Polemical Essay Outline

Sure, you’re a lover not a fighter. I am too. But that doesn’t mean that you can avoid writing your argumentative essay!

Since you have to write an argumentative essay, you might as well learn how to write it well, right?

I’ve said it time and time again—there’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. Putting together an argumentative essay outline is the perfect way to turn your blank document into a ready-to-use template. All you have to do is fill in the blanks!

In this blog post, I’m going to share with you how to create an argumentative essay outline. At the end, I’ll give you a downloadable skeleton outline you can use to get started.

Structure of the Argumentative Essay Outline

If you distill your argumentative essay outline down to its basics, you’ll find that it’s made of four main sections:
  1. Intro
  2. Developing Your Argument
  3. Refuting Opponents’ Arguments
  4. Conclusion

That’s not so bad! There’s really nothing to be afraid of.

Here’s how your argumentative essay outline would look if you turned it into a pretty picture:

Each of these four sections requires some important elements. Let’s break those down now.

Argumentative Essay Outline Section 1: Your Intro

Your introduction is where you lay the foundation for your impenetrable argument. It’s made up of a hook, background information, and a thesis statement.

1. Hook. Your first sentence is comprised of a “hook.” Don’t know what a hook is? A hook is a sentence that grabs your reader’s attention just like a good Jackie Chan movie grabs the attention of a martial arts fan.

Let’s say I’m writing an argumentative essay about why American people should start eating insects.

My hook could be, “For those interested in improving their diets and the environment, say ‘goodbye’ to eating chicken, fish, and beef and ‘hello’ to eating silk worms, crickets, and caterpillars.”

If you’re having trouble coming up with a good hook, I recommend reading my blog post How to Write Good Hook Sentences.

2. Background information. The next part of your intro is dedicated to offering some detailed background information on your topic.

Try answering the following questions:

What is the issue at hand? Who cares? Where is this issue prevalent? Why is it important?

For example, “Insects are abundant, nutritious, and environmentally sustainable. Currently, people in the United States shun the idea of eating insects as part of their diets, favoring instead less nutritious and environmentally destructive food options, such as beef and pork. The UN recently issued a statement calling for more world citizens to embrace the many benefits of eating insects.”

3. Thesis. Your thesis typically makes up the last sentence of your intro paragraph. This is where you clearly state your position on the topic and give a reason for your stance.

For example, “A diet of insects can help fix problems related to starvation, obesity, and climate change, and therefore, United States citizens should learn to rely on a variety of insects over chicken, beef, and fish as their main source of protein and nutrition.”

Notice the word “should” in my thesis statement? Using this word makes it clear I’m taking a stance on the argument.

You’ll also notice that my thesis statement sets up the three claims I’m going to expand on later: a diet of insects can help fix problems related to starvation, obesity, and climate change.

Here are even more example argumentative thesis statements.

Let’s talk about adding those claims to our argumentative essay outline now.

Argumentative Essay Outline Section 2: Developing Your Argument

Now that you have filled in the general points of your topic and outlined your stance in the introduction, it’s time to develop your argument.

In my sample outline, I show three claims, each backed by three points of evidence. Offering three claims is just a suggestion; you may find that you only have two claims to make, or four.

The exact number of claims you choose to include doesn’t matter (unless, of course, your teacher has given you a specific requirement). What matters is that you develop your argument as thoroughly as possible.

1. What is a claim? A claim is a statement you make to support your argument.

For example, “Bugs are highly nutritious and eating them can fix the problem of hunger and malnutrition in the United States.”

Great! So I’ve made my claim. But who’s going to believe me? This is where evidence comes into play.

2. What is evidence? For each claim you make, you need to provide supporting evidence. Evidence is factual information from reliable sources.

It is not personal knowledge or anecdotal.

For example, “Researchers at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United States state that ‘Termites are rich in protein, fatty acids, and other micronutrients. Fried or dried termites contain 32–38 percent proteins.’“

My outline shows three pieces of evidence to support each claim, but you may find that each claim doesn’t necessarily have three pieces of evidence to back it.  Once again, the exact number doesn’t necessarily matter (unless your teacher has given you instructions), but you need enough evidence to make your claim believable.

