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Scholarly Persuasion: How To Make an Academic Argument

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Whether we think about it consciously or not, our lives revolve around persuasion. Whenever someone watches an advertisement, argues with a friend about the merits of a book or movie, or leaves a contrary comment on a blog post, that person is engaging in the act of persuasion. With that said, formalizing an argument in the classroom can seem difficult, so many writers dread the idea of taking a stance in a persuasive assignment. However, whether the goal is to produce a persuasive paragraph or a 20-page persuasive essay, most persuasive assignments contain similar elements.

Scholarly Persuasion: How to make an academic argument


Before looking at the basic structure of an argument, it’s important to consider that scholarly arguments are not combative or based on opinion. Rather, a scholarly argument is a stance or a position on a topic that can be argued. Scholars create academic arguments based on evidence within research articles or other scholarly sources rather than assumptions and opinions about a topic.

As an example, could I make a scholarly argument that chocolate is very tasty? Probably not, because whether or not chocolate is tasty depends on personal preference and opinion (spoiler alert: Chocolate is tasty). However, could I make an argument that chocolate helps students improve their grades? Now I’m on the right track, as long as I can find scholarly evidence that eating chocolate improves focus or leads to better test grades in a controlled study (wishful thinking, I know). In other words, in order to make an argument, a writer must first choose a debatable topic rooted in evidence and create a position on that topic that others could respond to with counterarguments and evidence.

When writing a persuasive assignment, the first step is to choose a topic that you can argue. If you have a choice of topics, try not to choose on instinct. Instead, try some brainstorming exercises for each possible topic and see which topics lead to the most writing and critical thinking. You might find that one of the topics produces more content during your brainstorming session, even though you originally preferred another topic. Using prewriting techniques such as brainstorming can help you ensure that you meet the assignment length guidelines.

Once you have chosen a topic and a position on the selected topic, you can separate the persuasive assignment into a few different elements:

Context/Background: Your readers should know why this topic is an issue. In other words, why is there a debate about this topic? What makes this topic important to debate? Is there any background information or history that readers need to know about the topic to understand the argument? Providing context for your argument can help readers better understand your position.

Thesis statement/Main idea: The thesis statement is the main argument of your paper. Although the placement of the thesis statement varies, scholars in the United States often place the thesis statement at the end of the introductory paragraph. If the goal is to write a persuasive paragraph, however, the thesis statement might be the very first sentence of the paragraph. Where the thesis statement belongs in your paper depends on the overall length and goals of the assignment.

Evidence: In order to support your thesis statement, you’ll want to include evidence from scholarly sources. Generally, evidence from scholarly publications is more credible than personal anecdotes and experience because other scholars can access this information and draw conclusions about it, whereas they’re unable to access the experiences of other scholars. However, some assignments will call for use of personal experience, so your course instructor is always your best resource if you’re unsure of what kind of evidence to include.

Counterargument: When writing a persuasive essay, writers will generally consider the counterarguments ahead of time, which means that they will consider how other scholars might argue against the thesis statement and respond to those counterarguments in the paper. A counterargument template for my chocolate argument might look like this: Although some may argue that eating too much chocolate contributes to poor health, limiting the amount of chocolate consumed to X amount can help students reap the benefits of chocolate in their schoolwork while avoiding health issues. While adding counterarguments might not be necessary for a persuasive paragraph, considering the counterarguments can help you ensure that you have created a sound argument.

Conclusion: After you finish adding evidence, the next step will be to conclude the argument. For a persuasive assignment, the conclusion generally contains a summary of the argument for readers and the next steps. In other words, what do you want readers to know or do overall? Answering this question can help you wrap up your argument, whether you’re writing a persuasive essay or paragraph.

Now that you know the elements of a scholarly argument, let’s look at an example persuasive paragraph about the aforementioned (delicious!) topic:

Context/Background: Chocolate is generally regarded as junk food rather than health food in the court of public opinion. Thesis statement: However, consuming small amounts of chocolate can help students improve their focus and concentration in their studies. Evidence: According to Doe (2016), students who consumed chocolate before a test scored higher than students who did not consume chocolate. Students who want to improve their coursework might benefit from consuming chocolate before studying or taking exams. Counterargument: Although some may argue that eating too much chocolate contributes to poor health, limiting the amount of chocolate consumed to X amount can help students reap the benefits of chocolate in their schoolwork while avoiding health issues. Conclusion: Overall, consuming chocolate in large quantities is not recommended for a balanced diet, but small amounts of chocolate may help students improve the quality of their schoolwork.
Although the amount and type of evidence and the inclusion of counterarguments might vary based on the specific assignment, most persuasive assignments contain the above elements. Once you have added the above elements to a persuasive paper, you have created a scholarly argument!

