It is during these early stages of writing, particularly in the identification of supporting arguments, that students are most likely to flounder and procrastinate, and when the strength of a paper’s thesis is frequently diluted for lack of rigorous thinking. Here we will adapt Aristotle’s method of “discovering arguments” to help identify and develop a strong thesis. You may adapt this method to any nonfiction writing, including essays, research papers, book reports, or critical reviews.
6. Crafting topic sentences that support the thesis
Using ideas you gathered using Aristotle’s method, construct three to five topic sentences that support your claim. These topic sentences will become the framework for the rest of your paper. You will further support each with examples and citations from personal interviews, newspaper articles, or other appropriate references.
In a less serious, but no less valid scenario, let’s say that you’re writing a research paper about how women are discriminated against in the job market. If you turn in a paper that simply states women are paid less, and treated differently, than male employees, no professor is going to be impressed. Sure, these are fairly well-publicized facts, but simply repeating them with no evidence to back yourself up isn’t exactly impressive – or convincing.
The idea behind supporting details is simple; it’s all about providing information to explain and bolster your opinion, claim, or belief. How did you reach the conclusion or opinion you reached? The surest, simplest way to convince someone else to see it your way is to provide them with the same information you used to reach that decision.
Audience is a very important consideration in argument. Take a look at our handout on audience. A lifetime of dealing with your family members has helped you figure out which arguments work best to persuade each of them. Maybe whining works with one parent, but the other will only accept cold, hard statistics. Your kid brother may listen only to the sound of money in his palm. It’s usually wise to think of your audience in an academic setting as someone who is perfectly smart but who doesn’t necessarily agree with you. You are not just expressing your opinion in an argument (“It’s true because I said so”), and in most cases your audience will know something about the subject at hand—so you will need sturdy proof. At the same time, do not think of your audience as capable of reading your mind. You have to come out and state both your claim and your evidence clearly. Do not assume that because the instructor knows the material, he or she understands what part of it you are using, what you think about it, and why you have taken the position you’ve chosen.
One way to strengthen your argument and show that you have a deep understanding of the issue you are discussing is to anticipate and address counterarguments or objections. By considering what someone who disagrees with your position might have to say about your argument, you show that you have thought things through, and you dispose of some of the reasons your audience might have for not accepting your argument. Recall our discussion of student seating in the Dean Dome. To make the most effective argument possible, you should consider not only what students would say about seating but also what alumni who have paid a lot to get good seats might say.
…attempt to make others look bad (i.e. Mr. Smith is ignorant—don’t listen to him!)