Because the thesis is the backbone of your argument, it must do its job well. Here are three common pitfalls to avoid:
- The Announcement. An announcement might say something like “My paper will discuss drunk drivers and the need to revoke their licenses” or “In this paper I will examine the drunk driver issue.” The announcement is too general to serve as the strong thesis you need. Compare those announcements to a thesis stating a clear opinion: “Anyone found guilty of drunk driving should have their licenses revoked immediately.”
- The Statement of Fact. “Drunk drivers present a danger to highway safety.” That's a clear statement of fact that few people would disagree with and lacks a clear position on what should be done. Without the writer’s position made clear, a factual statement cannot serve as the thesis of an argument essay.
- The Absolute. An absolute implies something is always true, without exception. An example would be “All drunk drivers deserve the harshest punishment provided by law.” To refute this thesis about “all drunk drivers,” an opponent need only point out a single exception, making an absolute insufficient as a thesis for an argument essay.
Audience: Arbiters of Focus & Tone
Another important consideration is your audience—those whom you are trying to persuade. For an argument essay, audiences can be divided into three broad categories:
- Agreeing Audience--Most in the group already accept your basic position; thus, your focus might be to convince them to take action toward your goal. For example, this audience wouldn’t need the sobering statistics and gruesome photos of carnage caused by drunk drivers. Your tone would be positive as you encourage them to take action and make a difference.
- In the Neutral Audience, most haven’t made up their minds on the issue, so your purpose is to bring them to your side of the debate. In our example about drunk drivers, the focus of your content would be to convince this audience of the gravity of the problem and the need to be concerned. Your serious tone would match the gravity of the topic.
- Finally, the Disagreeing Audience. These people hold the opposite point of view to yours. Thus, your goal is usually modest: to find common ground and persuade disagrees to be open-minded enough to at least give your views a fair hearing. Your tone must be respectful if you hope to make any progress with this group.
Acknowledge Opposing Viewpoints: An important strategy for the last two groups is to bring in one of the opposing side’s arguments, then to cast doubt on it or to show its flaws. For example, those opposed to immediately revoking any drunk driver’s license often argue that the penalty imposes “an undue economic hardship.” To which you could reply, “When it comes to choosing between inconveniencing a drunk driver and the death of innocent people on the highway, I’m confident that responsible people will make the right choice.”
Reasons & Evidence
Finally, the heart of an argument is the supporting points and their evidence, which must be both valid and relevant. Consider, for example, this thesis: “School uniforms should be mandatory.” Your supporting reasons are that school uniforms
- reduce costs for families
- improve classroom discipline
- make schools safer
- save students time when getting dressed for school
Do you see a problem with that last reason? While saving time is certainly a valid point, it’s not truly relevant in an argument about overall benefits to the education of children.
Types of Evidence
When it comes to evidence, it’s helpful to think of four basic types: facts, examples, statistics, and experts. Let’s examine each type.
To support the point about reducing clothing costs for struggling families, you could offer this published fact: According to USA Today, parents spent an average of $185 per child purchasing non-uniform clothing in 1998, compared to an average of $104 spent per child to purchase school uniforms.
When it comes to improving discipline in the classroom, you could offer this well-known example: Miami-Dade County implemented a mandatory uniform policy in many of their elementary and middle schools beginning in the 1996-97 school year and saw an immediate decrease in discipline problems.
Statistics have to do with data and are often reported as percentages. For example, when it comes to making schools safer, you could cite this statistic: The first year after implementing a mandatory school uniform policy, Long Beach California Unified Public School District reported a 91 percent decrease in school crimes.
And finally is the expert, someone considered an authority on your topic. Here is a strong expert opinion from an academic scholar that could be used in the conclusion of this essay about mandatory school uniforms:
Virginia Draa, assistant professor at Youngstown State University, reviewed attendance, graduation and proficiency pass rates at 64 public high schools in Ohio. Her final analysis surprised her: "I went into the study thinking uniforms don't make a difference. I came away seeing that they make an amazing difference.”
With these four types of evidence, an intelligent consideration of what specific audiences need, and a strong thesis statement, your arguments will have the best chance of achieving one of the most demanding goals in writing: persuading someone else to agree with you and to take the action you recommend.