, the text;
  • should contain sufficient information to enable them to stand alone;
  • are always briefly discussed and summarized in the text;
  • must include titles to describe core content (name of variables, type of analysis);
  • are clearly and consistently labeled and numbered;
  • list one column of data per heading; and
  • are uncluttered and easy to interpret.

Discussion and conclusion

The final step in the story line is to provide the answer to the question, or to summarize the argument and the main evidence used to support it. This is followed by an explanation of the significance of the research and the implications that arise from the research.

Some papers have separate discussion and conclusion sections. The difference between the discussion and conclusion is one of inference. The discussion section discusses actual results. Conclusions are more speculative in tone, exploring the possible implications of the results. In many qualitative papers, results or findings are difficult to disentangle from the discussion and are combined within the main body of the article.

The goal of the conclusion is to highlight the importance of the argument, to draw together the discussion into a final point, and to leave a lasting impression on the reader. In the same way that the paper opens with a statement of a problem that is of broad concern, it should close with commentary that highlights the take home message. The aim in the conclusion is to make this message as clear and accessible as possible.

Link the introduction and the conclusion

Read the introduction and the conclusion, one after another. They should complement one another. If you’ve used examples, metaphors, or other illustrations to highlight the problem or significance of the research, you might return to the same device in the conclusion.

Synthesize, don’t repeat

You can avoid repeating information that has already been provided by drawing the findings together into an overall point that has not been made yet. The sum may be a more powerful conveyor of meaning than the parts.

Go out with a bang

Use the last paragraph or sentence of the paper to provide closure to its overall questions. Pay attention to this paragraph and sentence; draft with care.

A note on “recommendations”

Conclusions offer solutions to issues and suggest courses of action flowing from the research. However, the aim of research is primarily to produce knowledge, not law, policy or a set of recommendations. We cannot ultimately control how our ideas are interpreted or implemented in the world. By maintaining a scholarly tone and exploring the possible implications of your ideas in broad terms, you can avoid dating your research unnecessarily, or limiting the reader's imagination to a specific set of outcomes.

Final thoughts

  • Use the beginning and ending of the introduction, middle sections, and conclusion to provide critical information.
  • Keep the focus on the research story at all times. Do not write about standardized procedures or tangential information.
  • Never describe literature, methods or theory in a general way; always relate these discussions to your research.
  • Do not report twists and turns in the research process, or what you have learned in the research process. The research paper addresses a question, or persuades the reader of a main idea—your central claim.

Example journal article (abbreviated)

To illustrate the structure of a well-written academic paper, a summary of the main steps in the story line of an education journal article has been reproduced below. Each excerpt has been drawn from the Introduction and the opening or closing paragraphs of the Results and Discussion sections.

Paton, M. (2009). Is critical analysis foreign to Chinese students? In E. Manalo & G. WongToi (Eds.), Communication skills in university education (pp. 1–10).

The content of this module is adapted with permission from resources developed by Dr. Wendy Bastalich, Teaching Innovation Unit, University of South Australia—as part of the University’s Research Education Support Program.

argument methods dissertation

Organizing an Argument

As with other aspects of writing an argument, your organizational strategy will vary according to the requirements of its disciplinary context, your knowledge and level of expertise within the field, and your previous experience preparing arguments.

There are probably as many ways to draft an argument as there are arguments; however, there are a few tried and true methods-from adversarial to mediation based, and deductive to inductive reasoning-which work well in the academic world. None of them are carved in stone, however. Here we'll explore a number of useful methods to guide you in drafting your own argument.

Rogerian Method

Most of the time we think of arguments as adversarial, taking place between people who fundamentally disagree. One will be right and the other wrong; one wins and the other loses. This works in legal systems as well as in the context of many other situations. But often-especially in academic arguing-no single position regarding a controversy is completely right.

When you're working on an issue or problem about which more than one viewpoint may be valid, you may want to try drafting an argument that is oriented more toward mediation. Unlike adversarial arguments, which typically begin with a firm claim, an argument that mediates will postpone stating a position until much later in the presentation, often the middle or the end.

There are a number of ways to do this; one of the best being based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers. A Rogerian argument presumes that if author and audience find common ground regarding an issue or problem, they will be more likely to find, or agree upon, a common solution. It succeeds only when the author understands the audience. He or she must present the audience's perspective clearly, accurately, and fairly before asking them to consider an alternative position or solution.

This method downplays emotional appeals in favor of the rational and is particularly useful in dealing with emotionally charged, highly divisive issues and allows for people of good will on different sides of an issue to find, or agree upon, solutions together.

Parts of a Rogerian Argument

The introduction typically points out how both the author and the audience are similarly affected. Rather than presenting a thesis demanding agreement, which is often seen as an attack on whomever holds an opposing view; this presentation emphasizes unity, putting the audience first.

The audience perspective comes next. Described as clearly and accurately as possible-typically in neutral language-the author acknowledges their point of view and the circumstances and contexts in which their perspective or position is valid. Done well, the author builds good will and credibility with the audience, a crucial step leading toward potential compromise. Honest, heartfelt sincerity is the key here: if the audience perceives an attempt at manipulation, the Rogerian argument strategy generally backfires.

The author's perspective comes in the next chunk of the argument. For the audience to give it a listen it must be presented in as fair-minded a way as was theirs, in language as equally neutral and clear. To be convincing, besides describing the circumstances or contexts in which the position is valid, it must contain the evidence that supports the claim.

The closing of a Rogerian argument doesn't ask the audience to give up their position, but shows how they would benefit from moving closer toward that of the author's. In other words, it ends by laying out the ways a compromise or alternative solution benefits both audience and author under a wider variety of circumstances than either can account for alone.

Deductive Method

The traditional academic argument is deductive, placing the author's position in the introduction and devoting the rest of the argument to presenting the evidence. Unless you are in a field where inductive reasoning is the norm, you can hardly go wrong with this method.

In some cases, all the evidence may be directed at proving the main point; in others, each piece may lead to a sub-point that needs proving before a convincing argument for the main point can be made. Depending on how directly each piece of evidence relates to the position, a deductive argument can be organized in a variety of ways.

When All Evidence Relates...

When all evidence relates directly to your main point, or thesis, and each piece of evidence is equally relevant, a typical arrangement simply introduces the position and presents each piece. Transitions connect each to the thesis.

Depending on their strengths and weaknesses, the order in which each piece of evidence is presented, as well as the rebuttals of opposing arguments, can differ greatly.

More often than not, even when all evidence is directly relevant, some pieces may be more convincing-less open to question or interpretation-than others. In these cases, arguments are typically arranged as follows:

  • Introduction establishing the context of the argument as well as the author's position.
  • Body of Evidence presented, depending on the audience analysis, from most to least, or least to most convincing.
  • Conclusion summarizing the argument, presenting a call to action, or suggesting further research.

When Seemingly Unrelated Sub-Points...

When seemingly unrelated sub-points need to be made and proven in order to prove the main point, the author must show how the particular premises of each, along with its supporting evidence, connect, collectively and logically, to support the main position.

An argument supporting a ban on logging in rain forests might first need to establish and provide evidence regarding five other environmental premises, each supporting the author's position, regarding the effects of logging. For instance:

  • It causes soil erosion
  • It affects global warming
  • It destroys native species
  • It alters water routes and levels
  • It destroys indigenous lifestyles

Each premise is a debatable issue in and of itself. Therefore, some measure of the supportive evidence behind each-at least enough to connect them as reasonably evidentiary links-must be given before they can be used to collectively support the author's main position. In these cases, arguments are typically arranged as follows:

  • Brief Preview outlining each premise, or reason, to be used as evidence supporting the claim.
  • Body of Evidence presented, depending on audience analysis, in an order which will make the most sense to the audience.
  • Conclusion summarizing the argument and demonstrating how each premise leads logically to the author's position, presents a call to action, or suggests further research.

Note: This arrangement is ideal for content sub-headings where each heading describes the premise/reason to be discussed.

When Opposing Arguments...

When opposing arguments or points of view must be addressed there are a variety of ways to argue against or refute them. They can be place almost anywhere in the text, however, the strength and power of the opposing arguments and how familiar your audience is with them should be your main considerations. Here are a couple of options:

When opposing arguments are less persuasive or, at best, equal to, rebuttals are best saved till last where the opposing argument will appear less credible in light of your own:
Introduction Your argument and evidence Rebuttal of opposition claims Conclusion
When opposing arguments are particularly strong and readily accepted, discrediting them point-by-point may be the best strategy for convincing an audience to consider alternative points or support a different position.
Introduction Rebut first opposing argument followed by first counter-argument Rebut next opposing arguments, followed by further counter-arguments as you go along Conclusion

Inductive Method

Inductive arguments are more difficult for an audience to follow, thus they are less commonly found in the academic world than deductive arguments. Typically they begin with the author introducing an issue without proposing a solution or stating a position. Instead, various takes and opposing positions are introduced and argued, for and against, all of which then leads up to the author stating his or her position.

The goal of an inductive strategy is to present all the evidence and information in a manner such that, when the author's position is finally stated, the audience has been moved, or persuaded to agree that it is the one and only logical conclusion.

Inductive arguments can be organized in a variety of ways depending either on your assessment of what position the audience already holds or, on whether you are arguing a position from original research. It may be completely inductive, saving your position for the end, or partially inductive, introducing your position somewhere in the middle of the argument.

When an Audience Completely Disagrees...

When an audience completely disagrees with your position convincing them that their reasons for disagreeing are faulty before presenting your own position may be the best strategy.

