By Stewart Matzek
What’s an argumentative essay? Sure, it’s a sort of compact portfolio of your ideas, your presentation of some argument on a random topic that, most likely, you don’t feel a particularly strong connection to. However, the fact that you may not have a strong opinion on your topic doesn’t mean that your paper has to reveal that. Professors are going to want to see that your paper argues a point and argues it well, and often that means taking a definitive stance on an issue. It can be tough to do this, especially if it is an issue you don’t feel comfortable taking a stance on.
I see very often language that mimics the basic structure of floppiness on the side of an issue: “I think that” or “This perhaps suggests” or “I hope that the data shows.” While it may not seem that explaining your thoughts in a paper is a weak argumentative technique, it is. Why are we reading the paper? To read and to interpret your thoughts. This means, however, that you don’t need to explain them using the floppy language mentioned above. This language, then, serves only to weaken what would otherwise be a strong argument. This is the result of students either not wanting to take a definitive stance on an issue or not feeling sure enough of themselves and of their arguments to be able to make a strong point, and they create weaker papers using weaker language due to this insecurity. That being said, my advice is this:
Do it anyways. Make your argument!
Even if you’re unsure of the evidence and even if you’re unsure if the point you’re trying to prove is “the right one,” make your argument, because that’s just what it is – your argument. There’s a strange misconception amongst student writers that professors want you to make some groundbreaking argument, something that’s never been said before, maybe never even thought of before. This simply isn’t true! Whatever that thought bouncing around in your head is, it has probably been said before, and more often than not it’s been said by a scholar in some journal using tons of stuffy language.
What your professors are looking for is an argument that is definitive. The content of your argument is important, but even a rehashed argument can be strong if it employs strong language and support. Papers that are trying to prove something, whether it be about a real issue or about a point of view in a novel or story, succeed on the basis of persuasiveness, and this persuasive quality comes directly from being able to make a strong case. Even weird or otherwise off-base arguments can be proven if argued strongly. Where do we start to make this case, then?
By using stronger language, of course!
Why would you ever say “perhaps this evidence can show” when you can say “this evidence proves” or “this evidence clearly shows”? If you were a scientist presenting a radical medical treatment for a disease to an advisory board, would you say “this maybe could possibly somehow cure the disease” or would you say “this can cure the disease”? It is this definitive language that creates a definitive argument. Being able to clearly and concisely identify your point and to communicate it effectively is a highly necessary skill, and you can help yourself along this path by avoiding weak language. Delete the “perhaps” and the “I think” and focus on what you’re arguing. Own up to your point and prove it with pride. Students fall too often into the trap of floppy language, and using these unsure words can weaken even the most innovative of arguments. Cut out the middle man and tell your professor exactly what you’ve found. They’ll appreciate your conviction, and your argument will be stronger and more persuasive as a result.