What Can I Argue About?

Much of college writing is centered around your ability to argue. Instead of just filling pages with facts and figures, a college paper often requires you to prove a point or explain an idea, in essence arguing. The first step in this process is to come up with an argument. Sometimes, this is the trickiest part.

The main rule to keep in mind is that an argument must be able to be disagreed with by a reasonable person. Think of this like reasonable doubt in a court; an average person must be able to see the opposing side. Otherwise, you are just stating a fact, so there is no reason to prove it. In scientific fields, this is like a hypothesis. There must be room for disagreement before it can be tested. Your job for the rest of the paper is to use facts and ideas to prove your point.

Barring any specific requirements for an assignment, an argument can be about anything. Here are some examples:

High schools should require more science classes.

It’s better to buy a Chevy than a Ford.

The electoral college should be eliminated.

Dogs are better pets than cats. (Although I personally think this is impossible to argue against.)

 

The trouble with arguments often arises with the phrasing of a thesis statement. Consider the following sentences:

Only a few high school science classes are required in Missouri. (This can be proven by looking at current laws.)

Chevrolet has a better safety rating than Ford. (This is just a statistic.)

The electoral college has been influential in presidential elections. (No one can dispute this.)

One technique I’ve found useful is to pretend to be on the opposing side of an argument. If you can’t figure out what the opposing side would be, it’s probably best to rewrite your thesis statement. Once you’ve identified the opposition, ask yourself, “If I didn’t believe this, how could I prove that what I’m saying is true?” It’s sort of like being a lawyer; you make a case and support it with evidence. Pretend your audience is a jury. Would they believe your side? Fortunately, since this isn’t a court case, you can leave a little room for reasonable doubt.

The next step in writing an argument paper is to find evidence to support your point. For the examples in this post, you could look up Missouri test scores for science, Chevy and Ford ratings and reviews, or the voting records of the electoral college. You know some people will disagree with you. Now, it’s time to convince them you’re right.