Yes, yes — who needs an essay outline when you know the subject? After all, it’s all just a waste of time, made up by nerds who have no other things to do. Well, yes and no. In some cases, an outline may be indeed excessive. But, when writing an argumentative essay, even the best students need one. It’s not about the writing block or not knowing the subject. It’s about writing a logical, coherent, and impressive argumentative paper that gets you an A+.
You should already know by now — there is nothing worse than staring at a blank essay page, especially when the deadline is approaching. And you should also know that even the best students sometimes experience a writer’s block. This is exactly when an outline for an argumentative essay comes in.
Think of this outline as a plan for your paper. Yes, researching and structuring it will take some time. But, it can save your hours on writing. After all, an argumentative paper is should be a properly structured and well-researched piece of work. So, you cannot just fill the blanks in with some random ramblings — not unless you are ready to settle for a C+.
So, cutting a long story short, let’s find out what makes a good outline for an argumentative essay, why you need it, and how to structure this document to save you hours of writing.
Just like the essay itself, an outline for your paper should follow a certain structure. In case of a standard, five-paragraph argumentative essay, this structure goes as follows:
Yes, as simple as that! Sounds like nothing scary — so far. Now, let’s take a look at each of these essential sections to find out how we can nail them and get you that A+ you deserve!
Introduction should make it pretty clear what your paper is going to be about. In case of an argumentative essay, it should also lay down a solid foundation for the main argument you are about to make. Traditionally, an intro of an argumentative essay will include a hook, background info about the topic, and a thesis.
Hook. What is a hook, exactly? Simply put, it is a sentence that grabs your readers’ attention and urges them to read further. Sure, writing a truly compelling hook is not always easy, but since an argumentative essay usually argues a certain perspective (one of many), it should not be too difficult.
Let's say, you are writing an essay about marijuana legalization and are trying to convince your audience that cannabis should, in fact, be legalized. You can start off like this:
“Those interested in improving their mood and overall well-being should forget about shrinks and spirits and move on to smoking pot instead.”
A hook like this may sound bold and not very academic, but since your goal here is to catch the readers’ attention, it serves its purpose just fine.
Background info. Next, you move on to introducing some background info about the topic. In case of our marijuana legalization essay, it could go like this:
“Even though many states in the US have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes, plenty of them still shun away from the idea. However, medical and relaxation qualities of the plant have been extensively proven by multiple researches on the subject. And, despite opponents' arguments that marijuana is a gateway drug, there is no scientific proof of cannabis causing addiction — or, forcing users to move on to heavier drugs.”
Thesis statement. It appears at the end of your introductory paragraph. By the time you make a thesis statement, your position on the subject should be made pretty clear. If you managed to write a compelling hook and give some background info, making a thesis statement should not be much of a problem. Our example could go something like this:
“The use of cannabis can alleviate stress, relieve pain from chemotherapy treatment and help patients with clinical depression, which is exactly why the United States should consider legalizing marijuana on a national level.”
Pay attention to ‘should’ in this example. Even though our position on the topic has already been made clear with a hook and background info, ‘should’ in a thesis statement makes the impression truly complete.
Also, notice how we mention alleviating stress, relieving pain from chemotherapy treatment and helping patients with clinical depression. This information lays down a foundation for our body paragraphs and makes it clear for the readers what we are going to talk about further.
Ok, so now that our foundations have been laid, what next?
Now, it’s time for the main work on your argumentative essay outline — that is, developing your argument.
Our thesis statement has three claims (alleviating stress, relieving pain from chemotherapy treatment, and helping patients with clinical depression); each of them should be backed up by some factual evidence. This will give your paper a well-informed look and make it credible for the readers.
Note, however, that even though each claim needs backing up, the actual number of claims may differ. Here, a lot will depend on the length of your essay, as well as your topic. You can have two claims, or four, or even five — as many as you need to develop your argument.
Now, what is a claim, exactly? This is a point you make to support your argument (thesis).
So, our first claim was stress alleviation. Now, we have to dwell on it in the first body paragraph. For example:
“Regular use of cannabis can help alleviate stress, which is a huge benefit for our hectic lifestyles.”
This is your claim (aka topic sentence of the first paragraph). It’s been made pretty clear, but who is going to believe us? So, our next step is to provide some factual evidence.
Evidence. Every claim you make should be supported by factual, properly researched evidence. You cannot use your opinions or personal anecdotes here. For example:
“Recent research by (source) proves that people who occasionally use cannabis report stressful experiences 20% less often than people who do smoke marijuana.”
As a rule, you will have three claims in a typical argumentative essay. Each of those claims should be ideally supported by at least three pieces of evidence. However, you can adjust the number of supporting evidence, just like you can adjust the number of claims you make. Once again, here everything will depend on the arguments you are making and the points you are trying to prove. So, unless your teacher has given you precise instructions about the number of claims and evidence to support them, you are free to decide for yourself.
Ok, so now you know how to present and support your claims. Is that it? Are we are ready to conclude? Not quite. First, we’ll have to refute opponents’ arguments.
This is traditionally the last part of your argumentative essay outline. It helps to acknowledge the fact that there are other opinions on the subject and that you respect them. However, your goal is to convince the audience in your point of view. So, while acknowledging other opinions, you are to prove these opinions unjustified.
Remember that you are to stay polite and reasonable. You cannot resort to offenses. Your goal is to prove your opponents wrong, but you are to stay civilized.
In our intro examples, we have already laid a foundation for opponents’ opinion. Remember? “Despite opponents' arguments that marijuana is a gateway drug, there is no scientific proof of cannabis causing addiction — or, forcing users to move on to heavier drugs.”
Now, it’s time to go back to this statement once again and give evidence that proves it wrong. For example:
“While opponents argue that marijuana can be a gateway drug, leading to potential drug abuse in the future, there is no scientific proof that links cannabis use to further transition to heavier substances. In fact, research by (source) shows that 65% of cannabis users do not use any other substances at all.”
Here goes — we’ve acknowledged our opponents’ opinion and proven it untrue. By the way, the stats on cannabis use are totally made up here — so do not refer to them in your own paper. Just FYI.
Ok, we’re almost done here. Now, it’s time to wrap up.
Basically, a solid conclusion for an argumentative paper will accomplish two goals.
1. Highlight the importance of your subject. Just in case readers got lost in your reasoning, you are to remind them why the subject in question is important. Usually, this goal is achieved by restating (not retyping!) your thesis statement. For example:
“Cannabis legalization on a national level can help people with clinical depression, cancer patients, and people suffering from stress on a regular basis.”
2. Draw a picture of the world that does not accept your opinion on the subject. Here, your goal is to impress the readers and make them think. Giving a (sometimes emotional) prediction for the future serves this purpose perfectly. For example:
“Unless we want our citizens depressed, moody, and in pain, we are to take more action.”
By the way, this statement can be expanded further, into giving suggestions on the kind of action we need to take. However, you should also remember that conclusions should not feature any new information. So, unless you’ve spoken about the action (raising awareness on the issue, petitioning the government, educating children) in your body paragraphs, you should leave a call to action out. That’s pretty much all you need to know about drafting an argumentative essay outline.