Introduction: States the issue to be addressed and why it is important.
Body of Argument: Examines positions already proposed and refutes each one, showing why they are inadequate. Typically organized like this.
Position 1 Your refutation of position 1 Position 2 Your refutation of position 2
Alternatively, all positions might be examined first and then refuted second.
Position 1 Position 2 Your refutation of position 1 Your refutation of position 2
Conclusion/Position Statement: Once all other positions are shown to be inadequate, conclude with your position as the only logical choice.

When an Audience Partially Disagrees...

When an audience partially disagrees with your position, the best strategy still looks a great deal like when they completely disagree: convincing them that their reasoning is faulty before presenting your own position.

Position Statement: Introduced as the only logical choice after the positions your audience finds most persuasive are shown to be inadequate.
Presentation of Evidence: Supports your position as not only reasonable, but the best one available as well.

When an Audience is Completely Unfamiliar...

When an audience is completely unfamiliar with the issue, presenting evidence and leading to a logical conclusion may be the best choice because you are informing the audience while simultaneously proving the position.

Body of Argument: Presents the different work done on the issue and the conclusions reached.
Logical Connections: Looks at how conclusions reached in the research fit together leading to a particular answer to the problem or position on the issue. An alternative arrangement would include connections between each conclusion presented and proven.
Conclusion/Position Statement: ends the argument with your position as the only logical choice.

When Original Research Forms the Basis...

When original research forms the basis for an argument, particularly in the sciences, the study itself and the results must be discussed before a conclusion or interpretation of the data can be discussed. It must be made obvious to the audience that your position emerges from the research rather than being one you are ensuring the research will support. A deductive arrangement, starting with the conclusion or position, implies that the research may be biased.

Research questions: Describes study and the issue, problem or question it was designed specifically to answer.
Methods: Describes in detail the methods employed in the study.
Results: Summarizes and provides a detailed presentation of findings.
Conclusion/Position Statement: Argues for a particular interpretation of the results which leads to a conclusion addressing or answering the original issue, problem or question investigated.

Tying it All Together

American methods of academic argument are best depicted as a straight line. No matter what-be it evidence, sub-points, refutations of other positions, or personal anecdotes-everything used must lead clearly back to the position being argued. Although the relevance of each is always clear to the author, their connections are not always so obvious to the audience. Therefore, it is up to the author to carefully explain them.

Toulmin Method

One of the best ways to demonstrate why a given piece of evidence supports the thesis, claim or position of an argument is to explain the reasoning process by which they are logically connected. In the Toulmin method, these explanations are referred to as warrants.

First, for each claim that is debatable, or open to question, a reason is offered that supports the claim's validity. A warrant-consisting of a sentence or two-then follows, explaining the reason. Finally, evidence is supplied that supports connecting the reason to a given point or the overall claim of the paper.

Example of the Toulmin Method

Thesis, Claim or Position

Grading should be optional in non-major courses.

Reason/Point #1

Non-major courses are designed to help students become intelligent, well-rounded citizens. If the goal of such courses is the exploration and acquisition of knowledge, grades only get in the way.

Rather than learning for the sake of becoming a better person, grades encourage performance for the sake of a better GPA. The focus grading puts on performance undercuts learning opportunities when students choose courses according to what might be easiest rather than what they'd like to know more about. [Introduces why proof is relevant to point]

For example, students polled at CSU in a College of Liberal Arts study cite the following reasons for choosing non-major courses:

  • Easy grading (80%)
  • Low quantity of work (60%)
  • What was available (40%)
  • Personality of teacher (30%)
  • Something they were interested in knowing more about (10%)

Similarly, in an interview I conducted with graduating seniors, only two of the 20 people I spoke with found their non-major courses valuable. The other 18 reported that non-major courses were a waste of time for a variety of reasons:

  • I'm never going to do anything with them.
  • I just took whatever wouldn't distract me from my major so I didn't work very hard in them, just studying enough to get an A on the test.
  • Non-major courses are a joke. Everyone I know took the simplest, stupidest, 100-level courses needed to fulfill the requirements. I can't even remember the ones I took now.

Although not everyone in the interviews or the CLA poll cited grades explicitly as the reason for choosing easy, irrelevant, non-major courses, we can read such reasoning into many of the less explicit references as well. Clearly, students are not choosing courses based on what they can learn from them. Yet they are fairly consistent in their choices: 100-level courses with little work. Although laziness might be seen as the cause of such choices, it is just as likely that choosing according to the amount of work, selecting simple courses, or only studying for the exam are a result of the GPA system. Higher work loads and more complex topics obviously could mean receiving a lower grade; thus, they should be avoided. [Demonstrates how proof leads to point as necessary conclusion.]

Using Subheadings and Transitions

Chunking text into sections according to where a new point is being made, a new reason in support of your thesis is offered, or a new opposing argument is being addressed helps establish coherence among the various parts of your argument. Using sub-headings to label these different sections will help the audience follow your argument.

In addition, transitions explaining why one section helps support the point made in the previous one or how the next point follows logically from the first helps the reader see more clearly how these points ultimately relate to the claim, or position being argued.

Using Subheadings and Transitions: An Example

Thesis/Claim: Greenlife's proposal to ban all logging in rain forests should be supported.

Reason #1: It would help prevent global warming. [This sentence then gets developed, followed by a transition leading to Reason #2.]

Transition between #1 and #2: Although global warming may be the most persuasive reason to stop logging in rainforests due to the effect it has on the entire planet's population, the effect on local culture, affecting a much smaller number of people, is just as important. Losing native habitats destroys ways of life which can never be replaced, displacing people and devastating cultures that can never be restored. [ Logic: both are equally important reasons to stop logging.]

Reason #2: Logging destroys indigenous lifestyles. [This gets developed, followed by a transition leading to Reason #3.]

Transition between #2 and #3: Not only is the effect on indigenous cultures and global climate impossible to reverse but logging also has a lasting effect on the local environment that could have equally disastrous consequences. The erosion caused by logging results in a change in the ecosystem, particularly the loss of rich, fertile soil essential to both plant and animal life. [ Logic: human effects of global warming and loss of indigenous cultures are not the only considerations: effects on ecosystems are also consequences of logging.]

Reason #3: Logging produces erosion in the local environment. [This gets developed, followed by a transition leading to Opposing Position #1.]

Transition between reason 3 and opposition #1: Of course, many have argued that the loss of plant life and soil should be considered necessary damages if they work in favor of increasing the quality of human life. [ Logic: Introduces opposing argument #1 and leads to its refutation.]

Opposition #1: The argument that human life is more important than plant life, however, simply does not hold up when considering that the devastation of an ecosystem also affects human life. These effects, as I've already shown, can be measured not only in terms of climate change and the loss of indigenous cultures, but also in terms of losses to farming and other local economic systems. [ Logic: Demonstrates that opposition to point 3 is not viable because of points 1, 2, and 3.]

Using Topic Sentences or Explanatory Paragraphs

Another good way to help an audience follow the logic of your argument is to use of topic sentences literally telling them how each point relates to the claim, clearly connecting them so that there isn't any question how or why they relate. In longer arguments, entire paragraphs can serve this purpose by explaining the connections between extended summaries of evidence or the logical arguments of sub-points to the main claim.

Paragraph Example

Claim/Thesis of Paper: Writing teachers fail to deal with multicultural issues to the detriment of their students.

Section One: An analysis of the weaknesses of current curricular approaches to writing

Transitional Paragraph tying analysis to thesis and next section: As the analysis above shows, none of the available curricular models address multiculturalism except in the most cursory manner. Worse, their very superficiality does more damage than good. By introducing the topic of writing for multiple communities, the pedagogies make an attempt to bring diversity into the classroom; yet their focus remains on teaching academic writing with standard usage and grammar. Although they admit that such teaching is only for this context, putting such emphasis on standard forms introduces the issue: which forms of writing have more power in society, something none of the pedagogies address. By putting forth the academic model as the one which must be taught and learned in schools, they implicitly devalue other forms. The failure to foreground these power issues, then, leads students of difference to conclude that although their language and forms of writing might be acceptable in certain places, they are not welcome in the places which count in society. The effect of such an implicit message can be devastating to maintaining cultural values and difference.

Section Two: Discussion of research on multicultural student reactions' to writing classes.

Topic Sentence Example

Main Claim or Thesis of Paper: Professor X is a good teacher and should retain her job at CSU.

Introduction: Agues that determining whether Professor X is a good teacher involves evaluating her performance against criteria for good teachers.

Body of Argument: Works through several criteria to judge Professor X's teaching quality.

Topic Sentence Example: The first and probably most important criteria for judging the quality of a teacher is student opinion and, by any measure of student opinion-course evaluations, interviews, and class enrollment-Professor X is clearly one of the best teachers at CSU. [Paper goes on to offer summaries of all three forms of proof listed and then moves onto the second criteria with a topic sentence that ties back to the overall judgment of Prof. X as a good teacher.]

Example of When Methods are Combined

Claim of Paper: Decreasing the average work week to 32 hours would help support family values.

