How to Write an Argumentative Essay About Water
I hate arguing and I hate it when people yell at me, so it took me awhile to discover that writing argumentative essays could be fun—helpful, in fact. They are designed to take the anger out of an argument, to show you how to look at both sides sensibly, but especially how to defend your own point of view. Once you know how on paper, you can do it better in person.
The "argument" in this type of article is not really between two people in your essay, but more between you and the reader, with you stating and defending your point of view, while acknowledging that there is another way of looking at it. This applies whether the topic is about water or not.
There are different "types" of argumentative essays, all of which have you choosing a side from the beginning. The one I'll show you here is called the Rogerian Model—it requires you to present the other side in your essay at least a little. You "own" one side and argue for it. Then you acknowledge the opposite view . . . but not too convincingly.
Check the Writing Requirements
Most people write argumentative essays either for school or for their job, seldom for themselves, but you can. If you're writing for yourself, you can be pretty casual. If you're writing for someone else, there are specific requirements you'll want to find out about first:
- Does it have to cover a certain topic or can you choose your own?
- How long must it be? Under what conditions could it be shorter?
- Are specific types of graphics required (photos, graphs, charts)?
- Are there any research sources that are off limits? (Wikipedia used to be.)
- How should the references be written up and how many are required?
You will probably receive guidelines in writing. It's good to take those home overnight and look at them carefully, then imagine in your mind what your essay or article will look like, using those guidelines. Just get it fixed enough in your mind that you can forget about them, until you've finished writing and are ready to polish up. Then you can do a final check to make sure you got it all.
General Format of an Argumentative Essay
Here is the general format of a good Rogerial Model argument. Read this, then continue to the examples below.
- Topic introduction—This opening paragraph should state the article's purpose, what you're writing about and why, sometimes phrased as a question. Writing it first helps set the direction for your article, but polishing it is often left until last.
- Main argument (yours)—Here is where you lay out your side of the argument as Person A. You declare where you stand, then state each of your supporting points and go about proving it with your research—at least one paragraph for each point.
- Acknowledge the other side—This is where you say that you know there's another way of looking at it. Here you state the cons, according to Person B. You might add some justification for that point of view but, since you don't fully believe it, you won't go into much detail. If you do agree with one of their points, though, be ready to modify your own views.
- Conclusion—What did you end up with? Here you talk about how your thinking was justified, how you changed your mind with research, and/or how you realized that some of Person B's argument was valid. This section provides the final resolution to the argument.
Graphic Types & Their Uses
Graphics make an essay more interesting—they help the reader visualize what you're trying to say, which can help you win! Let's say your topic is whether or not Congress should finance the building of a real Los Angeles River. You're for it, but you know others think it's a waste of money.
The kinds of graphics you choose could show readers what the river looks like now, what it would look like when changed, who would benefit, and what those benefits would be.
Here are a number of different types of graphics you could use:
- a table to show the pros and cons of building the river
- photos to show what it looks like now, in all its ugliness, plus whatever areas are already restored
- graphs to show relative costs of different parts of the project
- a chart to show how much water could be prevented from running into the ocean
- a sketch or diagram of what the river would look like when completed
These types of graphics are what you would use to illustrate any topic. If you can't find enough for your topic, and you live around the area, you could always go photograph it yourself or create your own graphs from your research.
The Proposed Los Angeles River
How to Go About Writing the Article
Once you've got your essay's requirements in your mind and you're ready to proceed, here is how you would do it:
- Brainstorm (easy).
- Outline (easy).
- Develop your points of view (fun).
- Research and write the arguments (takes time).
- Analyze what you've written (takes thought).
- Look for any changes of understanding you made (interesting).
- Write your introduction and conclusion.
- Illustrate the article.
- Polish it up.
These are all standard steps that apply to any topic. The first example below shows a general experience of writing about an assigned topic. Example 2 will show you how to choose your own topic.
Example 1: Writing About an Assigned Topic
It's easier in some ways and harder in others to be assigned a topic by someone else. Easier, because choosing a topic is sometimes the hardest part of writing. Harder, because you might not know much about the topic, which means you'll have to research more and it will be more confusing at first. But if it's a topic you don't know, you could learn some fascinating stuff.
Let's say you live in Arizona, where retirement complexes are being built all over the place (which you sort of resent). You know the state is making money from them, but you also know the Colorado River is running dry, and these communities use a lot of water—including lots of lakes and golf courses.
Now you are assigned to write an article about the importance of leaving open space for groundwater absorption. How will you handle it?
You do your brainstorm, then start researching and make a stunning discovery: Groundwater keeps rivers running during the summer when there's no rain!
You immediately wonder, "Are these retirement communities using water from the river or from the ground? And if they're using up groundwater (or both), could that be one reason the Colorado River is running dry?"
You start by stating your case: That high aquifers are crucial to keeping the river full year round. That cities are a problem when they cover up the ground with concrete, so rain can't be absorbed. Therefore, cities need to make sure they leave open spaces, like parks with swales or big golf courses . . . wait.
You state your arguments, do your research to back up your arguments, present a bit of the opposite argument (for those who like cities and concrete) and, in the process, realize that retirement communities, with lakes and golf courses, actually are leaving open ground. Now you write your conclusion and include that realization . . . with the caveat that those lakes must have sandy bottoms, not concrete ones, and that they be shaded to minimize evaporation.
