Today on the blog we are talking about how to make a powerful argument in your academic papers. Arguments are the backbone of any paper, so it's your job to make a sound one. I'm sharing the top five tips I have learned for creating convincing arguments. I hope that this will help you become a more successful academic writer.
Recently, I polled my Twitter audience on this topic, and the results were pretty split (half and half, to be exact) some people do have trouble making powerful academic arguments, while others feel they are strong in this regard. No matter where you stand, I hope that this post proves helpful for you. I am writing some of my best tips that I have learned from grading hundreds of papers as well as writing as a student myself.
1. Have A Clear, Concise Introduction and Backbone
The first thing we are going to discuss today is creating a clear and concise introduction and backbone to your academic article. This is such an important step to crushing your goals on your next academic article or even your next blog post. You have to start with the basics, darling!
Outline To Success
So I am not telling you that this outline has to be lengthy, but the more lengthy the outline is the better. I love outlines because once I build an outline, I can skip around in my paper. For example, while writing this post I have five sections. Now that I have those sections I can write from 1-5, or I can skip to section 4 and write a little on that and write the sections that inspire me first. I usually write my own blog posts with an outline format. I come up with the general ideas I want to cover and then I skip around the sections until my blog post is complete.
When I begin writing my research paper, I use the outline to write effectively. If you can skip around to what actually engages you the most, you can get a lot more done, but you need to make an outline first. Once you have your outline done you can:
Write a Kick-Ass Introduction Paragraph
One of my all-time favorite articles I have ever written is called How To Write A Kick Ass Introductory Paragraph. In this post, I give readers my top five ways to have a kick-ass intro paragraph. In my opinion, a kick-ass intro paragraph is concise, relevant, humorous, professional, and enticing. I break these down in more detail in the post, but the biggest thing your introduction paragraph needs to do is share a concise outline of what you will be talking about. You can use the bullet points you made in your outline to do this. It may seem simple to say, “This paper will talk about point a, point b, and point c,” but this is the best way to share your thinking process quickly and easily with your readers.
2. Use Your Sources
You are not an expert in your field, but as a college student, you have access to a plethora of information about your field just by using research databases. I understand that research databases can seem very confusing so in my post Your Ultimate Guide to Using Research Databases I take you through all the steps (and I even share a 20-minute video where I show you how to do research on a database that I frequently use for my own research.) Once you get your articles in a row, you have to learn how to effectively skim them so It's a great thing I also have a post called Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101 where I show you all my best techniques for article skimming so you do not have to read entire articles in order to understand what you are reading.
When it comes to sources I highly suggest you use the most recent information about your subject in order to build an effective argument. You don't want to base your argument on information found in the 1960s, especially since most information has changed a whole lot since then. You may want to include some pivotal works in your field in the paper, but this will come out of your research. More than likely, if there is an important work that you need to cite, other modern works will be citing that research.
3. Use an Academic Voice
An academic voice does a couple of things. It:
- Uses correct spelling and grammar.
- Does not use contractions.
- Is active.
- Flows from sentence to sentence.
- Uses the vocabulary of the discipline it is representing.
One of my FAVORITE tools for making sure my spelling and grammar is on fleek is a plugin called Grammarly. I am sure you have heard me talk about Grammarly if you have followed me the past few months. It's a great spelling and grammar checker and I am obsessed with talking about it and using it. Until recently I hadn't really used Grammarly, but after using it a few times I loved it so much I bought a year of premium and I became a Grammarly affiliate. In my opinion, all students need to use Grammarly so if you are looking for a spelling and grammar checker, you need to check them out.
One thing that pushes Grammarly above all other spelling/grammar checkers, in my opinion, is how smart it is. Most spelling and grammar checkers will give your words as pass if they meet the basic spelling requirements, but not Grammarly. Based on the context a word is used in, Grammarly will suggest different words even if the word is technically spelled correctly. I adore Grammarly for that feature.
Over the past few weeks of writing with Grammarly I have noticed that my writing overall is improving when I run my academic papers by Grammarly. My professors are catching fewer mistakes, and it's not just when I actively use Grammarly. I am able to apply some of the lessons they have taught me about writing (as well as diversifying my vocabulary) even when I am not running my writing through Grammarly.
Another point I want to touch on is using the language of your discipline. In a recent article on The Happy Arkansan written by Amelie of A Wanderer's Adventure, she mentioned her favorite writing resources, included in this list of resources was a specialized dictionary or encyclopedia. These are really great if you want to use language that is specific to your field. Using this specific language will help boost your argument to people in your discipline.
4. Recognize The Other Side of the Argument
The next piece of the puzzle is that you have to recognize the other side of the argument. When you don't recognize and discuss the other half of the argument, you leave a large portion of your argument to be debunked. Declining to even acknowledge the other side makes it seem like you have something to hide within your paper, so it is important that you take a few sentences (or even paragraphs) to respond to the other side of your argument throughout your paper. A well-rounded argument is the best argument.
You don't have to focus on the argument a lot, but my suggestion is to read a few papers who have an opposite opinion to the main argument you have in your paper. Cite a couple of the most important sentences in their paper, and see how you can explain, debunk, or acknowledge their worth. You won't always disagree with everything they say, and being able to share a little bit of the pros and cons of their argument without fear will only boost your argument.
5. Don't Be A Disaster Scenario Thinker
Lastly, as I have been grading lots of papers this semester I have noticed something about a lot of students. In order to fill up space in your paper, you base your arguments on the worst case scenario of the other side. For example, say you were supposed to argue about whether or not alcohol should be legal on campus and you were against it. Instead of basing your argument in a calm, best case scenario way–you may dive straight into the instances of drunk driving that legal alcohol on campus may bring or you might talk about how alcohol is bad for you and that might lead to marijuana and marijuana leads to cocaine, etc.
This is not how you perform a sound argument.
Acknowledge the worst case scenario but don't build an argument around it. You wouldn't want the other side to do it to you. For example, if someone was for the legalization of alcohol on campus you wouldn't want them to point out the worst case scenario on your side. You wouldn't want them to point to prohibition and state that keeping alcohol illegal on campus would lead to prohibition era problems on college campuses. You must make your arguments based in reality and not the worst case, because often in life the worst case scenario doesn't happen so you want to make sure your argument can stand the test of time.
I hope that this post was helpful for you as you write any of your leftover and future assignments. Writing convincing arguments is a skill that needs to be honed in and perfected over time.