The classical argument, also known as a claim with reasons essay, is a common assignment in first year composition courses across the country. In this assignment, you must show that your opinions are valid by presenting evidence for your side and by showing flaws in the opposition’s arguments.
Like most papers written for class, the classical argument requires an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, but the body section will be a little different than what you may be used to. In addition to explaining your position with three or more points that provide evidence for your side, you have to show what the opposition’s best argument is and then either show why the argument your opponents make is faulty or accept that argument but say why your position is better overall. The basic structure for this kind of paper follows.
The introduction of your paper sets the stage for what comes next. Here, you need to identify the issue that you will be taking a stand on and then explain why it is a big deal. You can do this by explaining how long the issue has been debated or what negative consequences will occur if the issue is not addressed. Sometimes students will use statistics in the introduction, but your professor may prefer it if you stick to more general information here. For example, if you write a paper arguing that allowing students with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms on campus will deter campus crime, you may want to begin the paper by describing the gun control debate and why most states currently prohibit weapons on campus. Finally, the introduction should end with a thesis statement that makes a claim. The rest of the paper will prove this point.
The thesis for this kind of paper needs to be argumentative. You must choose a topic that reasonable people disagree with. For example, you should not write a paper arguing that education can lead to more success in the job market since most people would not debate that point with you. You also would not want a thesis statement that is purely descriptive, like saying that gridlock is common in Washington politics. Often, it is best to use the word should or the words should not in your thesis to make sure that it is argumentative.
As mentioned earlier, the body will need to include the evidence for your position and the counterargument and rebuttal. There are two ways to organize this section. You could begin with the counterargument and rebuttal to show the flaws in the opposition’s argument before building your own case, or you could make your case first and then follow that with the counterargument and rebuttal. Your professor may have a preference here, so be sure to check your assignment sheet for more information.
When you build your case, you will need to begin each point by making an assertion and then offering evidence to prove it. For example, if you were arguing that a new strip mall should not be built in town, you may begin one of your points by saying the land that the strip mall will be built on is currently a popular park. Once you’ve made your assertion, you offer evidence (from your sources) to back up that point. For the example about the parkland, you may use statistics showing how many people visit the park per month. If you do not have access to that information, you may go to the park and interview people to get testimonials, or you may go through newspaper records (probably from the local newspaper’s website) for information on popular events that were held at the park over the last year. Once you have proven that point, move on to the next one.
Generally, you should arrange your points from least important to most important. You want to make sure your last point really drives your argument home.
When you write your counterargument and rebuttal, you must be careful to avoid the ad hominem fallacy. Be sure to focus on the problems with the opposition’s argument and not with the opposition themselves. Don’t call them names or try to say that people who agree with you are somehow better people. While many politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle do that sort of thing all the time, it is generally considered sloppy and will likely cause parts of your audience to stop listening to you and so render your argument ineffective.
If, instead of showing the flaws of your opposition you say that they have a point, you should not stop there. You will need to show why your position is better overall. For example, if you were arguing that manufacturing jobs should be brought back to America, you may concede a point and say that, yes, goods can be made more cheaply in other countries. However, you could then add, the American economy would still be better off even if we all had to pay more money for those goods. Then you would show evidence you gathered to prove that point.
You should end your argument by briefly restating your position and then following it up with something for the reader to think about after putting your work down. You might end by calling for the reader to do something or by going back to any examples you used in the introduction and showing how things would have worked out better if your point were accepted.
Good luck on this and future assignments.