Once you have gathered your evidence to support your claims, it’s time to add the next important element of your argumentative essay outline: refuting your opponents’ arguments.

Let’s talk about that now.

Argumentative Essay Outline Section 3: Refuting Opponents’ Arguments

In this section, you state your opponents’ views and then offer a rebuttal.

For example, “Opponents of insect eating from the Beef Council of America say that it is too difficult and time consuming to catch crickets, so it is not easy to gather enough food for a meal, whereas a cow is large and contains a lot of meat for many meals.”

Oh diss! We know the Beef Council just wants us to keep eating McD’s hamburgers and skip the cricket soup. (By the way—I just made that up. The Beef Council did not say that. In your essay, make sure to use real facts.)

Now it’s time to set the opponents straight with a refutation that is full of hard evidence and that will bring them to their knees.

For example, “According to researchers Cerritos and Cano-Santana, the best time to harvest crickets is to catch them in the hour just before sunrise when they are least active. What’s more, it is easy to develop the infrastructure to farm crickets in a way that is more sustainable than cattle farming.”

Booyah! The Beef Council has been served (crickets).

Once you have refuted your opponents’ viewpoints, it’s time to sail to the finish line with your conclusion.

Argumentative Essay Outline Section 4: Conclusion

In your conclusion, you are going to accomplish two important tasks.

1. Restate the importance of your issue. Similar to what you did in your introduction, you want to restate why this topic is critical.

For example, “Simply by incorporating insects into their diets, U.S. citizens can improve the sustainability and nutrition of the American diet.”

2. Paint a picture of the world if your argument is (or is not) implemented. In the final part of your conclusion, make your audience think about the ramifications of your argument. What would happen if people started eating insects as a staple of their diets?

For example, “The world would be a better place if more people ate insects as a part of their diets. Fewer people would go hungry, more people would get the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients they need to live healthy lifestyles, and our planet would be relieved of the burden of an unsustainable food system.

Closing with a clear picture of the world as you would like it to be can leave your reader convinced that your argument is valid.

Download the Argumentative Essay Outline Template

Once you break it down, writing an argumentative essay outline isn’t that daunting.

Download this skeleton Argumentative Essay Outline to get started.

Before you go off into the sunset and use my outline template, make sure that you are following the guidelines specific to your course. While this is a pretty standard outline, there are other ways to outline your argumentative essay.

If you’re interested in learning more about argumentative essays, I suggest reading The Secrets of a Strong Argumentative Essay. Want even more knowledge? Check out this argumentative essay infographic!

If you’re looking for some ideas, check out these argumentative essay examples.

When you have your argumentative essay and outline ready to go, you can always have one of our awesome editors give it a second look.

Good luck!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

WRITING A PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAY

GENERAL GUIDELINES

1. You want to start your paper off with a clear statement of the question at hand. Not only should the question be stated clearly, but it is a good idea in the first paragraph or two to give a good clear statement as to how you are going to answer the question, i.e., what approach to the question you intend to take.

2. State your position and defend your answer. The main core of your paper should consist of a defense of the answer you gave. You should carefully define your position (so as to avoid possible misunderstandings) and defend it with reasons, relevant information and arguments.

3. If the paper is in response to a prompt, you will want to use the prompt as your outline, as your guide. Be sure that you answer the question that is asked! A tightly focused paper is always preferable.

4. Identify and formulate the strongest potential objection(s) to your position. Respond to the objection(s) and show how it/they aren't strong enough to refute your position. (This applies primarily to papers of 4 or more pages.)

ORGANIZATION

It is essential that your paper be well organized.

1. There should be a clear thesis statement at the beginning that serves as a road map through your paper.

2. Every paragraph should be directly related to your thesis and should follow the road map put forth in your thesis.

3. The paper should flow smoothly and each paragraph be logically linked to the previous. Guide the reader through as clearly and carefully as possible. BE KIND TO YOUR READER!

4. Each paragraph should be fully developed and deal with only one topic. Beware of anemic paragraphs of only one or two sentences. Chances are, these will be underdeveloped.

