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Essay Tips: Structuring an Argument

By Leia Ransley

Structuring an argument is never going to be the easiest thing in the world and some weeks you will feel that your essay is just not actually getting to the point. Don’t worry, you are definitely not the first, nor will you be the last person to feel like this. Believe it or not but being at Oxford doesn’t give you some magical ability to write perfect essays all the time!

Throughout your time here, you will find that your writing style evolves and changes with you and it will become easier to structure an argument over time: practice makes perfect is certainly not amiss here. In the meantime, here’s some tips on how to structure your argument at the point of writing:

*To preface, please apply this advice to your own writing process, as it works best when you work with it alongside what you can already do!*

  • Intellectual hesitation is productive!

Write your initial thoughts, even if they don’t sound all that intellectual, because rewriting, reshaping or even cutting is more useful than staring at a blank page! It also gives you a starting point from which to think about what your argument is meant to be doing.

  • Don’t be afraid to start general

Generalisations in a finished essay aren’t great, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them to get to another place. Ask yourself: why are you wanting to say this? The answer will usually help to turn this into an actual argument. If it doesn’t, or you can’t answer your own question, it’s probably not worth keeping – so delete it and move on!

  • Introductions

Say what you plan to do – establishing this from the beginning usually means that you’ll follow that plan throughout the essay. If you do this, you’ve structured your essay!

  • Examples

Use them! If you’ve made a point with no example, it’s probably more assertion than argument. On this, don’t be afraid to spend a while discussing one example if you can explore it well and it supports your argument.

  • Question Links

Be confident that when you have made an explicit link to the question, you can connect to it throughout as long as you are consistent in what you are saying. Repeating the question every paragraph is more likely to take away from your argument than enhance it. Having consistency in your argument helps to answer the question more than you repeatedly telling whoever is reading that you’re answering the question.

  • Condensing

The editing process is your friend, especially with a limited word count! If you feel an argument is repetitive, it probably is. Then, it would be more useful to cut that and use the words to enhance your argument elsewhere.

  • Conclusion

Yes, assert your argument. But free to play with how conclusions can support your argument beyond just repeating it. It’s your essay, think about how you want to finish it!

  • Always

Go back to your introduction once the essay has finished (or even write it after you’ve written everything else!) to make sure that what you’ve said your argument is can be found in the essay. If something is missing, your argument needs to be restructured, or your introduction needs to be edited to reflect what your argument actually is.

  • Most importantly

Lead with the power of your own voice! Don’t let essays become a record of what critics you’ve read (although this is still important!) but of what you have read, understood, and analysed. If you don’t lead with your own voice, it’s probably not the argument you want to make!


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