From Body of Paper: Although most of us know that working too much affects family time and thus family structure, we usually assume that this is the case only for people who work 40+ hours a week. Studies of how work-related stress influences family time, however, suggest that too much work, even within what is considered "normal," has detrimental effects on family time. [Topic sentence connects evidence (studies) to the point that 40 hour work weeks have negative affects on families.] For example, in Smith's 1987 study of 15 average, middle-class families, he describes the undue pressure a 9-5 schedule puts on families. In particular, he notes that this time schedule translates to at least three forms of unnecessary family stress: (1) "rushed" mornings where parents desperately try sticking to a rigid time schedule that gets the children off to school and themselves to work between the hours of 7 and 9; (2) financial pressure of paying babysitters or day care facilities during school holidays and the 2 or 3 hours after school while parents are still at work; (3) overly frantic weekends where, since many businesses close at 5:00, all errands must be done before then. [Note how the author highlights only the parts of the study that influence family pressures.] The stresses Smith documents are not in families where parents work 60-70 hours a week. The parents working 40 hours a week are secretaries, mechanics, bank employees, etc. The effects on them, he notes, clearly translate to less time spent with family members because of work demands as well as increased pressure when the family is together. [Warrant explaining why proof shows the problem is the 40-hour work week discussed in the initial point made]

Such pressures can't help but influence the quality of time the family spends together, influencing its ability to stay together or to have the type of time most conducive to instilling family values. [Topic sentences which ties point 1 to overall claim of paper] In fact, as psychological studies show, the type of time spent together has a great influence on family cohesiveness. [Transition connecting point 1--effect of 40 hour week on families--to point 2: the influence of time pressures on keeping family together]

Next Paragraph: Summaries of psychological studies to support the new claim of effect on cohesiveness.

Reviewing and Revising Your Connections

After drafting an argument you'll want take a step back and check the logic of its organization. You want to make sure that everything is connected and that every connection will make sense to an audience.

Analyze by Outlining

Chunk your argument into numbered sections: read through the text and place a number in the margin every time you change focus, even slightly. These changes may or may not come at regular intervals: one section might take three paragraphs while another takes only one. When you are finished, ask the following questions:

  • Do similar points come up in different sections? If so, put them together.
  • Are any sections only a few sentences long? Are they relevant? If so, expand them; if not, cut them out.
  • Can you define the relationship each section has to the position being argued? How is each one relevant? Look at your revised argument and create a list of reasons that connect each section to the position being argued. Those that don't should be cut. Save this list, the reasons you have identified will make excellent transitions between argument sections.
  • Can you explain why section #2 follows section #1 and so on? If not consider how sections might be moved around so that you have a clear reason for why each one follows another. Make another list, including these reasons. Consider using them as transitions between argument sections as well.

Get Some Peer-Review

Have a friend or several friends read through your argument. Ask them to mark where they get lost or are not sure of your point or where you are going next. These are places where rearrangement or clearer transitions are probably necessary. Also, try reading the argument aloud, to yourself and your friends. Frequently, when you hear an argument out loud, you can pinpoint where its logic doesn't add up. Changes can then be made.

Cut and Paste

Cut and paste. Play around with your organizational structure. Literally cut your paper into paragraphs and then make piles out of those which have things in common. If only part of a paragraph does, then cut some more. Save the leftovers in a separate pile. What do the pieces in each pile have in common? Construct a title for each pile based on the reason: Finally, ask yourself: what is the relationship between each pile: How are they related? Don't be afraid to shuffle them around and look at them in different positions. This will help you order the sections of your argument when pasting it back together. Look at your pile of left over pieces to see if they belong. If they do, consider expanding them so their relevance is made clear. If not, leave them out. Remember, throwing stuff out is not a sign of failure; it's an integral part of rewriting.

LeCourt, Donna, Kate Kiefer, & Peter Connor. (1996). Organizing an Argument. Writing@CSU . Colorado State University.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What this handout is about

This handout will define what an argument is and explain why you need one in most of your academic essays.

Arguments are everywhere

You may be surprised to hear that the word “argument” does not have to be written anywhere in your assignment for it to be an important part of your task. In fact, making an argument—expressing a point of view on a subject and supporting it with evidence—is often the aim of academic writing. Your instructors may assume that you know this and thus may not explain the importance of arguments in class.

Most material you learn in college is or has been debated by someone, somewhere, at some time. Even when the material you read or hear is presented as a simple fact, it may actually be one person’s interpretation of a set of information. Instructors may call on you to examine that interpretation and defend it, refute it, or offer some new view of your own. In writing assignments, you will almost always need to do more than just summarize information that you have gathered or regurgitate facts that have been discussed in class. You will need to develop a point of view on or interpretation of that material and provide evidence for your position.

Consider an example. For nearly 2000 years, educated people in many Western cultures believed that bloodletting—deliberately causing a sick person to lose blood—was the most effective treatment for a variety of illnesses. The claim that bloodletting is beneficial to human health was not widely questioned until the 1800s, and some physicians continued to recommend bloodletting as late as the 1920s. Medical practices have now changed because some people began to doubt the effectiveness of bloodletting; these people argued against it and provided convincing evidence. Human knowledge grows out of such differences of opinion, and scholars like your instructors spend their lives engaged in debate over what claims may be counted as accurate in their fields. In their courses, they want you to engage in similar kinds of critical thinking and debate.

Argumentation is not just what your instructors do. We all use argumentation on a daily basis, and you probably already have some skill at crafting an argument. The more you improve your skills in this area, the better you will be at thinking critically, reasoning, making choices, and weighing evidence.

Making a claim

What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea. In the majority of college papers, you will need to make some sort of claim and use evidence to support it, and your ability to do this well will separate your papers from those of students who see assignments as mere accumulations of fact and detail. In other words, gone are the happy days of being given a “topic” about which you can write anything. It is time to stake out a position and prove why it is a good position for a thinking person to hold. See our handout on thesis statements .

Claims can be as simple as “Protons are positively charged and electrons are negatively charged,” with evidence such as, “In this experiment, protons and electrons acted in such and such a way.” Claims can also be as complex as “Genre is the most important element to the contract of expectations between filmmaker and audience,” using reasoning and evidence such as, “defying genre expectations can create a complete apocalypse of story form and content, leaving us stranded in a sort of genre-less abyss.” In either case, the rest of your paper will detail the reasoning and evidence that have led you to believe that your position is best.

When beginning to write a paper, ask yourself, “What is my point?” For example, the point of this handout is to help you become a better writer, and we are arguing that an important step in the process of writing effective arguments is understanding the concept of argumentation. If your papers do not have a main point, they cannot be arguing for anything. Asking yourself what your point is can help you avoid a mere “information dump.” Consider this: your instructors probably know a lot more than you do about your subject matter. Why, then, would you want to provide them with material they already know? Instructors are usually looking for two things:

  • Proof that you understand the material
  • A demonstration of your ability to use or apply the material in ways that go beyond what you have read or heard.

This second part can be done in many ways: you can critique the material, apply it to something else, or even just explain it in a different way. In order to succeed at this second step, though, you must have a particular point to argue.

Arguments in academic writing are usually complex and take time to develop. Your argument will need to be more than a simple or obvious statement such as “Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect.” Such a statement might capture your initial impressions of Wright as you have studied him in class; however, you need to look deeper and express specifically what caused that “greatness.” Your instructor will probably expect something more complicated, such as “Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture combines elements of European modernism, Asian aesthetic form, and locally found materials to create a unique new style,” or “There are many strong similarities between Wright’s building designs and those of his mother, which suggests that he may have borrowed some of her ideas.” To develop your argument, you would then define your terms and prove your claim with evidence from Wright’s drawings and buildings and those of the other architects you mentioned.

Do not stop with having a point. You have to back up your point with evidence. The strength of your evidence, and your use of it, can make or break your argument. See our handout on evidence . You already have the natural inclination for this type of thinking, if not in an academic setting. Think about how you talked your parents into letting you borrow the family car. Did you present them with lots of instances of your past trustworthiness? Did you make them feel guilty because your friends’ parents all let them drive? Did you whine until they just wanted you to shut up? Did you look up statistics on teen driving and use them to show how you didn’t fit the dangerous-driver profile? These are all types of argumentation, and they exist in academia in similar forms.

Every field has slightly different requirements for acceptable evidence, so familiarize yourself with some arguments from within that field instead of just applying whatever evidence you like best. Pay attention to your textbooks and your instructor’s lectures. What types of argument and evidence are they using? The type of evidence that sways an English instructor may not work to convince a sociology instructor. Find out what counts as proof that something is true in that field. Is it statistics, a logical development of points, something from the object being discussed (art work, text, culture, or atom), the way something works, or some combination of more than one of these things?

Be consistent with your evidence. Unlike negotiating for the use of your parents’ car, a college paper is not the place for an all-out blitz of every type of argument. You can often use more than one type of evidence within a paper, but make sure that within each section you are providing the reader with evidence appropriate to each claim. So, if you start a paragraph or section with a statement like “Putting the student seating area closer to the basketball court will raise player performance,” do not follow with your evidence on how much more money the university could raise by letting more students go to games for free. Information about how fan support raises player morale, which then results in better play, would be a better follow-up. Your next section could offer clear reasons why undergraduates have as much or more right to attend an undergraduate event as wealthy alumni—but this information would not go in the same section as the fan support stuff. You cannot convince a confused person, so keep things tidy and ordered.


One way to strengthen your argument and show that you have a deep understanding of the issue you are discussing is to anticipate and address counterarguments or objections. By considering what someone who disagrees with your position might have to say about your argument, you show that you have thought things through, and you dispose of some of the reasons your audience might have for not accepting your argument. Recall our discussion of student seating in the Dean Dome. To make the most effective argument possible, you should consider not only what students would say about seating but also what alumni who have paid a lot to get good seats might say.

You can generate counterarguments by asking yourself how someone who disagrees with you might respond to each of the points you’ve made or your position as a whole. If you can’t immediately imagine another position, here are some strategies to try:

  • Do some research. It may seem to you that no one could possibly disagree with the position you are arguing, but someone probably has. For example, some people argue that a hotdog is a sandwich. If you are making an argument concerning, for example, the characteristics of an exceptional sandwich, you might want to see what some of these people have to say.
  • Talk with a friend or with your teacher. Another person may be able to imagine counterarguments that haven’t occurred to you.
  • Consider your conclusion or claim and the premises of your argument and imagine someone who denies each of them. For example, if you argued, “Cats make the best pets. This is because they are clean and independent,” you might imagine someone saying, “Cats do not make the best pets. They are dirty and needy.”