5. The conclusion should serve as a wrap up, in which you make it clear that the stated goals in the thesis have been met.

DEFINITION OF CONCEPTS

It is crucial that important concepts are clearly defined, especially when you are dealing with topics in which there is some disagreement as to what some term might mean. Just consider the disagreement over what it means to be a person in the abortion debate!

WRITING AND REWRITING

Revising your paper is the most important thing you can do in making it a better paper. Never turn in a first draft!! After writing your first draft, put it down for a day or two, then go back and read it again--critically. Revision should be done for more than just grammatical and spelling errors. Don't be afraid of massive revision. Sometimes it may be necessary to trash entire chunks of the paper, to rearrange paragraphs or to add new material. It is a good idea to let someone else read your paper critically to see if they understand it. If possible, it is a better idea to have your instructor read the paper and make suggestions.

OUTLINING

It is often difficult to actually begin a paper with an outline. However, once a draft is actually written, it is quite easy to go back and outline it. Do this. It will give you a sketch of the paper and help you check the paper's organization. Here is an example of a very general outline. (The number of points/arguments may vary from paper to paper.)

 I. Introduction. (Should include a clear statement of the problem and the approach to be taken in the essay.)

II. Reasons/Arguments.

A. Reason/Argument 1 supporting your position.

B. Reason/Argument 2 supporting your position.

C. Reason/Argument 3 supporting your position.

III. Strongest challenge(s) to your position.

IV. Reasons/arguments that show why the strongest challenge doesn't show your position to be incorrect.

V. Conclusion.

 

CITING SOURCES

Academic integrity demands that whenever you utilize an idea or quotation that is not your own, you must acknowledge the source of that idea or quotation. Different instructors have different preferences for citing sources. Any generally acceptable method is okay with me. However, I will offer one simple method.

QUOTING FROM THE TEXT

When you are citing a text, it is acceptable, when quoting or paraphrasing, to cite the author and page number parenthetically. For example, if you were quoting Pojman's article on affirmative action from Beauchamp and Bowie, it might look like this:

As Pojman defines it, "Prejudice is a discrimination based on irrelevant grounds" (Pojman, 375).

Then on a separate bibliographical page at the end of your essay, you would have:

Pojman, Louis P., "The Moral Status of Affirmative Action" as it appears in Ethical Theory and Business, 5th edition, Tom L. Beauchamp and Norman E. Bowie, editors. Prentice Hall, 1997, pp. 374-379.

Then if you cite another article from Beauchamp and Bowie, say Nagel on affirmative action, your citation in the text might look like:

As Nagel says, "Affirmative action is not an end in itself, but a means of dealing with a social situation that should be intolerable to us all" (Nagel, 374).

Then on your bibliographical page, since this is the second citation (alphabetically by author of the article) from Beauchamp and Bowie you would have:

Nagel, Thomas, "A Defense of Affirmative Action", as it appears in Beauchamp and Bowie, pp. 370-374.

 

Here is another example that might appear on your bibliographical page:

Gutek, Barbara A. "Sexual Harassment: Rights and Responsibilities," as it appears in Ethics in the Workplace, Edward J. Ottensmeyer and Gerald D. McCarthy, eds. McGraw-Hill, 1996.

When citing this essay in the text, you would cite it parenthetically with the author's name just as you would do according to the previous example.

If you are citing a text written by one author as opposed to an anthology, an example of how your citation should look is as follows:

Bok, Sissela. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.

Again, you would cite the author and page number parenthetically in the text.

Note: If you have two citations by the same author, you should include the year of publication in your parenthetical citation. For example, if you had two bibliographical references to works by Sissela Bok, you would cite the one above like this: (Bok 1978, 23).

Note again: When you cite a source, you must give sufficient information for the reader to go directly to the cited page. If the page you cite is a web page, then you should write the full URL of the document you are citing from. For example, if you were citing from an online copy of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, your text would look like this:

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. (Mill, Chapter 2)

Then on your bibliographical page, you might have:

John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter Two, from: http://www.library.adelaide.edu.au/etext/m/m645u/util02.html

Remember, you must cite a source any time you use someone else's idea--even if you are paraphrasing that idea. Things that are considered "common knowledge" do not need to be cited.

