Skills Hub

Developing an argument

What is an argument? 

Your argument is the statement of what you think about the question you've been set. It's at the heart of your essay. It determines your structure, evidence, reasoning, quotations, introduction and conclusion. Spend time on it.

  1. You should be able to sum up your argument in a single sentence.
  2. You should be able to explain the essence of it to a young child.
  3. You should be able to write it in a few words on a Post-it Note.

Keep refining the wording of that simple statement until you are convinced it describes what is at the heart of your essay.

Making an argument (Royal Literary Fund).

Talk through your ideas to help work out your argument. Talk to friends, peers, family. Think it through while you're shopping, washing up, on the bus, swimming. Check Evaluating Arguments to see if yours is convincing.

How do I come up with a line of argument?

You develop a line of argument as you plan the body of your essay. You shape it with:

  • key themes
  • how you are going to illustrate/prove your key themes
  • the evidence, examples and quotations you insert 
  • by showing who you side with and the ideas you set against one another

A line of argument is the expression, organisation and sequence of ideas. When you have identified your key themes and listed them 1. 2. 3. try changing the order of your list to see if it improves your line of argument.

Draw your line of thinking on a large piece of paper to see how direct and logical it looks.

Remember - every stage of your argument needs to be supported with appropriate evidence and examples. All sources must be referenced.

Do I have to be original?

People often worry about this. “How can I have anything new to say about my subject?” Students also worry about challenging published academics.

Originality comes naturally when you think for yourself:

  • from your responses to what you read
  • from your research findings
  • from how you select evidence and present other peoples’ ideas
  • from your conclusions.

You do not have to come up with an argument no-one else has thought of but you are expected to think independently.

Rather than worry about whether or not you are being original, think about the kind of essay you are writing. Take a look at the Royal Literary Fund webpages: Different varieties of essay, different kinds of writing.

Criticising other people's ideas/evidence means evaluating strengths and weaknesses of their arguments, how well they are reasoned and backed up. Have a look at the section on Critical Thinking.

The text resources on this page have been adapted from original work by Moira Wilson, copyright 2009.

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