Once you have thought up some counterarguments, consider how you will respond to them—will you concede that your opponent has a point but explain why your audience should nonetheless accept your argument? Will you reject the counterargument and explain why it is mistaken? Either way, you will want to leave your reader with a sense that your argument is stronger than opposing arguments.

When you are summarizing opposing arguments, be charitable. Present each argument fairly and objectively, rather than trying to make it look foolish. You want to show that you have considered the many sides of the issue. If you simply attack or caricature your opponent (also referred to as presenting a “straw man”), you suggest that your argument is only capable of defeating an extremely weak adversary, which may undermine your argument rather than enhance it.

It is usually better to consider one or two serious counterarguments in some depth, rather than to give a long but superficial list of many different counterarguments and replies.

Be sure that your reply is consistent with your original argument. If considering a counterargument changes your position, you will need to go back and revise your original argument accordingly.

Audience is a very important consideration in argument. Take a look at our handout on audience . A lifetime of dealing with your family members has helped you figure out which arguments work best to persuade each of them. Maybe whining works with one parent, but the other will only accept cold, hard statistics. Your kid brother may listen only to the sound of money in his palm. It’s usually wise to think of your audience in an academic setting as someone who is perfectly smart but who doesn’t necessarily agree with you. You are not just expressing your opinion in an argument (“It’s true because I said so”), and in most cases your audience will know something about the subject at hand—so you will need sturdy proof. At the same time, do not think of your audience as capable of reading your mind. You have to come out and state both your claim and your evidence clearly. Do not assume that because the instructor knows the material, he or she understands what part of it you are using, what you think about it, and why you have taken the position you’ve chosen.

Critical reading

Critical reading is a big part of understanding argument. Although some of the material you read will be very persuasive, do not fall under the spell of the printed word as authority. Very few of your instructors think of the texts they assign as the last word on the subject. Remember that the author of every text has an agenda, something that he or she wants you to believe. This is OK—everything is written from someone’s perspective—but it’s a good thing to be aware of. For more information on objectivity and bias and on reading sources carefully, read our handouts on evaluating print sources and reading to write .

Take notes either in the margins of your source (if you are using a photocopy or your own book) or on a separate sheet as you read. Put away that highlighter! Simply highlighting a text is good for memorizing the main ideas in that text—it does not encourage critical reading. Part of your goal as a reader should be to put the author’s ideas in your own words. Then you can stop thinking of these ideas as facts and start thinking of them as arguments.

When you read, ask yourself questions like “What is the author trying to prove?” and “What is the author assuming I will agree with?” Do you agree with the author? Does the author adequately defend her argument? What kind of proof does she use? Is there something she leaves out that you would put in? Does putting it in hurt her argument? As you get used to reading critically, you will start to see the sometimes hidden agendas of other writers, and you can use this skill to improve your own ability to craft effective arguments.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. FitzGerald. 2016. The Craft of Research , 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ede, Lisa. 2004. Work in Progress: A Guide to Academic Writing and Revising , 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Gage, John T. 2005. The Shape of Reason: Argumentative Writing in College , 4th ed. New York: Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. 2016. Everything’s an Argument , 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Supporting an argumentative thesis, 1. thesis development.

Remember that a thesis is a single sentence that expresses the controlling idea of a written work. In other words, the thesis is the core of the essay. It guides the goals and structure of the work by letting the reader know what the writer will be discussing in the body paragraphs, and in what order.

Also remember that there is a significant difference between a thesis and a topic. A topic is the broad subject of a written work and can include multiple thesis statements. The thesis is a focused point or argument about something within the topic.

IN CONTEXT Suppose you were assigned the topic of pet ownership. You wouldn't be able to write an essay based on that topic—it's too broad. First, you must decide which aspect of pet ownership you want to write about or communicate to readers. You might, for example, make the following statement: Although many people assume that owning a pet is easy, it actually comes with a great deal of responsibility, such as grooming, feeding, and training. Here's another option: Due to their companionship, understanding nature, and ability to help during emergencies, pets can fit the definition of lifesavers. As you can see, these two thesis statements are very different and are only related through their very broad shared topic of pet ownership.

Once you've selected a topic and a thesis, you must support the thesis by developing your ideas effectively. This is accomplished through a process of clearly articulating your ideas and supporting them with evidence and reasoning throughout the essay.

So, when writers refer to development, they're not only referring to development of the essay as a whole, but also to the process that takes place at the paragraph level. Paragraphs function like mini essays: Each of them contains their own main ideas, topic sentences, and support.

2. Main Ideas and Claims

To effectively state and support a thesis, most essays must also promote related points—points that, together, prove or support the thesis. Recall that, in writing, these are called main ideas. A main idea is a point or concept that drives one or more body paragraphs of an essay. Each main idea in an essay should contribute to, or support, the thesis statement in some way.

A claim is a type of main idea in which the writer makes a statement that must be defended. A claim is an assertion made by the writer. The thesis statement is thus the primary claim of the essay—the object of all of the essay's support, ideas, and evidence.

A main idea, when coupled with a claim, is usually the controlling idea of the paragraph. When working on the level of the paragraph, the main idea and the controlling idea are synonymous.

hint A controlling idea is the core idea that drives the writing's goals and structure. Note that consecutive paragraphs will sometimes focus on one controlling idea. This can be a sign of a complex and fully realized main idea. Don't worry if you find this happening in your writing.

terms to know Main Idea In writing, a point or concept that drives one or more body paragraphs of an essay. Claim A type of main idea in which the writer makes a statement that must be defended.

3. Evidence and Support

The thesis statement is the main point of the essay, so it needs support in order to hold up. Support refers to any evidence, logic, or other technique (e.g., clarification, expansion of ideas) that bolsters an essay's claims. The purpose of support isn't only to prove that a thesis is true, but also to explain or strengthen the essay's main ideas.

  • Facts and data
  • Personal research
  • Citation of the research of others
  • Personal experience

Because essays consist of paragraphs that use forms of support to back up the thesis, it's important to consider paragraphs in order to understand the essay as a whole. As mentioned above, paragraphs are like miniature essays that include a topic sentence (i.e., the sentence that states the paragraph's thesis) and support—usually evidence for the topic sentence.

terms to know Support Any evidence, logic, or other technique that bolsters an essay's claims. Evidence Proof of the validity of a claim or claims.

4. Thesis Support in Action

Following are paragraphs from the same essay which demonstrate how an overall thesis might be introduced, developed, and supported. This first paragraph serves as the essay's introduction:

When you think about your goofy pet dog, your lazy house cat, or even your loud pet parrot, you might not consider that they could save your life. Mounting evidence suggests that pets are more than a playful mess to clean up after; they are key to a happy, healthy life. Due to their companionship, understanding nature, and ability to help during emergencies, pets can fit the definition of lifesavers.

The thesis appears as the last sentence of the paragraph: “Due to their companionship, understanding nature, and ability to help during emergencies, pets can fit the definition of lifesavers.”

Because of this thesis, we know that the main point and narrowed-down topic of the essay is that pets are lifesavers, and we know that the main ideas related to that point are companionship, an understanding nature, and ability to help during emergencies. That helps us to figure out what kind of evidence and support may be included in this essay: Perhaps the essay will use data about the health benefits of owning a pet, perhaps it will discuss research from others who have investigated this topic, or perhaps it will include descriptions of personal experience.

Now consider this next paragraph, keeping the essay's thesis in mind as you do:

The companionship of pets offers health benefits, demonstrating the lifesaving qualities of pets. There are all kinds of pets that individuals or families can adopt. Some of the most traditional pets are dogs, cats, birds, rodents (such as hamsters and guinea pigs), and fish. Less common pets include rabbits, small pigs, raccoons, and snakes and other reptiles. Exotic animals might also make excellent pets but may require a special permit and special care. There is an ideal type of pet for each individual or family.

The topic sentence of this is paragraph is “The companionship of pets offers health benefits, demonstrating the lifesaving qualities of pets,” which means that the support in this paragraph should focus on the main idea of companionship mentioned in the thesis. So, is the support here effective for the main idea of the paragraph and the essay's thesis?

No, it is not. All of the sentences that come after the topic sentence are discussing different types of pets that individuals and families can adopt. The author gives examples of different types of pets and simply states that there is an ideal pet for each individual or family. Even though this information is related to the broader topic of pet ownership, it does not belong in this essay. It does not support the idea that the companionship of pets offers health benefits (the main idea of this paragraph), and it does not support the overall claim of the thesis (that pets fit the definition of lifesavers) because it does not address pets' companionship, understanding nature, or ability to help during emergencies.

In order to better support the topic sentence “The companionship of pets offers health benefits, demonstrating the lifesaving qualities of pets,” and to therefore better support the thesis, here is a revised version of this paragraph:

The companionship of pets offers health benefits, demonstrating the lifesaving qualities of pets. Both mental and physical health can improve when owning a pet. Petting or caring for a dog or cat lowers levels of stress and combats loneliness. Dog owners in particular may find themselves socializing more often when taking their dog for walks and to dog parks. In addition, walking a dog can lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease (Fields, 2013). By improving the health of their owners through companionship, pets improve—and even save—these owners' lives.

In this version of the paragraph, the support provided directly relates to both the topic sentence and thesis. There are facts, such as that petting or caring for a dog or cat lowers levels of stress and combats loneliness, dog owners socialize more, and walking a dog can lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease. These facts help to support the idea that the companionship offered by pets comes with health benefits.