 

GENERAL TIPS ON WRITING

In the real world, how you express yourself is as important as what you say. Careful expression is especially important in philosophy, where problems frequently arise because of imprecise language. I offer this handout as an aid to more effective philosophical writing.

Compare:

Writing is always a struggle for people. In the real world, the way you write the things you say is just as important as what you have to say. It is an undeniable truth that this is especially important in philosophy, where, frequently, people have problems because you are not being precise enough. This handout is offered with this in mind.

1. Write with an ignorant (but not stupid) reading in mind. Ask yourself, "Would this paper be intelligible to someone outside of the course?" Keep clarifying what you've written until the answer is "yes."

2. Have a clear thesis in mind. Express it in one or two sentences, preferably at the beginning of your paper. Furthermore, have a definite plan in mind for the steps you will take to prove your thesis (preferably in the form of an outline).

3. Cut to the chase. Students tend to spend too much time "throat clearing"at the beginning of essays. Often, the first few paragraphs of an essay can be deleted without any loss in content (and with a corresponding gain in effectiveness). In other words, eliminate fluff for more effective writing.

4. Make the paragraph the unit of composition. Each paragraph should express one and only one main idea. Keep them short and simple.

5. Summarize your overall argument, even if you don't include the summary in your essay. If, after completing your essay, you can construct a clear outline of your overall argument (either in your head or on paper), chances are you reader can, too. If not, your argument is likely either confused or unclear. (This point relates to (1) and (2)).

6. Make your transitions clear. For example, consider the opening phrases of six successive paragraphs from Charles Landesman's Philosophy: An Introduction to the Central Issues: An argument against hedonism was developed by G. E. Moore.... The hedonist has two responses to Moore. First... Second....

Another argument against hedonism....

The hedonist replies....

Thus hedonism is not refuted....

Without even seeing the essay, we know where the author is going and how he is getting there. Your reader will appreciate similar clarity. (This example is taken from Martinich's Philosophical Writing (cited at end of handout), p. 97.

7. Don't write anything you yourself don't understand. Although this point seems obvious, consider the following sentence, which I once received in a student's paper:

Aquinas believed that God was omnipotent as Lao Tzu believed that the Tao was omnipotent as Aristotle believed that his Unmoved Mover was the purpose of all things, this in itself is a manifestation of the definition of infinity, for there is no limit to any of their power and energy.

When I asked the student what he meant by "manifestation of the definition of infinity," he couldn't tell me. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that fancy or obscure writing will sound more philosophical. It won't.

8. Avoid using "this" as a pronoun. This is confusing. "What is confusing?", you ask, and rightly so. This practice is confusing. See how much clearer it is to use "this" as an adjective? For another example, consider the student's sentence in (7). When he says "this in itself," does he mean Aquinas's belief, Lao Tzu's belief, Aristotle's belief, the coincidence of all of their beliefs, or something else? He doesn't tell us and we are left confused.

9. Make your pronouns agree with their antecedents. The problem of pronoun-antecedent agreement usually arises when people are trying to be gender inclusive. Consider the following sentences: (a) Everyone should proofread their writing. (b) Everyone should proofread his writing. (c) Everyone should proofread his or her writing. (d) One should proofread one's writing. (e) People should proofread their writing.

(a) is ungrammatical. (b) is grammatical, but gender-exclusive. (c) is both grammatical and gender-inclusive. In long sentences with many pronouns, however, the method employed in (c) can be cumbersome. (Consider: "Everyone should proofread his or her writing when he or she wants others to correctly understand him or her.") Moreover, the fact that the masculine pronoun always precedes the feminine pronoun makes it sound like an afterthought. (d) sounds awkward and pedantic; avoid it. (e) is preferred; it puts the entire construction in the plural, rendering the sentence grammatical, gender-inclusive, and natural-sounding. Another (and increasingly common) option is to alternate between the masculine and feminine; that is, to alternately use (b) and (f) Everyone should proofread her writing.

