Argument Essay Guidelines

Note to instructors: These guidelines provide possible choices for instructors assigning argument essays. They include options for proposal arguments, definition arguments, and causal arguments. You are encouraged to adopt, adapt, or remix these guidelines to suit your goals for your class. 

Due Dates  

  • Rough Draft:  
  • Peer Review:  
  • Final Draft:  


This assignment will help you learn to create an effective argument (i.e., convey your meaning persuasively) using evidence, sound reasoning, and awareness of rhetorical principles. 

Skills: This assignment will help you practice skills essential to success in and beyond this course:

    • Support claims effectively using varied forms of evidence.
    • Analyze how style, audience, social context, and purpose shape your writing in electronic and print spaces.

Knowledge: This assignment will help you become familiar with the following important knowledge:

    • Demonstrate an understanding of the rhetorical situation. 
    • Apply elements of rhetoric and argumentation in writing. 


You may choose to write a proposal argument, a definition argument, or a causal argument. Directions for each type of argument are provided below. No matter what type of argument you choose to write, the following apply:

  • Topic: Seek approval from your instructor on your topic before beginning this assignment.  
    Audience: Select a primary audience who you think should care about your argument. Use appropriate language, organization, and examples to suit your audience. Note that your secondary audience is your classmates and instructor.

  • Purpose and significance: The culprits or consequences shouldn't be so obvious that no argument is necessary. Consider the following questions as you establish the purpose and significance of your argument: Why is the argument important? Why is it controversial? What is at stake?

  • Counterarguments: Take alternative viewpoints seriously. Your goal should be to choose the strongest support for your argument, but remember that real-world problems are rarely simple, so avoid taking an all-or-nothing position. Take opposing viewpoints into consideration and make concessions and offer counterarguments as appropriate.

  • Research: If directed to incorporate research by your instructor, include information from at least three credible sources. Integrate source information effectively by using lead-in phrases; summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting as appropriate; and citing correctly, both within the body of your essay and on the Works Cited page.

  • Length and format: Your essay should be 4–5 pages long, double-spaced. 

Formatting requirements: Follow MLA format. Use black Calibri or Times New Roman font in size 12. Double-space the entire document. Use 1-inch margins on all sides. 

Option 1: Proposal Argument 

Write a practical proposal that in which you recommend a solution to a problem that you perceive in the world. Choose an important topic that matters to you and that you believe will matter to others; craft a proposal in which you argue for positive change. 

In general, a proposal argument essay should have three main sections:  

    1. A description of the problem  
    2. Your proposed solution
    3. Justification for the solution you are proposing

(You may [and should] include additional sections or subsections as needed.)  

Example of a proposal argument thesis statement: Our school should require all incoming freshmen to take a philosophy class so they can learn to understand and analyze multiple perspectives.  

Examples of questions you might consider:  

    • Should students be required to take philosophy classes?
    • Should new and expecting parents be given the option of enrolling in parenting classes at no cost to them?  
    • Should the county install cameras on all traffic lights?  
    • Should the school cut down a forested acre of land to build a new parking lot?
    • Should public schools teach both English and Spanish beginning in kindergarten?  

Option 2:  Definition Argument 

Construct a definition argument based on your definition of a controversial term: argue that an object or concept qualifies as a certain term, which you define based on specific criteria. Choose an important term that matters to you and that you believe will matter to others; base your argument on your own definition of that term.

Example of a definition argument thesis statement: Caffeine is a drug because it has predictable, measurable effects on the user’s central nervous system. 
Potential words for definition: animal, animal cruelty, art, beautiful, cheating, disease, drug, evil, food, hate crime, healthy, natural, poison, role model, sport 
You may choose a word not on the list. However, be sure to 1) check with your instructor, and 2) choose something that can be reasonably debated. 

Examples of questions you might consider:  

    • Is caffeine a drug?
    • Is alcoholism a disease?
    • Are human beings animals?
    • Is refined sugar a poison?
    • Is kayaking a sport?  

Examples of definition argument thesis statements:  

    • Caffeine is a drug because it causes physiological changes and is addictive.  
    • Kayaking is a sport because it requires physical exertion and can be done competitively. 

Option 3: Causal Argument 

Construct a causal argument in which you argue that a specific cause or causes led to a specific outcome, or that a specific action will result in a specific consequence. (Do NOT argue that a person or group should or should not take an action; this would be a proposal rather than a causal argument.)  

Example of a causal argument thesis statement: Regular journaling leads to improved academic outcomes for incoming freshmen by helping them cope with stress, improve their writing skills, and develop their ability to concentrate for sustained periods of time. 

Examples of questions you might consider:  

    • Does journaling lead to benefits for students?  
    • Do stimulants cause psychosis?
    • Does advertising cause men and women to have unrealistic ideals of physical attractiveness?
    • What causes, has caused, or will cause unemployment rates to rise or lower? (For an issue like this, it would be a good idea to consider a specific place and time—for example, in the state of Georgia from 2018-2019.)
    • Why or how do people become addicted to a specific substance (sugar, illicit drugs, alcohol, etc.)? 

Criteria for success 

The argument essay should adhere to the following guidelines: 

  • The essay meets requirements for the type of argument it is intended to convey (definition argument, proposal argument, or causal argument).
  • The essay is based on a clearly stated, arguable thesis statement.
  • The thesis is appropriately developed and supported: the writer has provided evidence, examples, and analysis as appropriate.
  • The essay is cohesive/stays on topic.
  • The writing is clear and coherent/makes sense.
  • The tone and language are appropriate for the audience and purpose.
  • The essay has an interesting, relevant title.
  • The writer has gone through the entire writing process, revising substantially and thoughtfully.
  • The writing adheres to grammar and punctuation rules. 

The argument essay should adhere to all formatting criteria: 

  • MLA format, in the essay and on the Works Cited page
  • Essay length: 800-1200 words
  • Font: Size 12, Times New Roman font throughout
  • Double-spaced lines
  • 1-inch margins on all sides 


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