Additionally, the support in this paragraph supports the thesis, which lists companionship as one of its main ideas.

summary In this lesson, you learned that thesis development is the process in which thesis statements are represented throughout an essay by main ideas and claims , which are in turn backed up by different kinds of support , such as evidence . You then looked at examples of thesis support in action by reading an introductory and body paragraph from a sample essay. Best of luck in your learning!


A type of main idea in which the writer makes a statement that must be defended.

Proof of the validity of a claim or claims.

In writing, a point or concept that drives one or more body paragraphs of an essay.

Any evidence, logic, or other technique that bolsters an essay's claims.

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Dissertation Preparation

  • Creating a Research Plan
  • Collecting Data
  • Writing a Dissertation
  • Function of Structures
  • Detailed Structures

Developing an Argument

  • Finding Dissertations
  • Additional Sources
  • Citation Management

An important aspect running through your dissertation will be your argument for:

  • why this specific topic is worth researching;
  • why this is a good way to research it;
  • why this method of analysis is appropriate; and
  • why your interpretations and conclusions are reasonable.

You will refer to the work of others as you make your argument. This may involve critiquing the work of established leaders in the field. While it is important to be respectful in the way that you discuss others’ ideas and research, you are expected to engage directly, and even openly disagree with existing writing.

In Taylor’s (1989) book on writing in the arts and social sciences, he suggests that the following different approaches offer a range of academically legitimate ways to engage with published work.

  • Agree with, accede to, defend, or confirm a particular point of view.
  • Propose a new point of view.
  • Concede that an existing point of view has certain merits but that it needs to be qualified in certain important respects.
  • Reformulate an existing point of view or statement of it, such that the new version makes a better explanation.
  • Dismiss a point of view or another person’s work on account of its inadequacy, irrelevance, incoherence, or by recourse to other appropriate criteria.
  • Reject, rebut or refute another’s argument on various reasoned grounds.
  • Reconcile two positions that may seem at variance by appealing to some ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ principal.
  • Develop an existing point of view, perhaps by utilizing it on larger or more complex datasets, or applying a theory to a new context

(Adapted from Taylor 1989:67)

It is important that you are assertive about what you are arguing, but it is unlikely that, in a dissertation project, you will be able to be definitive in closing an established academic debate. You should be open about where the gaps are in your research, and cautious about overstating what you have found.  Aim to be modest but realistic in relating your own research to the broader context.

Improving Structure and Content

Once you have the dissertation in draft form it becomes easier to see where you can improve it. To make it easier to read you can use clear signposting at the beginning of chapters, and write links between sections to show how they relate to each other. Another technique to improve academic writing style is to ensure that each individual paragraph justifies its inclusion. More ideas will be presented in the Study Guide The art of editing.

You may choose to review your draft from the standpoint of a dissertation examiner, which might involve preparing a list of questions that you want to see answered, then reading through your dissertation scribbling comments, suggestions, criticisms, and ideas in the margin. If you have a marking guide then apply it to your dissertation and see if there are aspects that you can improve.

While you do this, be aware of whether you need to increase the number of words, or decrease it to reach your target. As you read you can then cross through material that appears unnecessary, and mark points that could be expanded. This will then form the basis for your next, improved, draft.

When to Stop

Just as it can be difficult to begin writing, it can also be difficult to know when to stop. You may begin to feel that your dissertation will never be good enough and that you need to revise it again and again. It may be helpful to divert your attention for a while to the finishing off activities you need to attend to:

  • writing the abstract and the introduction;
  • checking the reference list;
  • finalizing the appendices; and
  • checking your contents page.

Coming back afresh to look critically at the main text may then enable you to complete it to your satisfaction. Remember the dissertation needs to demonstrate your ability to undertake and report research rather than to answer every question on a topic.

It is important to allow yourself enough time for the final checking and proofreading of the finished document.

  • Devote time to planning the structure of the dissertation.
  • Plan a structure that will enable you to present your argument effectively.
  • Fill in the detail, concentrating on getting everything recorded rather than sticking to the word limit at this stage.
  • Regard writing as part of the research process, not an after-thought.
  • Expect to edit and re-edit your material several times as it moves towards its final form.
  • Leave time to check and proofread thoroughly.

Barrass R. (1979) Scientists must write. A guide to better writing for scientists, engineers and students. London:Chapman and Hall.

Taylor G. (1989) The Student’s Writing Guide for the Arts and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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  • What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

Published on August 25, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 20, 2023.

Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation , or research paper , the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research and your dissertation topic .

It should include:

  • The type of research you conducted
  • How you collected and analyzed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • How you mitigated or avoided research biases
  • Why you chose these methods
  • Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
  • Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
  • Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).

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Table of contents

How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about methodology.

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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .

It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.

You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.

Option 1: Start with your “what”

What research problem or question did you investigate?

  • Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
  • Explore an under-researched topic?
  • Establish a causal relationship?

And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
  • Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
  • Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?

Option 2: Start with your “why”

Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?

  • Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ? How did you prevent bias from affecting your data?

Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .

Quantitative methods

In order to be considered generalizable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Here, explain how you operationalized your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion and exclusion criteria , as well as any tools, procedures, and materials you used to gather your data.

Surveys Describe where, when, and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questionnaire?
  • What form did your questions take (e.g., multiple choice, Likert scale )?
  • Were your surveys conducted in-person or virtually?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • What was your sample size and response rate?

Experiments Share full details of the tools, techniques, and procedures you used to conduct your experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment ?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables ?
  • What tools did you use?

Existing data Explain how you gathered and selected the material (such as datasets or archival data) that you used in your analysis.

  • Where did you source the material?
  • How was the data originally produced?
  • What criteria did you use to select material (e.g., date range)?

The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions measured on a 7-point Likert scale.

The goal was to collect survey responses from 350 customers visiting the fitness apparel company’s brick-and-mortar location in Boston on July 4–8, 2022, between 11:00 and 15:00.

Here, a customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from the company on the day they took the survey. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously. In total, 408 customers responded, but not all surveys were fully completed. Due to this, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

  • Information bias
  • Omitted variable bias
  • Regression to the mean
  • Survivorship bias
  • Undercoverage bias
  • Sampling bias

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research , methods are often more flexible and subjective. For this reason, it’s crucial to robustly explain the methodology choices you made.

Be sure to discuss the criteria you used to select your data, the context in which your research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting your data (e.g., were you an active participant, or a passive observer?)

Interviews or focus groups Describe where, when, and how the interviews were conducted.

  • How did you find and select participants?
  • How many participants took part?
  • What form did the interviews take ( structured , semi-structured , or unstructured )?
  • How long were the interviews?
  • How were they recorded?

Participant observation Describe where, when, and how you conducted the observation or ethnography .

  • What group or community did you observe? How long did you spend there?
  • How did you gain access to this group? What role did you play in the community?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research? Where was it located?
  • How did you record your data (e.g., audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data Explain how you selected case study materials for your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyze?
  • How did you select them?

In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness store’s product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers.

Here, a returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from the store.

Surveys were used to select participants. Interviews were conducted in a small office next to the cash register and lasted approximately 20 minutes each. Answers were recorded by note-taking, and seven interviews were also filmed with consent. One interviewee preferred not to be filmed.

  • The Hawthorne effect
  • Observer bias
  • The placebo effect
  • Response bias and Nonresponse bias
  • The Pygmalion effect
  • Recall bias
  • Social desirability bias
  • Self-selection bias

Mixed methods

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. If a standalone quantitative or qualitative study is insufficient to answer your research question, mixed methods may be a good fit for you.

Mixed methods are less common than standalone analyses, largely because they require a great deal of effort to pull off successfully. If you choose to pursue mixed methods, it’s especially important to robustly justify your methods.

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Next, you should indicate how you processed and analyzed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.

In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:

  • How you prepared the data before analyzing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
  • Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )

In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).

Specific methods might include:

  • Content analysis : Categorizing and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
  • Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
  • Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context

Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.

Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .

  • Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviors, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
  • Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalized beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
  • Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalizable.

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.

1. Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .

2. Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:

  • Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
  • Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
  • Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

3. Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.

Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles


  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Thematic analysis
  • Cohort study
  • Peer review
  • Ethnography

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Conformity bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Availability heuristic
  • Attrition bias

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).

In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .

In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.

In a scientific paper, the methodology always comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion . The same basic structure also applies to a thesis, dissertation , or research proposal .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

Reliability and validity are both about how well a method measures something:

  • Reliability refers to the  consistency of a measure (whether the results can be reproduced under the same conditions).
  • Validity   refers to the  accuracy of a measure (whether the results really do represent what they are supposed to measure).

If you are doing experimental research, you also have to consider the internal and external validity of your experiment.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.

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12 Constructing the Thesis and Argument from the Ground Up

Amy Guptill; Liz Delf; Rob Drummond; and Kristy Kelly

Amy Guptill Adapted by Liz Delf, Rob Drummond, and Kristy Kelly

Moving beyond the five-paragraph theme.

As an instructor, I’ve noted that a number of new (and sometimes not-so-new) students are skilled wordsmiths and generally clear thinkers but are nevertheless stuck in a high school style of writing. They struggle to let go of certain assumptions about how an academic paper should be. Some students who have mastered that form, and enjoyed a lot of success from doing so, assume that college writing is simply more of the same. The skills that go into a very basic kind of essay—often called the five-paragraph theme —are indispensable. If you’re good at the five-paragraph theme, then you’re good at identifying a clearfl and consistent thesis, arranging cohesive paragraphs, organizing evidence for key points, and situating an argument within a broader context through the intro and conclusion.

In college you need to build on those essential skills. The five-paragraph theme, as such, is bland and formulaic; it doesn’t compel deep thinking. Your instructors are looking for a more ambitious and arguable thesis, a nuanced and compelling argument, and real-life evidence for all key points, all in an organically structured paper.