10. Ixnay on the colloquialisms; they just don't cut it in philosophical writing. Bad: Just what is Descartes smoking here? This guy's out of his tree. Better: I find several problems with Descartes' argument, including....

Also, remember that a calm, rational tone is almost always more effective than a polemical, sarcastic one.

11. Don't be afraid of the first person. One does not care what your fifth grade (or college) English teacher told you on this point. See how pedantic that last sentence sounds? It should read, "I do not care what your fifth grade English (or college) teacher told you on this point," because I don't. Students often write things like, "It will be argued that..." or "My argument will be that...." Such constructions are passive, awkward and wimpy. Own up to your position; say "I will argue that..."

12. Omit unnecessary words. This practice will make your writing more forceful, and will also help you to keep within the prescribed word limits. Less is more. Consider: Weak: From my perspective, it would seem to be the case that Descartes fails to... Better: Descartes fails to...

Weak: I feel that Hume's second premise is faulty. Better: Humes' second premise is faulty. The last example is a case where you should avoid the first person construction simply because of its superfluity. Moreover, stay away from "feel" in philosophical writing.

13. Observe the distinction between "that" and "which" clauses. "That" is restrictive; "which" is not. Consider: (a) The theory of forms that Plato expounds should be rejected. (b) The theory of forms, which Plato expounds, should be rejected.

(a) claims only that Plato's theory of forms should be rejected; it leaves open the possibility that someone else's might be acceptable. The use of the "that" clause in (a) restricts the scope of "theory of forms." (b), on the other hand, makes the general claim that any theory of forms should be rejected, adding the additional fact that Plato expounded this theory. People often use "which" when they want "that"; therefore, go which-hunting when you proofread. (If you find this rule confusing, try substituting "that" every time you write "which" and see if the substitution sounds right. If so, then you probably want "that").

14. Don't misuse the thesaurus. Ideally the thesaurus should remind you of words you already know, not provide you with words you've never heard of. If you are unsure of the precise meaning of a word, avoid it, or at least look it up in the dictionary. A student once intended to covey, "I saw the deer dance across the field," but thought that "dance" was too ordinary, so instead he borrowed "mazurka" from the thesaurus. As it turns out, a mazurka is a Polish folk dance.

15. Avoid category mistakes. Consider:

Berkeley ponders the truth of both his mind and the environment. The Meditations also believes in this position. He protested Bush's election for taking a strong stand on abortion.

"Minds" and "environments" cannot be true or false; propositions about them can. Books don't believe in positions, their authors do. Elections don't take stands; candidates do. Make sure your words fit together sensibly.

16. Proofread for cogency. Anticipate objections to your arguments, and deal with those objections in your essay. Your writing will be stronger as a result. When you proofread, constantly ask yourself, "Does this make sense" Is the argument airtight? What will my teacher say?" In other words, try to pre-grade your essay and then revise it in light of your own comments. Critiquing your own work often works best after putting the essay aside for a day or two. And, most importantly, be sure that your essay addresses the assigned topic.

17. Proofread for grammatical mistakes. (Notice that spell checkers aren't full proof (sic).) Have a friend read your essay to pick out typos and missing words. (If you make a mistake in the first place, there's a chance you will read over it during proofreading.)

18. Follow the specific instructions given by your teacher, even if you think they're nitpicky. Why needlessly annoy the person grading your essay? For the purposes of this class I expect the following: NUMBER your pages. STAPLE your pages. Leave reasonable MARGINS. NEVER use plastic report covers. Observe the required PAGE LIMITS. DON'T RIGHT JUSTIFY. Include your name only on a SEPARATE LAST PAGE. Keep a HARD COPY of all work handed in.

(Note: The "General Tips on Writing" are courtesy of John Corvino, The University of Texas at Austin.)

 

For more information, I recommend the following books:

A. P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing, (Prentice Hall, 1989)

William Strunk and E. B. White, Elements of Style (Macmillan, 1979)

Kate Turabian, A Manual For Writing Term Papers (University of Chicago Press, 1996)

 

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