Leaving Space for Groundwater Absorption
Example 2: Choosing Your Own Topic
Choosing your own topic lets you personalize your article, which automatically makes it more interesting—both to read and to write. It also, surprisingly, makes it easier to write, since you'll usually already know something about it. There are dozens of water topics to choose from, and new ones being created every day with new problems and new innovations.
One quick way to choose is to think back to a real argument you had or overheard about water. Let's say you went for a walk with a friend of yours and they started making fun of people who use native plants in their landscape—especially instead of their lawn. You happened to believe that it's important not to waste water, so you got into an argument. Now you decide to explore that topic for your paper.
The first thing to do is brainstorm to show yourself what all is involved. If you use the spiderweb technique, it might look like this:
You can use this bubble chart to make an outline like this:
Saving Water With Native Plants
A) Introduction—Why save?
- Humans aren't the only ones needing water
- Wasting water wastes money too
- Using too much contributes to droughts
B) How do native plants save water? (this is your argument for it)
- Adapted to local weather conditions
- Once acclimated, don't need to water extra
- How much water could be saved? (My landlady could save $400 per month, if she didn't have any of her lawns.)
C) Native plant gardens can be attractive (still an argument for)
- Can use hybrids
- Design with pleasing colors and shapes
- Can attract native birds, butterflies, and insects
D) Lawn lovers say no (this is your argument against, followed by your defense)
- Lawns are great to play on . . . however, we never play on the lawn anymore. With a native garden we could add rock paths and benches, so we could sit and read and smell the flowers.
- Lawns look beautiful . . . a native garden can look beautiful too, if we design it well.
- Lawns are worth the extra water . . . nothing is worth the extra water, if we're running out. Saving water helps the environment and saves money too
F) Conclusion—I discovered that . . .
California Native Garden
Developing Your Point of View
Now you're in the meat of your investigation, which should be really interesting. Here are the stages you'll go through, if you do it the way I do:
- Define your two sides (points of view). Turn each side into questions you can investigate. For example: What would it take to turn a reclamation pond into a public park? How much would it cost? What if nobody came?
- Research for good articles, question by question. As you read them, discard the ones that only have a little (or duplicate) information.
- Start your reference section at the bottom of your paper by pasting a link for each good article. You can put it in proper format later.
- Write answers to the questions in your own words, based on what you're finding in your research.
- When you've finished both the pros and cons, take out all the questions and just leave the answers. You'll be surprised how it already sounds like an essay.
By this time, you should be understanding your topic a whole lot better. Some of what you've learned will have verified what you already suspected. Some of it will have surprised you. Some of it may have changed your mind a little. Now it's time to write the conclusion.
Reclamation Pond as Public Park
Writing a Conclusion & Rewriting the Introduction
Conclusion—The conclusion shows how your argument was resolved, and how your research supported and/or changed it. Do you believe the same as when you started or did something change? Write it down. Your reader wants to know how you were affected by the research and what you ended up believing.
Introduction—Now it's time to check the introduction. That's because what you said you would do might not be the way the paper turned out. Take a break to refresh your mind, then read the paper again to see the trend of it. Now write a new introduction, or modify your existing one, to reflect what you really wrote about. That way the reader will know where you're headed and what to expect.
If you said you'd write about the role water plays in the body, for example, but then you actually focused on how important it is to drink healthy water (related, but not the same), you can reword your introduction to emphasize drinking healthy water. Once done with that, it's time to illustrate.
Drinking Water Is Important
Choose & Place Illustrations
Hopefully you've been finding good illustrations as you did your research. If not, or if you're missing some, Wikipedia is a good place to find photos and, sometimes, graphs. Educational institutions are good places too.
Most graphics are copyrighted, but are available to use for non-commercial purposes—like student essays or non-profit publications, like brochures. You can write your keywords in a search engine, click on "images" and search to find a whole collection of photos. If you want a chart, make it part of your keyword when you do a web search, i.e. "Los Angeles River, chart." Look at the urls of each search result, then open the non-commercial sites to see if they have graphics you can use.
If you're writing an article that's for a magazine or for-profit publication, you'll need to be more careful about copyrights. Most magazines take their own photos.
Be sure to insert the graphics next to their related text. Also try not to let too much text go by without a graphic of some sort. You can often convey additional information through the captions you use for each graphic.
Polish It Up
The last step of writing anything—letters, speeches, articles of all sorts—is to polish it up. In other words, you've got to do a final edit. That means going back from beginning to end and reading what you wrote, ready to change whatever is weird:
- Add more information wherever one topic jumps to another that doesn't seem directly related.
- Correct words that are spelled wrong, including where you've used the wrong word, like "their" instead of "they're" or "right" instead of "write."
- Shorten phrases that are too long and winding that could be better said with just a few words.
- Change passive voice, like "it was stated that . . ." into the active voice, like "so and so stated that."
- Check to see that your illustrations are in the best place.
- Make sure the introduction really says what the paper will be about.
- Make sure the conclusion really follows from the points you raised in the paper.
- Make sure the title of your paper fits everything too. Change it, if it doesn't.
- Check the writing requirements to make sure you've met them all.
Your paper should end up flowing smoothly from beginning to end, where each paragraph follows sensibly from the one before. And your reader should end up feeling satisfied that they just read and understood a great argument that had a sensible conclusion.