Figures 12.1 and 12.2 contrast the standard five-paragraph theme and the organic college paper. The five-paragraph theme (outlined in figure 12.1 ) is probably what you’re used to: the introductory paragraph starts broad and gradually narrows to a thesis, which readers expect to find at the very end of that paragraph. In this idealized format, the thesis invokes the magic number of three: three reasons why a statement is true. Each of those reasons is explained and justified in the three body paragraphs, and then the final paragraph restates the thesis before gradually getting broader. This format is easy for readers to follow, and it helps writers organize their points and the evidence that goes with them. That’s why you learned this format.


In contrast, figure 12.2 represents a paper on the same topic that has the more organic form expected in college. The first key difference is the thesis. Rather than simply positing a number of reasons to think that something is true, it puts forward an arguable statement: one with which a reasonable person might disagree. An arguable thesis gives the paper purpose. It surprises readers and draws them in. You hope your reader thinks, “Huh. Why would they come to that conclusion?” and then feels compelled to read on. The body paragraphs, then, build on one another to carry out this ambitious argument. In the classic five-paragraph theme ( figure 12.1 ), it hardly matters which of the three reasons you explain first or second. In the more organic structure ( figure 12.2 ), each paragraph specifically leads to the next.

The last key difference is seen in the conclusion. Because the organic essay is driven by an ambitious, nonobvious argument, the reader comes to the concluding section thinking, “OK, I’m convinced by the argument. What do you, author, make of it? Why does it matter?” The conclusion of an organically structured paper has a real job to do. It doesn’t just reiterate the thesis; it explains why the thesis matters.


The substantial time you spent mastering the five-paragraph form in figure 12.1 was time well spent; it’s hard to imagine anyone succeeding with the more organic form without the organizational skills and habits of mind inherent in the simpler form. (And it is worth noting that there are limited moments in college where the five-paragraph structure is still useful—in-class essay exams, for example.) But if you assume that you must adhere rigidly to the simpler form, you’re blunting your intellectual ambition. Your instructors will not be impressed by obvious theses, loosely related body paragraphs, and repetitive conclusions. They want you to undertake an ambitious independent analysis, one that will yield a thesis that is somewhat surprising and challenging to explain.

The Three-Story Thesis

From the ground up.

You have no doubt been drilled on the need for a thesis statement and its proper location at the end of the introduction. And you also know that all of the key points of the paper should clearly support the central driving thesis. Indeed, the whole model of the five-paragraph theme hinges on a clearly stated and consistent thesis. However, some students are surprised—and dismayed—when some of their early college papers are criticized for not having a good thesis. Their instructor might even claim that the paper doesn’t have a thesis when, in the author’s view, it clearly does. So what makes a good thesis in college?

  • Version A: Linen served as a form of currency in the ancient Mediterranean world, connecting rival empires through circuits of trade.
  • Version B: Linen served as a form of currency in the ancient Mediterranean world, connecting rival empires through circuits of trade. The economic role of linen raises important questions about how shifting environmental conditions can influence economic relationships and, by extension, political conflicts.

How do you produce a good, strong thesis? And how do you know when you’ve gotten there? Many instructors and writers embrace a metaphor based on this passage by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809–1894). He compares a good thesis to a three-story building:

There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize using the labor of fact collectors as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict—their best illumination comes from above the skylight. (50)

In other words,

  • One-story theses state inarguable facts. What’s the background?
  • Two-story theses bring in an arguable (interpretive or analytical) point . What is your argument?
  • Three-story theses nest that point within its larger, compelling implications . Why does it matter?
Thesis: that’s the word that pops at me whenever I write an essay. Seeing this word in the prompt scared me and made me think to myself, “Oh great, what are they really looking for?” or “How am I going to make a thesis for a college paper?” When rehearing that I would be focusing on theses again in a class, I said to myself, “Here we go again!” But after learning about the three-story thesis, I never had a problem with writing another thesis. In fact, I look forward to being asked on a paper to create a thesis.

Timothée Pizarro

writing student

The biggest benefit of the three-story metaphor is that it describes a process for building a thesis. To build the first story or level, you first have to get familiar with the complex, relevant facts surrounding the problem or question. You have to be able to describe the situation thoroughly and accurately. Then with that first story built, you can layer on the second story by formulating the insightful, arguable point that animates the analysis. That’s often the most effortful part: brainstorming, elaborating and comparing alternative ideas, finalizing your point. With that specified, you can frame up the third story by articulating why the point you make matters beyond its particular topic or case.

The concept of a three-story thesis framework was the most helpful piece of information I gained from the writing component of DCC 100. The first time I utilized it in a college paper, my professor included “good thesis” and “excellent introduction” in her notes and graded it significantly higher than my previous papers. You can expect similar results if you dig deeper to form three-story theses. More importantly, doing so will make the actual writing of your paper more straightforward as well. Arguing something specific makes the structure of your paper much easier to design.

Peter Farrell

For example, imagine you have been assigned a paper about the impact of online learning in higher education. You would first construct an account of the origins and multiple forms of online learning and assess research findings on its use and effectiveness. If you’ve done that well, you’ll probably come up with a well-considered opinion that wouldn’t be obvious to readers who haven’t looked at the issue in depth. Maybe you’ll want to argue that online learning is a threat to the academic community. Or perhaps you’ll want to make the case that online learning opens up pathways to college degrees that traditional campus-based learning does not.

In the course of developing your central, argumentative point, you’ll come to recognize its larger context; in this example, you may claim that online learning can serve to better integrate higher education with the rest of society, as online learners bring their educational and career experiences together. Here is an example:

The final thesis would be all three of these pieces together. These stories build on one another; they don’t replace the previous story. Here’s another example of a three-story thesis:

Here’s one more example:

A thesis statement that stops at the first story isn’t usually considered a thesis . A two-story thesis is usually considered competent, though some two-story theses are more intriguing and ambitious than others. A thoughtfully crafted and well-informed three-story thesis puts the author on a smooth path toward an excellent paper.

Three-Story Theses and the Organically Structured Argument

The three-story thesis is a beautiful thing. For one, it gives a paper authentic momentum. The first paragraph doesn’t just start with some broad, vague statement; every sentence is crucial for setting up the thesis. The body paragraphs build on one another, moving through each step of the logical chain. Each paragraph leads inevitably to the next, making the transitions from paragraph to paragraph feel wholly natural. The conclusion, instead of being a mirror-image paraphrase of the introduction, builds out the third story by explaining the broader implications of the argument. It offers new insight without departing from the flow of the analysis.

I should note here that a paper with this kind of momentum often reads like it was knocked out in one inspired sitting. But in reality, just like accomplished athletes, artists, and musicians, masterful writers make the difficult thing look easy. As writer Anne Lamott notes, reading a well-written piece feels like its author sat down and typed it out, “bounding along like huskies across the snow.” However, she continues,

This is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. (21)

Experienced writers don’t figure out what they want to say and then write it. They write in order to figure out what they want to say.

Experienced writers develop theses in dialogue with the body of the essay. An initial characterization of the problem leads to a tentative thesis, and then drafting the body of the paper reveals thorny contradictions or critical areas of ambiguity, prompting the writer to revisit or expand the body of evidence and then refine the thesis based on that fresh look. The revised thesis may require that body paragraphs be reordered and reshaped to fit the emerging three-story thesis. Throughout the process, the thesis serves as an anchor point while the author wades through the morass of facts and ideas. The dialogue between thesis and body continues until the author is satisfied or the due date arrives, whatever comes first. It’s an effortful and sometimes tedious process.

Novice writers, in contrast, usually oversimplify the writing process. They formulate some first-impression thesis, produce a reasonably organized outline, and then flesh it out with text, never taking the time to reflect or truly revise their work. They assume that revision is a step backward when, in reality, it is a major step forward.

Everyone has a different way that they like to write. For instance, I like to pop my earbuds in, blast dubstep music, and write on a whiteboard. I like using the whiteboard because it is a lot easier to revise and edit while you write. After I finish writing a paragraph that I am completely satisfied with on the whiteboard, I sit in front of it with my laptop and just type it up.

Kaethe Leonard

Another benefit of the three-story thesis framework is that it demystifies what a “strong” argument is in academic culture . In an era of political polarization, many students may think that a strong argument is based on a simple, bold, combative statement that is promoted in the most forceful way possible. “Gun control is a travesty!” “Shakespeare is the best writer who ever lived!” When students are encouraged to consider contrasting perspectives in their papers, they fear that doing so will make their own thesis seem mushy and weak.

However, in academics a “strong” argument is comprehensive and nuanced, not simple and polemical. The purpose of the argument is to explain to readers why the author—through the course of his or her in-depth study—has arrived at a somewhat surprising point. On that basis, it has to consider plausible counterarguments and contradictory information. Academic argumentation exemplifies the popular adage about all writing: show, don’t tell. In crafting and carrying out the three-story thesis, you are showing your reader the work you have done.

The model of the organically structured paper and the three-story thesis framework explained here is the very foundation of the paper itself and the process that produces it. Your instructors assume that you have the self-motivation and organizational skills to pursue your analysis with both rigor and flexibility; that is, they envision you developing, testing, refining, and sometimes discarding your own ideas based on a clear-eyed and open-minded assessment of the evidence before you.

