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How to Write a Graduate Level Argumentive Essay

by Andrew Aarons

Late nights at the library. Intimidating meetings with your supervisor. A strict diet of coffee, noodles, and soda crackers. Graduate school is hard enough, but when you throw in the prospect of clashing with world-renowned scholars through an argumentative essay, it can become downright overwhelming. Successful graduate students know how write an argumentative essay that’s persuasive, respectful, and original.

Structure the Essay Around a Basic Claim

If your argument were a house, your thesis statement would be the foundation. It has to be strong. This is true of every essay, but it’s even more critical to produce a strong thesis statement when a graduate-level essay is concerned, because your argument will likely be highly complex. Every time you make a claim, be sure that it flows logically from the claim that you made before it and -- most importantly -- that it buttresses your most basic claim: your thesis statement.

Demonstrate Knowledge of and Respect for Relevant Arguments and Research

When you’re working at the graduate level, you may be tempted to show off your own powers of persuasion and go it alone. Fight that urge. Good academic work is built on the good academic work that came before it. Your argument will be stronger if you show how it’s supported by the arguments of other scholars, as long as you remember to cite your sources properly. And if you can demonstrate your awareness of -- and ability to respectfully critique -- arguments that oppose your own, then you’ll really be taken seriously.

Make an Original Contribution

If you were still doing your undergraduate degree, knowing and thinking critically about a body of work would be enough. But as a graduate student, you’re expected to contribute to that body of work. After synthesizing what’s already been said about a subject, make sure that you say something new and interesting.

Keep It Succinct

If you approach every graduate essay like a doctoral dissertation, you’ll never finish the essays and you’ll never start the dissertation. Think of a graduate essay as a prelude to more extensive research. You can’t say everything that others have said about a subject, or everything that you want to say about it yourself. But if you delve fairly deeply into one narrow slice of it, you probably will have said enough for one essay.

About the Author

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.

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