What this handout is about
This handout will define what an argument is and explain why you need one in most of your academic essays.
Arguments are everywhere.
You may be surprised to hear that the word "argument" does not have to be written
anywhere in your assignment for it to be an important part of your task. In fact, making an argument—expressing a
point of view on a subject and supporting it with evidence—is often the aim of academic writing. Your instructors may
assume that you know this and thus may not explain the importance of arguments to you in class. Nevertheless, if your
writing assignment asks you to respond to readings and class discussion, your instructor likely expects you to produce
an argument in your paper.
Most material you learn in college is or has been debated by someone, somewhere, at some time. Even when the
material you read or hear is presented as simple "fact," it may actually be one person's interpretation of a set of
information. In your writing, instructors may call on you to question that interpretation and defend it, refute it, or offer
some new view of your own. In writing assignments, you will almost always need to do more than just present
information that you have gathered or regurgitate facts that were discussed in class. You will need to select a point of
view and provide evidence (in other words, use "argument") to shape the material and offer your interpretation of the
If you think that "fact," not argument, rules intelligent thinking, consider these examples. At one point, the great minds
of Western Europe firmly believed the Earth was flat. They assumed this was simply an uncontroversial fact. You are
able to disagree now because people who saw that argument as faulty set out to make a better argument and proved it.
Differences of opinion are how human knowledge develops, and scholars like your instructors spend their lives
engaged in debate over what may be counted as "true," "real," or "right" in their fields. In their courses, they want you
to engage in similar kinds of critical thinking and debate.
Argumentation is not just what your instructors do. We all use argumentation on a daily basis, and you probably
already have some skill at crafting an argument. The more you improve your skills in this area, the better you will be at
thinking critically, reasoning, making choices, and weighing evidence.
Making a claim
What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a "claim" or "thesis
statement," backed up with evidence that supports the idea. In the majority of college papers, you will need to make
some sort of claim and use evidence to support it, and your ability to do this well will separate your papers from those
of students who see assignments as mere accumulations of fact and detail. In other words, gone are the happy days of
being given a "topic" about which you can write anything. It is time to stake out a position and prove why it is a good