How to Make an Essay’s Argument Compelling

How to Make an Essay’s Argument Compelling

For Derek Takahashi, 20, of Langley, BC essay writing helped him to achieve a dream. “I wrote about how I try to be a well-balanced citizen,” the Kwantlen Polytechnic University student told the Langley Advance. His essay earned him a spot as one of the 12,000 Canadians who carried the Olympic Torch to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Not every essay is destined to produce such dramatic results, but every essay should have a clear argument, one that should compel the audience to read all the way to the end. Many students, however, find creating compelling arguments difficult. This is not a problem only for students. At the professional level, writers have begun fretting over the fate of the essay.

In the Utne Reader Christina Nehring argued that personal essays have become boring because they are too narrowly focused and too specialized. Essays are boring, she wrote, “Because essayists—and their editors, their anthologists, and the tastemakers on whom they depend—have lost the courage to address large subjects in a large way.” Instead, many essays have become reflections on the writer’s state of mind, mundane events, and nostalgia for childhood. The cure, she wrote, is to re-envision the essay as a vehicle for bold, dramatic writing with exciting and dynamic claims. Boldness and excitement are also the keys to enlivening academic essays, which frequently suffer from turgid prose and dull writing. Academic essays need to have a decidedly interesting point of view to carry the reader from beginning to end. So, how can this be done? It’s easy.

STEP ONE: Choose a bold topic.

Just because an essay is academic, doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. Your essay topic should excite readers and make them want to dive into your essay. One way to do this is to approach your topic from a unique angle or an unconventional point of view. Let’s say, for example, that you are writing about the role of educators in shaping student’s ethical values. This sounds like a very boring topic.

But what if you wrote about: “Wolf in Professor’s Clothing: J. K. Rowling’s Werewolf as Educator”? Yes, this is a real essay published in a real scholarly journal.

Here, the use of an unconventional entry point for discussion, the Harry Potter novels, automatically adds interest to what might otherwise be a boring discussion of pedagogy.

STEP TWO: Develop an exciting thesis.

The thesis statement is the most important sentence in your essay. Placed near the beginning of the paper, it tells the reader what your essay will demonstrate or prove. If the thesis statement is weak, vague or unexciting, readers won’t want to stick around to find out what you have to say. Your thesis needs to be sharp, focused and exciting. One way to do this is to argue for a controversial point of view. Note: Controversial is not the same as offensive, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you should argue for something that isn’t true or isn’t supported by strong research. Controversial means that there should be a reasonable debate about the issue. Arguing for or against one side in an ongoing debate will make your paper more interesting, as long as you are fair and present the other side with integrity and honesty.

STEP THREE: Support your thesis with original research.

Don’t rehash the same information and arguments that your reader will already know about. Their eyes will glaze over if all they see is the same ideas, the same quotations, and the same examples that everyone else has used. Bring something new to the table. Your argument will be much more compelling if you can dig up some tidbits, quotations or ideas that your readers aren’t already familiar with. This originality will make your essay stand out and make your readers more interested in what you have to say.

STEP FOUR: Use lively, exciting language

Writing stuff, formal sentences with long strings of subordinating conjunctions, dependent clauses, and subjunctive moods can lull the reader into boredom and even sleep. You should be sure to use a variety of sentence structures and sentence lengths. Mix it up a little. Show your readers that you are in control of your words and know how to keep them interested and wondering what you’re going to say next. However, this is not an invitation to use informal language, text messaging abbreviations, or slang. You should always use good grammar, spelling, and mechanics.

With these tips, you are on your way to crafting compelling essay arguments that will keep your readers interested until the very end.