The original chapter, Constructing the Thesis and Argument—from the Ground Up by Amy Guptill, is from Writing in College: From Competence to Excellence

Discussion Questions

  • What writing “rules” were you taught in the past? This might be about essay structure, style, or something else. Which of these rules seem to be true in college writing? Which ones are not true in college?
  • In what contexts is the five-paragraph essay a useful structure? Why is it not helpful in other contexts—what’s the problem?
  • Despite their appeal to patients, robotic pets should not be used widely, since they cause more problems than they solve.
  • In recent years, robotic pets have been used in medical settings to help children and elderly patients feel emotionally supported and loved.
  • Shifting affection to robotic pets rather than live animals suggests a major change in empathy and humanity and could have long-term costs that have not been fully considered.
  • Television programming includes content that some find objectionable.
  • The percentage of children and youth who are overweight or obese has risen in recent decades.
  • First-year college students must learn how to independently manage their time.
  • The things we surround ourselves with symbolize who we are.
  • Find a scholarly article or book that is interesting to you. Focusing on the abstract and introduction, outline the first, second, and third stories of its thesis.
  • Find an example of a five-paragraph theme (online essay mills, your own high school work), produce an alternative three-story thesis, and outline an organically structured paper to carry that thesis out.

Additional Resources

  • The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers an excellent, readable rundown on the five-paragraph theme, why most college writing assignments want you to go beyond it, and those times when the simpler structure is actually a better choice.
  • There are many useful websites that describe good thesis statements and provide examples. Those from the writing centers at Hamilton College  and Purdue University are especially helpful.

Works Cited

Holmes, Oliver Wendell. The Poet at the Breakfast-Table: His Talks with His Fellow-Boarders and the Reader. James R. Osgood, 1872.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Pantheon, 1994.

Media Attributions

  • 12.1 five-paragraph theme © Amy Guptill is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license
  • 12.2 organic college paper © Amy Guptill is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license

Constructing the Thesis and Argument from the Ground Up Copyright © 2022 by Amy Guptill; Liz Delf; Rob Drummond; and Kristy Kelly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Classical Argument

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This resource describes the fundamental qualities of argument developed by Aristotle in the vital rhetorical text  On Rhetoric.  

A (Very) Brief History of Rhetoric

The study of rhetoric has existed for thousands of years, predating even Socrates, Plato and the other ancient Greek philosophers that we often credit as the founders of Western philosophy. Although ancient rhetoric is most commonly associated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, early examples of rhetoric date all the way back to ancient Akkadian writings in Mesopotamia.

In ancient Greece and Rome, rhetoric was most often considered to be the art of persuasion and was primarily described as a spoken skill. In these societies, discourse occurred almost exclusively in the public sphere, so learning the art of effective, convincing speaking was essential for public orators, legal experts, politicians, philosophers, generals, and educators. To prepare for the speeches they would need to make in these roles, students engaged in written exercises called  progymnasmata . Today, rhetorical scholars still use strategies from the classical era to conceptualize argument. However, whereas oral discourse was the main focus of the classical rhetoricians, modern scholars also study the peculiarities of written argument.

Aristotle provides a crucial point of reference for ancient and modern scholars alike. Over 2000 years ago, Aristotle literally wrote the book on rhetoric. His text  Rhētorikḗ ( On Rhetoric ) explores the techniques and purposes of persuasion in ancient Greece, laying the foundation for the study and implementation of rhetoric in future generations. Though the ways we communicate and conceptualize rhetoric have changed, many of the principles in this book are still used today. And this is for good reason: Aristotle’s strategies can provide a great guide for organizing your thoughts as well as writing effective arguments, essays, and speeches.

Below, you will find a brief guide to some of the most fundamental concepts in classical rhetoric, most of which originate in  On Rhetoric.

The Rhetorical Appeals

To understand how argument works in  On Rhetoric , you must first understand the major appeals associated with rhetoric. Aristotle identifies four major rhetorical appeals: ethos (credibility), logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and Kairos(time). 

  • Ethos –  persuasion through the author's character or credibility. This is the way a speaker (or writer) presents herself to the audience. You can build credibility by citing professional sources, using content-specific language, and by showing evidence of your ethical, knowledgeable background.
  • Logos –  persuasion through logic. This is the way a speaker appeals to the audience through practicality and hard evidence. You can develop logos by presenting data,  statistics, or facts by  crafting a clear claim with a logically-sequenced argument.  ( See enthymeme and syllogism )
  • Pathos –  persuasion through emotion or disposition . This is the way a speaker appeals to the audience through emotion, pity, passions, or dispositions. The idea is usually to evoke and strengthen feelings already present within the audience. This can be achieved through story-telling, vivid imagery, and an impassioned voice.  Academic arguments in particular ​benefit from understanding pathos as appealing to an audience's academic disposition on a given topic, subject, or argument.
  • Kairos – an appeal made through the adept use of time. This is the way a speaker appeals to the audience through notions of time. It is also considered to be the appropriate or opportune time for a speaker to insert herself into a conversation or discourse, using the three appeals listed above. A Kairotic appeal can be made through calls to immediate action, presenting an opportunity as temporary, and by describing a specific moment as propitious or ideal.

​*Note:  When using these terms in a Rhetorical Analysis, make sure your syntax is correct. One does not appeal to ethos, logos, or pathos directly. Rather, one appeals to an audience's emotion/disposition, reason/logic, or sense of the author's character/credibility within the text. Ethos, pathos, and logos are themselves the appeals an author uses to persuade an audience. 

An easy way to conceptualize the rhetorical appeals is through advertisements, particularly infomercials or commercials. We are constantly being exposed to the types of rhetoric above, whether it be while watching television or movies, browsing the internet, or watching videos on YouTube.

Imagine a commercial for a new car. The commercial opens with images of a family driving a brand-new car through rugged, forested terrain, over large rocks, past waterfalls, and finally to a serene camping spot near a tranquil lake surrounded by giant redwood trees. The scene cuts to shots of the interior of the car, showing off its technological capacities and its impressive spaciousness. A voiceover announces that not only has this car won numerous awards over its competitors but that it is also priced considerably lower than comparable models, while getting better gas mileage. “But don’t wait,” the voiceover says excitedly, “current lessees pay 0% APR financing for 12 months.”

In just a few moments, this commercial has shown masterful use of all four appeals. The commercial utilizes pathos by appealing to our romantic notions of family, escape, and the great outdoors. The commercial develops ethos by listing its awards, and it appeals to our logical tendencies by pointing out we will save money immediately because the car is priced lower than its competitors, as well as in the long run because of its higher MPG rate. Finally, the commercial provides an opportune and propitious moment for its targeted audience to purchase a car immediately. 

Depending on the nature of the text, argument, or conversation, one appeal will likely become most dominant, but rhetoric is generally most effective when the speaker or writer draws on multiple appeals to work in conjunction with one another. To learn more about Aristotle's rhetorical appeals, click here.

Components and Structure

The classical argument is made up of five components, which are most commonly composed in the following order:

  • Exordium –  The introduction, opening, or hook.
  • Narratio –  The context or background of the topic.
  • Proposito and Partitio –  The claim/stance and the argument.
  • Confirmatio and/or Refutatio –  positive proofs and negative proofs of support.
  • Peroratio –  The conclusion and call to action.

Think of the exordium as your introduction or “hook.” In your exordium, you have an opportunity to gain the interest of your reader, but you also have the responsibility of situating the argument and setting the tone of your writing. That is, you should find a way to appeal to the audience’s interest while also introducing the topic and its importance in a professional and considerate manner. Something to include in this section is the significance of discussing the topic in this given moment (Kairos). This provides the issue a sense of urgency that can validate your argument.

This is also a good opportunity to consider who your intended audience is and to address their concerns within the context of the argument. For example, if you were writing an argument on the importance of technology in the English classroom and your intended audience was the board of a local high school, you might consider the following:

  • New learning possibilities for students (General Audience Concerns)
  • The necessity of modern technology in finding new, up-to-date information (Hook/Kairos)
  • Detailed narrative of how technology in one school vastly improved student literacy (Hook/Pathos) 
  • Statistics showing a link between exposure to technology and rising trends in literacy (Hook/Logos)
  • Quotes from education and technology professors expressing an urgency for technology in English classrooms (Hook/Ethos)

Of course, you probably should not include all of these types of appeals in the opening section of your argument—if you do, you may end up with a boring, overlong introduction that doesn’t function well as a hook. Instead, consider using some of these points as evidence later on. Ask yourself:  What will be most important to my audience? What information will most likely result in the action I want to bring about?  Think about which appeal will work best to gain the attention of your intended audience and start there.

The narratio provides relevant foundational information and describes the social context in which your topic exists. This might include information on the historical background, including recent changes or updates to the topic, social perception, important events, and other academic research. This helps to establish the rhetorical situation for the argument: that is, the situation the argument is currently in, as impacted by events, people, opinion, and urgency of some kind. For your argument on technology in the English classroom, you might include:

  • Advances in education-related technology over the centuries
  • Recent trends in education technology
  • A description of the importance of digital literacy
  • Statistics documenting the lack of home technology for many students
  • A selection of expert opinions on the usefulness of technology in all classrooms

Providing this type of information creates the setting for your argument. In other words, it provides the place and purpose for the argument to take place. By situating your argument within in a viable context, you create an opportunity to assert yourself into the discussion, as well as to give your reader a genuine understanding of your topic’s importance.

Propositio and Partitio

These two concepts function together to help set up your argument. You can think of them functioning together to form a single thesis. The propositio informs your audience of your stance, and the partitio lays out your argument. In other words, the propositio tells your audience what you think about a topic, and the partitio briefly explains why you think that way and how you will prove your point. 

Because this section helps to set up the rest of your argument, you should place it near the beginning of your paper. Keep in mind, however, that you should not give away all of your information or evidence in your partitio. This section should be fairly short: perhaps 3-4 sentences at most for most academic essays. You can think of this section of your argument like the trailer for a new film: it should be concise, should entice the audience, and should give them a good example of what they are going to experience, but it shouldn’t include every detail. Just as a filmgoer must see an entire film to gain an understanding of its significance or quality, so too must your audience read the rest of your argument to truly understand its depth and scope. 

