When you write an argument essay, choose a subject that matters to you. If you have strong feelings, you will find it much easier to gather evidence and convince your readers of your point of view. Keep in mind, however, that your readers might feel just as strongly about the opposite side of the issue. Use the following guidelines to help you write your argument:
1. State your opinion on the topic in your thesis statement.
To write a thesis statement for an argument essay, you will need to take a stand for or against an action or an idea. In other words, your thesis statement must be debatable—a statement that can be argued or challenged and that will not be met with agreement by everyone who reads it. Your thesis statement introduces your subject and states your opinion about that subject.
Bob Herbert’s thesis is his first sentence: “The New York City Police Department needs to be restrained.” This is a debatable thesis. Some other statements on the topic of ethnic profiling would not be good thesis statements:
· Not debatable: Ethnic profiling by law-enforcement authorities in the United States often involves minorities.
· Not debatable: Some law-enforcement agencies have strict rules regarding racial profiling.
Herbert sets up his essay with some facts about racial profiling and several references to the practice in New York of stopping and frisking blacks and Hispanics. This background information expands upon his thesis statement.
2. Find out as much as you can about your audience before you write.
Knowing your readers’ backgrounds and feelings on your topic will help you choose the best supporting evidence and examples. Suppose that you want to convince people in two different age groups to quit smoking. You might tell the group
of teenagers that cigarettes make their breath rancid, their teeth yellow, and their clothes smelly. But with a group of adults, you might discuss the horrifying statistics on lung and heart disease associated with long-term smoking.
Herbert’s essay was first published in the New York Times,
which addresses a fairly educated audience. The original readers probably thought much like he does on this issue. So he chose his support as if he were talking to people who agree with him.
3. Choose evidence that supports your thesis statement.
Evidence is definitely the most important factor in writing an argument essay. Without solid evidence, your essay is nothing more than opinion; with it, your essay can be powerful and persuasive. If you supply convincing evidence, your readers will not only understand your position but perhaps agree with it.
Evidence can consist of facts, statistics, statements from authorities, personal stories, or examples. Personal stories and examples can
be based on your own observations, experiences, and reading, but your opinions are not evidence. Other strategies, such as comparison/contrast, definition, and cause/effect, can be particularly useful in building an argument. Use any combination of evidence and writing strategies that supports your thesis statement.
In his essay, Herbert uses several different types of evidence. Here are some examples:
· Not everyone who is stopped is frisked (par. 7).
· The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a class-action lawsuit against New York and the police department (par. 11).
· Paul Browne is the chief spokesman for Commissioner Kelly (par. 14).
MODULE: STUDENT VERSION
· In 2009, 450,000 people were stopped by cops (par. 2).
· 84 percent of the stops were black and Hispanic (par. 3).
· Contraband was found in 1.6 percent of the black cases, 1.5 percent of the Hispanic, and 1.5 percent of the white (par. 3).
· Weapons were found on 1.1 percent of the blacks, 1.4 percent of the Hispanics, 1.7 percent of the whites (par. 4).
· Police stopped more than a half million people in 2008 (par. 6)
· Of those stopped, 59.4 percent of the Hispanics were frisked, 56.6 percent of blacks, and 46 percent of whites (par. 7).
Statements from Authorities
· Center for Constitutional Rights (par. 11)
· Police Department (par. 13)
· Paul Browne (par. 14)
· Police Commissioner Kelly (par. 14)
· Personal Stories and Examples
· The story about Lalit Carson (par. 11)
· The story about Deon Dennis (par. 11)
4. Anticipate opposing points of view.
In addition to stating and supporting your position, anticipating and responding to opposing views are important. Presenting only your side of the argument leaves half the story untold—the opposition’s half. If you acknowledge that there are opposing arguments and address them, your argument will be more convincing.
In paragraph 14, Herbert acknowledges as opposition a statement made by Paul Browne on behalf of Police Commissioner Kelly. Browne feels the stops are “life-saving.” By acknowledging this statement, Herbert raises his credibility. He then goes on to refute Browne’s claim in the next paragraph.
5. Find some common ground.
Pointing out common ground between you and your opponent is also an effective strategy. “Common ground” refers to points of agreement between two opposing positions. For example,
one person might be in favor of gun control and another strongly opposed. But they might find common ground—agreement—in the need to keep guns out of teenagers’ hands. Locating some common ground is possible in almost every situation. When you state in your essay that you agree with your opponent on certain points, your reader sees you as a fair person.
Herbert assumes that most of his readers know that ethnic profiling by law-enforcement agencies is going on around the country. His job, then, is to prove the extent and unfairness of it.
6. Maintain a reasonable tone.
Just as you probably wouldn’t win an argument by shouting or making mean or nasty comments, don’t expect your readers to respond well to such tactics. Keep the “voice” of your essay calm and sensible. Your readers will be much more open to what you have to say if they think you are a reasonable person.
Herbert maintains a reasonable tone throughout his essay. Every now and then, he is aggressive—“Racial profiling . . . is an abomination” (par. 1)—and even sarcastic—a “suspicious bulge” (par. 9). But even when he quotes some unbelievable statistics,
as he does in paragraphs 2 through 4, he keeps his voice under control and, therefore, earns the respect of his readers.