Guidelines on Writing an Argumentative Essay

Based on Opinion

Making one’s voice heard and persuading others of one’s arguments are essential skills in a career of a diplomat. By writing opinion essays we aim at two birds with one stone: perfecting and polishing your language and developing critical thinking skills.

There are three main items to care about while writing your essay:

STRUCTURE            LANGUAGE              STYLE

Argumentative essay based on opinion has the following structure

·        Introductory paragraph (Hooking technique + Thesis)

·        Argument 1

·        Argument 2

·        Argument 3 (optional, remember the word count)

·        Opposing point of view + refutation

·        Conclusion

    where each bullet point equals one paragraph.

Traditionally, rhetoric questions, quotes, personal anecdotes have been used at length as hooking techniques. Given the academic style of an essay and the range of topics dictated by the professional focus, the most feasible plan for a good hook is to find a case which would illustrate the topic and start your essay with it.

e.g.  the essay entitled “Personal Qualities in Leadership” can be started by the case of a charismatic leader winning over the public with his eloquence, like Churchill, or personal example, like Ghandi.

A Thesis statement presents your opinion on the issue rather than merely raises the topic or restates some general truth. 

Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:

  • Place it at the end of the first introductory paragraph.
  • Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words. For example, the superficial ‘society’ can be substituted by more precise ‘both genders’, ‘men and women’, ‘the young and the old’, ‘Russian/British/… educators/ taxpayers and legislators/, etc depending on the focus of your paper.
  • Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”, which will make it simplistic.
  • Make sure the thesis is neither too broad, nor too narrow. It should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of words (300-350). Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the «meat» of it. Normally you will continue to refine your thesis while developing the arguments. Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your essay develops. Compare this original thesis of an essay on the topic Mass Media and Their Effect on Society, which is too general, with the possible revisions that look at the topic from different angles.

Original thesis:

The mass media have a negative effect on society.

Revised theses:.

  1. The mass media play an important role in shaping public attitudes, but instead of serving the social good they fuel social tension and escalate conflict.
  2. Since the mass media have enormous potential to influence society, they have been increasingly used as a tool of manipulating  public opinion.   
  • Make use of a subordinating conjunction (i.e. «through,» «although,» «because,» «since») to formulate a more complex, comprehensive thesis.
  • Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific «angle» should be clear. Your thesis must be arguable; it must assert or deny something about your topic. To be arguable, a thesis must have some probability of being true. It should not, however, be generally accepted as true; it must be a statement with which people may disagree. 

Compare:

Original thesis: Oratory art is in decline in modern politics.

Revised thesis: Despite the fact that modern politics is witnessing an obvious decline in oratory, this ancient art should not be lost and forgotten. With the technologies and facilities available today, oratory can be revived.

  • If the situation you are writing about can only be assessed in one way, say, negatively, think of the possible forecast, try and predict the consequences/outcomes

Original thesis: The demographic situation in Europe is lamentable.

Revised thesis: The demographic situation in Europe is lamentable, but present geopolitical trends may lead to its further deterioration.

Common pitfalls in formulating a thesis:

  • A thesis expressed as a fragment rather than an extended sentence.
  • A thesis which is too broad.
  • A thesis worded as a question. (Usually the answer to the question yields the thesis)
  • A thesis which includes extraneous information.
  • A thesis which contains words that lead to faulty generalizations (all, none, always, only, everyone, etc.)
  • A thesis that starts with ‘In my opinion’ or ‘I think’. Surprising though it may seem, these are taboo words for an opinion essay, especially for advanced students, as they make a thesis sound simplistic thus weakening the author’s position.

Arguments to support the writer’s position should be robust and compelling. Before writing your essay, it is a good idea to brainstorm for arguments that substantiate your take on the matter. Write down as many as you can. Then, shortlist the most compelling ones — two to three would do. These will be the ones you will lay out in your essay. Traditionally, one argument equals one paragraph, reflects the following structure: claim – reason – evidence, and is properly developed and supported by facts, examples, statistics or expert opinion.

Opposing point of view is indispensable for an academic essay and demonstrates your awareness of the existing approaches to the problem you are covering in your essay. The very fact that the writer has arrived at their conclusion despite an array of opposing arguments strengthens the author’s position (provided the author explains clearly why they are wrong) and makes the readers feel that they are provided with an unbiased, rounded view. The opposing view should be refuted in the very same paragraph to ensure a smooth transition to your own conclusion.

Conclusion summarizes the author’s arguments without adding any new ideas and restates the thesis in a slightly more powerful way.

Writing an essay gives you a wonderful opportunity to sport your language. It reminds in a way of painting a picture: if you use only basic colours, you may end up with a rather primitive drawing, but if you add subtle shades and hues, you stand every chance of creating an impressionistic piece of art. Aim high, use a dictionary! Synonyms give the language of your essay more colour and more precision. For example, instead of using tedious combinations of very + adjective, go for brighter adjectives:

very bad —  dreadful, appalling, hideous, revolting

very good – amazing, fabulous, marvelous

very careful — meticulous

very loud – deafening

very useful – an invaluable tool, key to, etc.

Make use of the appropriate connectives where necessary

Addition: above all, additionally, also, as well as, at the same time, besides, equally important, furthermore, in addition, likewise, not only… but also, what is more.

Cause and effect: as, as a consequence of, as a result, because, consequently, due to, hence, in response, so, since, therefore, thus.

Comparison: as, equally, exactly as, identically, in comparison, in much the same way, in relation to, like, of little/no difference, parallel to, resembling, reminiscent of, same as, similar to, similarly.

Concession and qualification: admittedly, after all, although, and yet, despite, even so, for all that, however, in spite of, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, still, though, yet.

 Conclusion and summation: all in all, in conclusion, to conclude, to recap it all, to sum up, to summarize.

Contrast: by contrast, in contrast to, on the one hand/on the other hand, on the contrary, opposite to, unlike, just the reverse.

Generalization: by and large, as a rule, generally, in essence, in most cases, on the whole.

Emphasis: above all, clearly, certainly, chiefly, each and every, especially, extremely, indeed, increasingly, more and more, more importantly, moreover, undoubtedly.

Illustration/exemplification: as an example, as illustrated by, as revealed by, for example, for instance, in other words, in particular, in simpler terms, namely, such as.

While writing an argumentative essay based on opinion you are supposed to adhere to an academic style, avoiding contractions and informal vocabulary. For example, instead of writing the spoken ‘last time I checked’, better opt for the written ‘in my experience’ or ‘to my knowledge’.  Although academic style is all about being impartial and rational, the opinion essay type suggests and welcomes a certain degree of subjectivity.