In this post, valuable and easy to implement tips and strategies are discussed for argumentative-based essay writing in a history class. These ideas and methods can be applied to many forms of non-fiction, argument-based writing.
Having trouble writing an argument-based essay? Not sure where to start? If that is the case, think like a lawyer.

There are parallels between what trial lawyers do and writing an argumentative essay. 

Both are based on the collection of evidence and using that evidence to build a narrative that explains a perspective or position for why and how something happened (or not). In the context of learning history, a narrative refers to the connection of events and ideas in a sequence. Think of this sequence like a story you read in literature class, but with history, the events and ideas are based on factual evidence.

Think Like A Lawyer: Writing an Argument-Based Essay

Let’s compare how lawyers do their work to writing an argumentative-based essay.

From a lawyer's perspective

 
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From a writer's perspective

 

Step 1: What is the client on trial for?

What is the central issue, problem, or topic?

Step 2: What is the central narrative that will prove the client’s case?

What is your argument’s narrative?

This is your line of reasoning, which is your essay’s overall main idea that will include supporting evidence and analysis.

Step 3: What will the potential jurors’ perspective be on the case?

What possible points of view will influence your understanding of the topic?

Here, points of view refers to how you will frame your argument, whether it is from historical accounts and/or modern interpretations on the topic.

Step 4: How will the lawyer choose jurors that will favor their client?

What evidence will be chosen to support your argument?

The evidence you choose will connect to the overall main idea of your essay, including the major themes/ideas you will use to organize the essay’s body paragraphs.

Step 5: Will the narrative make sense to the jurors?

How does the evidence support the argument?

In addition to main ideas and evidence, you need to include the analysis that explains how the evidence supports the major themes of your essay that connects back to your essay’s main idea (i.e., thesis statement/argument).

The analysis builds your line of reasoning that connects your whole essay together. The goal is for your essay’s reader to understand the natural progression of your narrative (i.e., your argument) from beginning to end.

Let’s Practice Together: Building an Argument-Based Essay

Here is a sample question that you may see in a U.S. or world history course.

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To what extent was the United States (U.S.) able to contain the spread of communism during the Cold War era?
Based on the writing prompt, identify the central issue, problem, or topic.

Tip:

Whether the writing prompt is in the form of a question or statement, break it down into distinct parts to ensure full understanding of what you will write about in your essay.
Not sure how to break the question down? Use the 5Ws + 1H method. Click here to find out more about this handy, easy-to-use strategy.

We will use the 5Ws + 1H method below to understand this essay question.

Main topic:

American containment policy = U.S. + contain + communism

Who:

U.S. government, political leaders and groups

Tip:

Infer who else may be involved in this topic other than individuals or groups that are specifically mentioned in the question.
For example, since this question is dealing with communism and the Cold War, the Soviet Union should pop in mind, specifically their government and potentially their leaders, along with other influential individuals and groups.

What:

containment policy, spread of communism, the West (U.S. + western Europe) v. the Soviets (U.S.S.R. + satellite nations and sympathetic allies)

When:

Cold War = 1945~ to 1991 (between the end of World War II and the fall of the Soviet Union)

Note: Other specific dates should come to mind like specific actions such as wars during this time period.

Where:

U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia

How:

This will include a series of events, actions, and ideas to illustrate the larger concept of containment, such as the Marshall Plan, division of Germany, Greece and Turkey, NATO, Chinese Revolution, nuclear proliferation, space race, Korean War, Vietnam conflict, Afghanistan (1970s), and Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tip:

I like to come up with the “How” before the “Why.” The “How” allows us to see how the other pieces fit together. By seeing the larger picture, we can gain a sense of the importance of the history.

Why:

The focus here is significance; why should we care about this historically and today?

For example,

  • Create/support societies for democracy and capitalism to spread;
  • Communism is fundamentally opposed to western ideas during the 20th century (here, western is referring to western Europe and the U.S.);
  • The overall idea that the U.S. and the West were somewhat successful in containing communism, meaning there were victories and failures from the perspective of American foreign policy to contain the spread of communism to other nations/regions of the world.

 

Recap & Next Steps: Writing an Argument-Based Essay

During the outlining and drafting process, keep your writing goal in mind.  With our example above, the goal is to determine the level of effectiveness in the U.S.’s containment strategy. 

You are gathering and analyzing the evidence based on the topic. These are the Who, What, When, and Where of the topic. These areas are the basis of your case; in other words, the argument you are supporting in your essay. 

Next, the How and Why come into play.

Determine how the evidence connects to the topic and form a declarative position (perspective) that responds to the prompt.

Categorize the evidence based on common themes (patterns). Use these categories as themes to organize the body paragraphs of your essay. Determine which set(s) of evidence will best support your position. With evidence that contradicts your perspective, identify and explain why other perspectives do not support your position on the topic or why your’s is more valid than the others.

Depending on the structure of your essay, in the last couple paragraphs or so, synthesize and conclude your perspective on the topic; summarize your argument. With your concluding paragraph, you generally do not want to include new information here. The conclusion of your essay should summarize and reinforce what you have already stated. By adding new information, this may confuse the reader and weaken the overall narrative of your essay. 

You have reached the end of the show, folks!

And that’s it! You are now on your way to writing successful argument-based essays.

Now, this may still seem daunting to you, and that is perfectly understandable, but the more you practice, the more these tips and strategies will become a natural part of the writing process. One of the advantages of argument-based essay writing is the formula tends not to change all that much. There may be variations here and there, but for the most part, argument-based essays will follow the same format.

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