Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Want to be published in The New Yorker? Vanity Fair? Your school's lit magazine? Your mom's annual Christmas letter? Well, you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere is here.
This course will walk you through the basics of the five-paragraph essay: we're talking argument, analysis, and descriptive to boot. From messy brainstorming to pristine revisions, you'll be creating a masterpiece worthy of, um, handing in to your teacher.
And hey, even if it doesn't get published, we have a feeling it'll at least get you an A.
Unit 1. The Five-Paragraph Essay
These 15 lessons will be your ticket to an A-grade (and grade A) essay.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 2: Argument Essay
Now that you're convinced that writing is a useful skill to have in your day-to-day life, we're going to bring things back to the classroom—those pesky essays you have to write for school. We promise, they'll help you on your path to world domination.
First up? The Argument Essay.
Who doesn't love to take part in a good argument? You get to air your grievances or stand up on your soapbox. You have a chance to speak in raised tones, and, well...it just makes you feel so good. All righteous and right.
The Argument Essay, which is also often called the Persuasive Essay, is the most common type of essay that you will be writing in your academic career and beyond. In fact, most essays feature at least some element of persuasion and are a variation of this essay type. Not a believer? Allow us to persuade you. (Don't worry—we won't use any outlawed forms of physical torture. We work purely on a psychological level.)
What Is an Argument Essay?
An argument essay persuades your readers to make a change. This change could be a mental change—a different way of thinking—or an actual change in a policy or practice. It's wide open. As long as you are taking your reader's mind, turning it into jelly, warping and reforming it into one that more adequately suits your own personal agenda, and then popping it back into the reader's skull. (Make sure you have the right tools and a scrub nurse handy.)
Here are a couple examples:
- You could argue that "homework serves no purpose because all the answers can be found on the Internet." Ugh. If only the Internet would show all its work. Are we right or are we right?
- Or how about this? "I'm sixteen years old and just got my license. Therefore, I'm clearly more than capable of driving your new Porsche." Good luck with that one. The fact that you just barely passed your behind-the-wheel test after parallel parking two feet from the curb and sideswiping a newspaper boy doesn't bode well for your chances of success.
Most essays have some element of argumentation, even if it isn't immediately obvious. After all, why are you writing anything at all if it isn't to convince someone of something?
The personal statement that you will be writing to get a foot (or both feet) into college? It's an argument that you're awesome. That long Facebook status you just posted about how Taken 2 is the best movie of all time? That's right. You're trying to persuade your reader that the oft-derided film is, in fact, misunderstood. If you're going to turn anyone to your side in this instance, though, let's hope you have a very particular set of skills.
How Do I Know I'm Writing an Argument Essay?
Most of the time, you won't really have to read between the lines to figure out if the paper you're writing is an Argument Essay (good thing, too, since it's already in a pretty small font), because your teacher will let you know. And if for some reason your teacher is on strike from, well, telling you things, here are some words to look out for in the assignment description that will point to this type of essay:
Writing an Argument Essay
Even if you're writing an argument essay, you're not actually yelling at anyone. Avoid the ALL CAPS, please. In writing especially, arguing has nothing to do with the decibel level of your voice and everything to do with the quality of your supporting points. Bad news if you suffer from voice immodulation.
By stacking up your awesome supporting points until you have a heaping, steaming pile of them, you'll leave your readers no choice but to agree with you. They won't be able to mentally combat your intelligent barrage of effectively persuasive arguments. They'll buckle like a Pilgrim's hat.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2: Argument Essay Example
Okay, so now you can describe an argument essay with the best of 'em, but how about seeing one in action? Shmoop has cooked up this argument essay for your reading entertainment:
Croissant vs. Cwah-sawn
You're at Starbucks. You're really tired because you've been hanging out with your friends all night. You're late for school, you're sweating inappropriately, and you need a vat of iced coffee in you right now. You wait patiently while some lady reads the entire menu to her kid. You keep calm while a nervous old man hems and haws over the scones like he's buying a new Buick. Then…it happens: The guy with the trimmed beard, intensely moisturized skin, and fleece zip-up says in his best Tim Gunn voice: "Yes, along with the green tea, I'd like the CWAH-SAWN." You lose it. You remove your shoe and start hitting yourself on the head with it. You leap over the counter and guzzle coffee straight from the spigot. You wake up four days later in an Iowa cornfield wearing only the top half of a tuxedo. While you have no idea how you got there, the pain of hearing the word "cwah-sawn" is still fresh in your mind.