Using prewriting techniques and considering all angles of your argument can help you persuade your audience to think the way you do about a given topic. In addition, the background information, thesis statement, scholarly evidence, counterargument, and conclusion provide the structure of a strong scholarly argument. I hope that this discussion provides insight into persuasive assignments, but if you want more information and a chance to practice creating scholarly arguments, I recommend watching our Writing Center webinar Building and Organizing Academic Arguments. In the meantime, we’d love to know what you find most difficult about completing persuasive assignments in the comments.


Katherine McKinney author image

Katherine McKinney is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She received an M.A. in English from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at Walden. Katherine's goal as an instructor is to show students that the best writing results from practice, and she aims to provide feedback and resources that will guide students through the invention, composition, and revision process.

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Thursday Thoughts: Thinking about Word Choice

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Your 15-page essay may seem like a single, gigantic document, but in reality it’s a lot of sections, which are made up of a lot of paragraphs, which are constructed from a lot of sentences, which are collections of a lot of words. Word choice the smallest building block of your writing, and in academic forms there are a few things to consider.

Thinking about word choice

Academic writers have to consider how to use professional language while keeping it accessible and without relying on jargon. They have to choose words and phrases that are specific and accurate, while being sure not to misrepresent any ideas or present an inappropriate tone. Balancing all of these things at once can be difficult, but here on the blog we have shared some tips for addressing word choice concerns and helping you build your academic vocabulary:




The Walden Writing Center provides writing resources and support for all student writers including paper reviews, a podcast, live chat, webinars, modules, and of course a blog.


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Put Away the Salt Shaker: Avoiding Unnecessary Commas in Writing

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Imagine the following scenario: You have just completed a paper you needed to write for a course. You haven’t started revising yet, but you scroll through the paper, feeling proud of your accomplishment. Suddenly, you notice that something is missing. Or that a lot of little somethings are missing. Uh, oh. Your paper is entirely free of commas. You quickly move through the paper, inserting commas where they “feel” necessary. Aren’t commas usually added where people pause in speech? Using what is commonly known as the salt-shaker method, you pepper your writing with commas intuitively, hoping for the best.

A close up of a line of salt shakers. One has fallen and spilled on the table


Does this scenario sound familiar? I used the salt-shaker method of adding commas to writing for many years. Wherever I thought I would pause in a sentence if I was reading out loud, I would add a comma. After I completed a few grammar courses, I learned all of the grammatical situations where a comma is necessary. As it turns out, comma usage is based on specific rules rather than on where a given reader would pause in reading a sentence! For a refresher on when to use commas, I recommend our blog post about the three most important rules for using commas.

With that said, even after learning the rules for using commas, I still ended up with quite a few commas in my writing that weren’t necessary. Although it takes time and practice to perfect use of commas, below I’ve provided some general situations in writing where commas are unnecessary:

1. Commas should not separate two parts of a compound construction. While you will use a comma between two independent clauses separated with a coordinating conjunction, you will not use a comma when you are listing paired elements.

Example: I like to walk, and run.

This comma is incorrect because “run” is not a complete sentence. Instead, you are pairing the elements “walk” and “run.”

Corrected: I like to walk and run.

2. Commas should not separate the subject from the verb of a sentence. Complex subjects containing source material can sometimes seem to need a comma before the action of the sentence, so you may find it helpful to shorten the subject in your head to see if you would still place a comma after it.

Example 1: The history of the No Child Left Behind Act, helps me to understand the implementation.

This comma is incorrect because it separates the subject (the history) from the action (helps) of the sentence. You could simplify the sentence in this way:

The history . . .  helps me to understand the implementation.

Because you wouldn’t add a comma between “history” and “helps” in the above sentence, you wouldn’t add it in the prior sentence.

Corrected: The history of the No Child Left Behind Act helps me to understand the implementation.

Example 2: Doe (2016), found a correlation between teacher efficacy and training in writing instruction.

This comma is incorrect because it separates the subject (Doe) from the action (found). The addition of the parenthetical citation can be confusing, but the grammar rule still applies.

Corrected: Doe (2016) found a correlation between teacher efficacy and training in writing instruction.

3. A comma should not be used after although. It can be tempting to add a comma after although because the word seems to be a transition word. However, although is instead a subordinating conjunction that means “in spite of the fact that.” Although is connected to the phrase following it, so use of although doesn’t require a comma. It can be helpful to note that you will use however if you mean to say “in contrast” and although if you mean to say “in spite of the fact that.”

Example 1: Although, there are many reasons to use technology, some reasons are more important than others.

The first comma is incorrect because the writer means to say “in spite of the fact that.”

Corrected: Although there are many reasons to use technology, some reasons are more important than others.

Example 2: Although, Doe (2016) did acknowledge technology’s overall importance in teaching.

