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In Writing, what is an Argument?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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In writing, an argument is a way in which one proves a thesis or main idea of an essay or longer researched writing. This is often confused with writing contentious work that deliberately attacks or inflames an opposing viewpoint without support. The argument is actually the support of the main theme, and is not an opinion, and is based on facts and evidence.

For example, a person might write an essay with a thesis statement like the following: “Charles Dickens’ work, Little Dorrit, shows great opposition to the idea of imprisonment for debt.” The argument would then consist of examples from the novel that would support this thesis. One might also evaluate, cite, or refer to other’s opinions on this thesis to further strengthen the essay.

Generally, proof is virtually impossible, but support is fairly easy to find with a good thesis. In the above thesis example, few people would argue to the contrary, so the argument is fairly easy to make. Certain topics are much more difficult to take on and construct a well-supported essay. These include hot topics like the death penalty, abortion, or euthanasia.

The difficulty with these contentious issues is that the author is most likely to find a lot of information that supports both sides of these issues. Further, this support may be based in appeals to emotion, rather than actual factual references. While one could argue a pro-life stance and cite that the number of abortions has increased dramatically since Roe versus Wade, others could argue that there is no way to compare modern statistics to illegal, unrecorded abortions.

Since these statistics are debatable, such a thesis is often supported by moral viewpoints. No matter how strongly one believes in a particular side, an argument consisting of moral viewpoints is not strong. As well, if someone is arguing a thesis where people are likely to hold strong opinions, the writer runs the risk of incensing those grading the paper. So for example, if a person writes a pro-life essay, he or she might annoy a pro-choice teacher, especially if it is nearly impossible to defend the position in a factual way.

It is much easier to produce a well-supported paper when the issue is non-contentious, and it is conducted in a way that leaves the writer’s opinion out. An opinion is implied in a thesis statement. Generally, most essays do not base arguments on “I think, “ or “I feel.” Instead, the thesis is supported by what others have said or proved, or what can be proven by assessing evidence. An author can certainly write an opinion piece, and some opinion pieces are convincing, but from a rhetorical standpoint, they do not carry the strength of true argument.

A writer can come up with a wholly original thesis based on his or her opinion and then attempt to prove it. When much proof can be found for an opinion, the argument can be very successful indeed. Most often, the most important factor is sufficient evidence, not whether the thesis is in fact true. It may have no truth value, but merely asserts the likeliness of a thesis through sufficient use of evidence.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Moldova — On Dec 26, 2010

SauteePan- The argument of reality might suggest that while there are success stories like Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, the average person does not have the perspective to know that the problems that they are facing are temporary especially if this is a generational problem.

People that see them trapped as a result of their circumstances will often resort to crime because they feel that life is unfair to them and they deserve to live better.

So they resort to stealing and selling drugs because they can make money quicker without exerting much effort.

This philosophical argument of free will and right and wrong will be debated for years to come because no one can reach a consensus.

By SauteePan — On Dec 26, 2010

Sneakers41-I agree. Argument essays should challenge the way that you thought about the topic and offer you an alternative.

For example, when discussing the crime and free will argument with respect to poverty you really have to consider the motivation behind the act.

Not all people that live in impoverished areas commit crimes, but most of the criminal activities do come from the poorest neighborhoods.

The free will argument would suggest that people make their own decisions regardless of their circumstances and many choose wisely and get out of the projects and live a comfortable lifestyle because they worked hard and chose an honest life.

By sneakers41 — On Dec 24, 2010

Argument essays are fun to write because they allow you the opportunity to develop a passionate moral argument.

For example, argument topics can result in politically charged arguments that invoke a religion argument or a moral argument.

The topic of abortion is one that is very heated and offers strong arguments on both sides. For example, some people feel that life begins at conception and a life should be protected at all costs and abortions are immoral.

Others feel that each woman has the right to choose and should decide what is right for them. Here the people in favor of abortion often cite the consequences that such a pregnancy would have on the women and whether or not the women would be a suitable parent.

Some women choose abortions because they have high powered careers and do not want to slow down and have a baby. Others are not married and do not want to bring a child into a family that is not united.

There are arguments on both sides, but this would be a topic that would get a lot of attention because so many people have opinions on abortion.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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