Most essays entail putting across a specific point or view or perspective. Even those based on empirical studies entail making the case for a given interpretation of the results. This entails putting forward strong arguments. Here’s a quick guide to how to do this.
Lead with Bold Statements: then prove them
One of the common tips for advanced writing is kind of a simple thing; when your argument is complex, and has many different stages, it is helpful to have a direct, core statement of the argument in plain language that makes it clear for you. Typically, this is not the statement you use in the text (although you might) but rather, it is a clear ‘touchstone’ for you to return to when things start to get a bit cloudy, as they do with multi-stage arguments. Your main argument might be that “IMF loans are both good and bad; they are the best options for poor countries to get ahead, however, at the same time they burden them with interest payments they often can’t make”. As academic arguments go, that is worded very simply, probably too simply, however, it will always be clear what you want to say overall. As you break your argument down into sub-parts, you can make the same clear statements for each one of those as well.
Use your Bold Statements Wisely!
Once you develop these clear, bold, statements of the argument, you may actually discover that they fit into the text of the paper really well! You might want to replace a word or two to make it more sophisticated like an academic argument, instead of “both good and bad” in the above example, you might write, “are both a strength and a liability”, which is a fancy way of saying the same thing. However, if you put one of these bold statements at the beginning of a paragraph, you make a bold move, drawing a line in the sand, as far as arguments go, and then you give yourself the rest of the paragraph to live up to that boldness, to prove that you are right!
Embrace your foes
At first glance it may seem counterintuitive, but the psychology of persuasion has shown repeatedly that the most convincing debaters are those who openly address their critics, not by calling them names, but by recognizing what is smart, and possibly even accurate about their counter argument. Think about it. Everyone expects a person to only say good things about ‘their side’ of a debate, but if you have the courage to acknowledge where the other side is correct, and then to counter that with another argument, stated rationally, you have a better chance of winning the audience to your side. Having the courage to give credit to your opponent makes you look stronger.
Three punch victory
Using the suggestions above, you can make a strong argument in three parts. They can all in one paragraph, or separate ones, or even separate sections depending on the length of your work. Regardless, you can make a decisive argument by following these steps. First, open with a bold and clear statement of what you want to say. Follow that by your best supporting evidence (with citations!) stated clearly. Quite likely there are caveats or counterpoints to these, but save them for now, and just state your evidence clearly. Then, in part two, you clearly state the opposing points. Acknowledge what is rational or valid about those, even if you don’t ultimately agree. This makes part 3 the strongest, because this is where you take what has been said by the ‘other side’ and you rationally explain why it is actually incorrect, or not as precise or insightful as the point that you want to make. Try this three-step formula and see if your arguments don’t get better!