Indeed, this pretentious, faux-French way of saying "croissant" brings great pain to many everyday Americans. This pronunciation must be scorned, not only because it is elitist, but also because it sounds disgusting coming out of the mouth of the average American. Also, it defies accepted practices of American language use.
One of the most annoying things about this pronunciation of "croissant" is that it has no practical purpose; rather, people use it only to seem superior to the rest of us. What other motivation could there be? Does it aid in communication? No one in the good ol' United States has ever said, "Wait, what's a 'cruh-sahnt'? Ohhhh, you mean CWAH-SAWN." It's not like Americans who say it have some irrepressible French accent that comes on only around middlebrow pastries.
People say it to make a point, and that point is as follows: "I, being educated and worldly, have visited France. Or at least studied French. Or I have a friend who has studied French, and I've heard her say "croissant" the right way. Or maybe it's just that I listen to NPR and wear recycled shoes. Either way, the message is clear: I am different from you, I know more than you, and I have better taste than you." With all of the ways that society carves itself up—by race, by class, by political affiliation—do we really need this petty reminder of our differences while waiting in line for breakfast? "Cwah-sawn" represents outright and distasteful elitism.
There is certainly nothing distasteful about the croissant itself; it is a delicious, flaky pastry, and yet the sound of a clumsy American maw trying to force its name in a fake French accent is enough to turn the stomach (pronounced "sto-mosh"). The French language is certainly beautiful—but only when coming from French speakers. The average cwah-sawner speaks flat American English and has to work pretty hard to pull off a decent "cwah-sawn." He wrenches and sputters, and what results is a foul, wet, nasal sound that has no home in any language.
Once, I noticed a shy-looking young woman wince when a cwah-sawner dropped his business in a coffee shop. I asked her what was wrong. "When I hear people say that," she said, "horrible images come to mind: very dead dogs; grown men in diapers; old pudding." She trailed off and left the establishment. Her experience corroborates my point that "cwah-sawn" is a hideous sound that has no place in public.
On the other hand, some people might defend their right to say "cwah-sawn." They will say that "croissant" is a French word, and French people pronounce it "cwah-sawn," so it's accurate and better to use that pronunciation. On the surface, this point makes sense, but dig a little deeper into the history of the English language, and American English in particular, and this argument falls apart completely. The English we speak today is an amalgam of German, French, Greek, and Latin, to name a few. Especially here in the US, English has an insane array of other languages influencing it—we are, after all, the most diverse country on earth. Virtually every word we speak has come from some other culture or language, but they all get folded into the same noble mush that is the English language. So why should "croissant" be any different?
However, others believe that people should be free to say the word however they want. After all, freedom of speech is protected by the Bill of Rights. True, but let's pause and think about what's at stake. Some basic elements of human life—food, language, society—are ever-so-slightly spoiled with every cwah-sawn. A law banning the pronunciation might be difficult to pass, but would fit within legal precedent. After all, the First Amendment doesn't protect shouting "fire" in a theater, or bass rattling your apartment at three in the morning. In the meantime, let's enforce the ban socially. Step up. Say something. When we encounter a cwah-sawner, let's look at him sternly, or whap him lightly with a rolled newspaper. Or take a photo of him and post it online with a caption that really brings the issue home: "This Nerd SUXX!"
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2: Prompt Yourself
We're not going to lie: it took us quite a while to come up with the Croissant vs. Cwah-sawn topic. But that's because coming up with a topic takes some brainstorming. And that's just what we'll ask you to do in this activity.
Our prompt to you: write an argument essay about something you care about.
Don't worry, you're not actually writing the essay—yet. First, you'll brainstorm a list of 5 possible topics you could argue about. Here are some questions to think about while coming up with a topic:
- What kinds of things do you feel most strongly about?
- Of these things, which do you know the most about? Which do you have some points up your sleeve to defend?
- Does anyone else care about this topic? If not, do you think you could get them to care? (And no, Shmoop will never care about how you fold your underwear.)
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
- College Prep
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.1