In writing, an argument is a way in which one proves a thesis or main idea of an essay or longer researched writing. This is often confused with writing contentious work that deliberately attacks or inflames an opposing viewpoint without support. The argument is actually the support of the main theme, and is not an opinion, and is based on facts and evidence.
For example, a person might write an essay with a thesis statement like the following: “Charles Dickens’ work, Little Dorrit, shows great opposition to the idea of imprisonment for debt.” The argument would then consist of examples from the novel that would support this thesis. One might also evaluate, cite, or refer to other’s opinions on this thesis to further strengthen the essay.
Generally, proof is virtually impossible, but support is fairly easy to find with a good thesis. In the above thesis example, few people would argue to the contrary, so the argument is fairly easy to make. Certain topics are much more difficult to take on and construct a well-supported essay. These include hot topics like the death penalty, abortion, or euthanasia.
The difficulty with these contentious issues is that the author is most likely to find a lot of information that supports both sides of these issues. Further, this support may be based in appeals to emotion, rather than actual factual references. While one could argue a pro-life stance and cite that the number of abortions has increased dramatically since Roe versus Wade, others could argue that there is no way to compare modern statistics to illegal, unrecorded abortions.
Since these statistics are debatable, such a thesis is often supported by moral viewpoints. No matter how strongly one believes in a particular side, an argument consisting of moral viewpoints is not strong. As well, if someone is arguing a thesis where people are likely to hold strong opinions, the writer runs the risk of incensing those grading the paper. So for example, if a person writes a pro-life essay, he or she might annoy a pro-choice teacher, especially if it is nearly impossible to defend the position in a factual way.
It is much easier to produce a well-supported paper when the issue is non-contentious, and it is conducted in a way that leaves the writer’s opinion out. An opinion is implied in a thesis statement. Generally, most essays do not base arguments on “I think, “ or “I feel.” Instead, the thesis is supported by what others have said or proved, or what can be proven by assessing evidence. An author can certainly write an opinion piece, and some opinion pieces are convincing, but from a rhetorical standpoint, they do not carry the strength of true argument.
A writer can come up with a wholly original thesis based on his or her opinion and then attempt to prove it. When much proof can be found for an opinion, the argument can be very successful indeed. Most often, the most important factor is sufficient evidence, not whether the thesis is in fact true. It may have no truth value, but merely asserts the likeliness of a thesis through sufficient use of evidence.