In the case of your argument on implementing technology in the English classroom, it’s important to think not only of your own motivations for pursuing this technology in the classroom, but also of what will motivate or persuade your respective audience(s). Some writing contexts call for an audience of one. Some require consideration of multiple audiences, in which case you must find ways to craft an argument which appeals to each member of your audience. For example, if your audience included a school board as well as parents andteachers, your propositio might look something like this:

“The introduction of newer digital technology in the English classroom would be beneficial for all parties involved. Students are already engaged in all kinds of technological spaces, and it is important to implement teaching practices that invest students’ interests and prior knowledge. Not only would the marriage of English studies and technology extend pedagogical opportunities, it would also create an ease of instruction for teachers, engage students in creative learning environments, and familiarize students with the creation and sharing technologies that they will be expected to use at their future colleges and careers. Plus, recent studies suggest a correlation between exposure to technology and higher literacy rates, a trend many education professionals say isn’t going to change.”

Note how the above paragraph considers the concerns and motivations of all three audience members, takes a stance, and provides support for the stance in a way that allows for the rest of the argument to grow from its ideas. Keep in mind that whatever you promise in your propositio and partitio (in this case the new teaching practices, literacy statistics, and professional opinion) must appear in the body of your argument. Don’t make any claims here that you cannot prove later in your argument.

Confirmatio and Refutatio  

These two represent different types of proofs that you will need to consider when crafting your argument. The confirmatio and refutatio work in opposite ways, but are both very effective in strengthening your claims. Luckily, both words are cognates—words that sound/look in similar in multiple languages—and are therefore are easy to keep straight. Confirmatio is a way to confirm your claims and is considered a positive proof; refutatio is a way to acknowledge and refute a counterclaim and is considered a negative proof.

The confirmatio is your argument’s support: the evidence that helps to support your claims. For your argument on technology in the English classroom, you might include the following:

  • Students grades drastically increase when technology is inserted into academics
  • Teachers widely agree that students are more engaged in classroom activities that involve technology
  • Students who accepted to elite colleges generally possess strong technological skills

The refutatio provides negative proofs. This is an opportunity for you to acknowledge that other opinions exist and have merit, while also showing why those claims do not warrant rejecting your argument. 

If you feel strange including information that seems to undermine or weaken your own claims, ask yourself this: have you ever been in a debate with someone who entirely disregarded every point you tried to make without considering the credibility of what you said? Did this make their argument less convincing? That’s what your paper can look like if you don’t acknowledge that other opinions indeed exist and warrant attention. 

After acknowledging an opposing viewpoint, you have two options. You can either concede the point (that is, admit that the point is valid and you can find no fault with their reasoning), or you can refute their claim by pointing out the flaws in your opponent’s argument. For example, if your opponent were to argue that technology is likely to distract students more than help them (an argument you’d be sure to include in your argument so as not to seem ignorant of opposing views) you’d have two options:

  • Concession: You might concede this point by saying “Despite all of the potential for positive learning provided by technology, proponents of more traditional classroom materials point out the distractive possibilities that such technology would introduce into the classroom. They argue that distractions such as computer games, social media, and music-streaming services would only get in the way of learning.” 

In your concession of the argument, you acknowledge the merit of the opposing argument, but you should still try to flip the evidence in a positive way. Note how before conceding we include “despite all of the potential for positive learning.” This reminds your reader that, although you are conceding a single point, there are still many reasons to side with you.

  • Refutation: To refute this same point you might say something like, “While proponents of more traditional English classrooms express concerns about student distraction, it’s important to realize that in modern times, students are already distracted by the technology they carry around in their pockets. By redirecting student attention to the technology administered by the school, this distraction is shifted to class content. Plus, with website and app blocking resources available to schools, it is simple for an institution to simply decide which websites and apps to ban and block, thereby ensuring students are on task.”

Note how we acknowledged the opposing argument, but immediately pointed out its flaws using straightforward logic and a counterexample. In so doing, we effectively strengthen our argument and move forward with our proposal.

Your peroratio is your conclusion. This is your final opportunity to make an impact in your essay and leave an impression on your audience. In this section, you are expected to summarize and re-evaluate everything you have proven throughout your argument. However, there are multiple ways of doing this. Depending on the topic of your essay, you might employ one or more of the following in your closing:

  • Call to action (encourage your audience to do something that will change the situation or topic you have been discussing).
  • Discuss the implications for the future. What might happen if things continue the way they are going? Is this good or bad? Try to be impactful without being overly dramatic.
  • Discuss other related topics that warrant further research and discussion.
  • Make a historical parallel regarding a similar issue that can help to strengthen your argument.
  • Urge a continued conversation of the topic for the future.

Remember that your peroratio is the last impression your audience will have of your argument. Be sure to consider carefully which rhetorical appeals to employ to gain a desirable effect. Make sure also to summarize your findings, including the most effective and emphatic pieces of evidence from your argument, reassert your major claim, and end on a compelling, memorable note. Good luck and happy arguing!


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The History Behind Arizona’s 160-Year-Old Abortion Ban

The state’s Supreme Court ruled that the 1864 law is enforceable today. Here is what led to its enactment.

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Four women standing outside. Two of them are holding signs.

By Pam Belluck

Pam Belluck has covered reproductive health for more than a decade.

The 160-year-old Arizona abortion ban that was upheld on Tuesday by the state’s highest court was among a wave of anti-abortion laws propelled by some historical twists and turns that might seem surprising.

For decades after the United States became a nation, abortion was legal until fetal movement could be felt, usually well into the second trimester. Movement, known as quickening, was the threshold because, in a time before pregnancy tests or ultrasounds, it was the clearest sign that a woman was pregnant.

Before that point, “women could try to obtain an abortion without having to fear that it was illegal,” said Johanna Schoen, a professor of history at Rutgers University. After quickening, abortion providers could be charged with a misdemeanor.

“I don’t think it was particularly stigmatized,” Dr. Schoen said. “I think what was stigmatized was maybe this idea that you were having sex outside of marriage, but of course, married women also ended their pregnancies.”

Women would terminate pregnancies in several different ways, such as ingesting herbs or medicinal potions that were thought to induce a miscarriage, Dr. Schoen said. The herbs commonly used included pennyroyal and tansy. Another method involved inserting an object in the cervix to try to interrupt a pregnancy or terminate it by causing an infection, Dr. Schoen said.

Since tools to determine early pregnancy did not yet exist, many women could honestly say that they were not sure if they were pregnant and were simply taking herbs to restore their menstrual period.

Abortion providers described their services in discreet but widely understood terms.

“It was open, but sort of in code words,” said Mary Fissell, a professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Abortion medications or herbs were called “female lunar pills” or “French renovating pills,” she said.

Newspaper advertisements made clear these abortion services were available.

“Abortion is commercializing in the mid-19th century, up to the Civil War,” Dr. Fissell said. “You couldn’t pretend that abortion wasn’t happening.”

In the 1820s, some states began to pass laws restricting abortion and establishing some penalties for providers, according to historians.

By the 1840s, there were some high-profile trials in cases where women who had or sought abortions became very ill or died. Some cases involved a British-born midwife, Ann Trow Summers Lohman, known as Madame Restell, who provided herbal pills and other abortion services in New York , which passed a law under which providers could be charged with manslaughter for abortions after quickening and providers and patients could be charged with misdemeanors for abortions before quickening.

But strikingly, a major catalyst of abortion bans being enacted across the country was the emergence of organized and professionalized medicine, historians say.

After the American Medical Association, which would eventually become the largest doctors’ organization in the country, formed in 1847, its members — all male and white at that time — sought to curtail medical activities by midwives and other nondoctors, most of whom were women. Pregnancy termination methods were often provided by people in those vocations, and historians say that was one reason for the association’s desire to ban abortion.

A campaign that became known as the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion began in 1857 to urge states to pass anti-abortion laws. Its leader, Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer , wrote a paper against abortion that was officially adopted by the A.M.A. and later published as a book titled “ On Criminal Abortion in America. ”

Later, the association published “ Why Not? A Book for Every Woman ,” also written by Dr. Storer, which said that abortion was immoral and criminal and argued that married women had a moral and societal obligation to have children.

Dr. Storer promoted an argument that life began at conception.

“He creates a kind of moral high ground bandwagon, and he does that for a bunch of reasons that make it appealing,” Dr. Fissell said. In one sense, the argument coincided with the emerging medical understanding of embryology that characterized pregnancy as a continuum of development and did not consider quickening to be its defining stage.

There were also social and cultural forces and prejudices at play. Women were beginning to press for more independence, and the male-dominated medical establishment believed “women need to be home having babies,” Dr. Fissell said.

Racism and anti-immigrant attitudes in the second half of the 19th century began fueling support of eugenics. Several historians have said that these undercurrents were partially behind the anti-abortion campaign that Dr. Storer led.

“People like Storer were very worried that the wrong Americans were reproducing, and that the nice white Anglo-Saxon ones were having abortions and not having enough children,” Dr. Fissell said.

A moralistic streak was also gaining prominence, including with the passage of the Comstock Act in 1873, which outlawed the mailing of pornographic materials and anything related to contraception or abortion.

By 1880, about 40 states had banned abortion. Arizona enacted its ban in 1864 as part of a legal code it adopted soon after it became a territory.

The law, ARS 13-3603, states: “A person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two years nor more than five years.”

“It was an early one,” Dr. Schoen said, “but it is part of that whole wave of legislation that gets passed between the 1860s and the 1880s.”

Pam Belluck is a health and science reporter, covering a range of subjects, including reproductive health, long Covid, brain science, neurological disorders, mental health and genetics. More about Pam Belluck


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