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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Language & Composition
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The Argumentative Essay

  • What is an Argumentative Essay?
    • An argumentative essay is a type of essay that asks you to take a stand on a particular issue or idea, usually expressed in the form of a quotation.
    • An argumentative essay prompt always includes the phrase refute, support, or qualify.
    • That means you have to either prove the idea wrong, prove it right, or show that the truth lies somewhere in between.
  • The Good News
    • You’re being asked to take a stand and present your point of view on a topic. This is your chance to show off and express yourself!
    • You’re not only allowed to use the first person singular (“I”)—you’re required to use it.
    • There is no correct answer. You don’t even have to believe what you’re writing. All that matters is how effectively you argue and back up your position.
    • This essay is easily identified because its prompt contains the phrase “refute, support, or qualify.”
  • Read the Prompt Carefully (Twice)
    • The first time you read the prompt, underline the directions you’re being given. You’ll find the phrase refute, support, or qualify—underline that.
    • Also underline the kind of sources you’re being asked to use—usually literary, historical, or personal sources are best. Keep that in mind as you read the passage—the evidence that pops into your head will be your most valuable asset on this essay.
    • The second time you read the prompt, look for anything you might have missed—like clues to the historical or literary context of the passage. Every little bit helps!
  • Find the Main Idea
    • You’re analyzing an argument, so you can expect the three elements (claim, warrant, and support) to be there. Find them!
    • The claim is the most important part—it’s what you’re refuting, supporting, or qualifying. But look at the support, too, and the warrant. If you’re trying to refute the argument, you’ll find the weakest spots there.
    • Remember, though, that the emphasis in this essay isn’t on the author’s rhetoric—it’s on yours. Find the main idea, find the easiest position for you to argue, and build your argument from there.
    • You will probably find the thesis statement either very early or very late in the passage.
  • Take a Clear Stand
    • It doesn’t matter whether you are refuting, supporting, or qualifying, as long as you do it well. You don’t even have to believe your own stance on the issue—just pick a side, make your position clear, and go for it!
    • However, it’s often a good idea to refute the claim if you can reasonably do so. Refutation essays are more interesting to read.
    • That said, don’t sacrifice a good argument or one you’re passionate about just to refute. Go with your strengths.
    • And whatever you do, be clear. Whatever your stance may be, make sure you’re loud and proud about it!
  • Construct Your Argument
    • What is your claim? What is your main idea?
    • What is your support? What examples can you use from literature, from history, or from your own life?
    • What warrant connects your support to your claim? Is it valid in this situation?
    • Have you made any errors in your logic, or resorted to fallacies?
    • Have you organized your essay to best reflect the strength of your argument and your skills as a writer?
  • Remember the Little Things!
    • Write in the present tense. You won’t be asked to weigh in on a historical debate, or speculate on events of the far future. Your ideas are happening now.
    • Everything the author says or does is always described in the present tense (ditto anything that happens in a work of art, including a book or a movie).
    • Use the past tense for historical facts.
    • Watch your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
    • Make sure your first paragraph is neat.
    • Take a few risks with your language—remember that imaginative use of English can be worth at least a point.

The Argumentative Essay

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:09
  • What is an Argumentative Essay? 0:33
    • Definition
    • Refute, Support or Qualify
  • The Good News 1:20
    • Express Yourself!
    • There's No Correct Answer
    • The Essay is Easily Identified
  • Read the Prompt Carefully (Twice) 2:29
    • First Time: Underline the Directions Given
    • Second Time: Look for Anything You Might Have Missed
  • Find the Main Idea 3:43
    • Three Elements
    • Claim
  • Take a Clear Stand 4:55
    • Good to Refute the Claim You Can Reasonably Do So
  • Construct Your Argument 6:41
    • What Warrant Connects Your Support to Your Claim?
    • Have You Organized Your Essay to best Reflect the Strength of Your Argument?
  • Remember the Little Things! 8:01
    • Write in the Present Tense
    • Everything the Author Says or Does is Always Described in the Present Tense
    • Use the Past Tense for Historical Facts
    • Watch Your Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation
    • Make Sure Your First Paragraph is Neat
    • Take a Few Risks with Your Language