The comma and use of although are incorrect because the writer means to say “in contrast” here.

Corrected: However, Doe (2016) did acknowledge technology’s overall importance in teaching.

In sum, it is as important to know where commas don’t belong as where they do belong! The above list is not exhaustive, but it includes some of the most common unnecessary commas that I see in my work with students at the Walden University Writing Center. Learning the above rules can encourage you to feel confident as you revise your papers for comma usage and can help you put away the comma salt shaker for good. If you’re hungry for more information about using commas, I recommend testing your knowledge with one of our quizzes and letting us know in the comments how you approach adding commas to your writing! 


Katherine McKinney author image

Katherine McKinney is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She received an M.A. in English from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at Walden. Katherine's goal as an instructor is to show students that the best writing results from practice, and she aims to provide feedback and resources that will guide students through the invention, composition, and revision process.

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WriteCast Episode 46: Inclusive Language: Gender-Neutral Pronouns and Identity-First Language

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In today's episode of WriteCast, we're testing the social change capabilities of language itself. Staff in the Walden University Writing Center support the research of Walden's scholar-practitioners in the areas of social change, and we also seek to support positive social change in how we think about and practice language. With that in mind, Max and Claire are joined by two very special guests in today's episode. 

Director of the Writing Center, Brian Timmerman and Associate Director of the Writing Center, Amber Cook chat about two new language policies enacted by the Writing Center. These special guests discuss the new Gender-Neutral Pronouns policy and the Identity-First Language policy that Walden students, faculty, and staff will be interested to note. 

You can find this episode by visiting the WriteCast show page on our website, or by searching for WriteCast in your favorite podcast app. Visit the Writing Center's WriteCast page for our episode archive and transcripts. 

Keep Writing. Keep Inspiring.


WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers is a monthly podcast written, produced, and published by staff in the Walden University Writing Center. Join us each month for a dialogue between two experienced and trained writing instructors. Possible episode topics will always be considered from listeners--share your questions and suggestions in the comments. 


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Advice for Writers: Write First, Write Every Day

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If you, like me, are hungry for academic writing advice, two suggestions will come up again and again: write first, and write every day. Today, I’d like to think through how that advice might apply to Walden students, many of whom are caring for family members and working in their fields while completing their studies.

Solitary writing desk with typewriter and lamp. Text: "Advice for Writers: Write first, write everyday


Write First
In her book Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, Joan Bolker explains a piece of advice given to her by her own adviser: “write first.” She outlines two different meanings for this advice. First, put your writing first. Make earning your degree a priority in your life rather than something that you squeeze in around the edges. Second, write first thing in the morning, before the rest of your life has a chance to get in the way.

I recommend interpreting this advice loosely and “writing first” by thinking about what time of day you have the most energy and the best ability to focus and, if possible, blocking that time off on your calendar for your writing. If that’s not a possibility because of your other obligations, that’s just fine, but try to avoid sitting down to write at your lowest energy times of day. You’ll likely find that you are able to produce much more writing—and probably better writing at that—if you write during a time of day when you feel energized.

As I examined the daily rhythms of my own energy levels, I found that I was best able to focus on my writing either first thing in the morning, before the chaos of the day had begun, or after my son had gone to bed and my work was finished for the day. However, when I tried to write in the evenings, I was simply too tired to accomplish much. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I now wake up early to write before my son wakes up and I need to go to work. I have to go to bed early to make this schedule work, but it’s worth it to me to have some dedicated time to focus, and I love beginning my day with a sense of accomplishment.

Write Every Day
The other piece of advice you’ll often see is to write every day. Write at least X number of words or pages each day. Write even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t worry if it’s bad; just write.

Some writers take a very narrow interpretation of this advice. They sit down at their desk at the designated time each day, and they don’t leave until they reach their target number of words or pages. Depending on your circumstances and the kind of project you are working on, this may work for you.

Other writers use a broad definition of the term “writing,” thinking of it as an umbrella that covers researching, reading, brainstorming, prewriting, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, and anything else that relates to a writing project. If you’ve ever felt down on yourself because you don’t think you’re a very productive writer, a definition like this might be good for your relationship with writing: maybe you haven’t written any new words today, but what have you done to move your writing project and your degree forward?

Writing every single day might not be a possibility for you right now, and again, that’s okay. The important thing here is consistency. If you can manage to do a little something on your writing project or coursework each day, that will keep it fresh in your mind. If not, schedule consistent times to work, and make sure that you show up for them (unless you’re sick or have an emergency, of course).

I find that working on my writing project every day helps me feel like I’m always moving forward, but that doesn’t always mean new words on the page. For example, on a recent morning, I only had half an hour to write, so I spent my time thinking through next steps on my project and ordered some library books. These weren’t glamorous tasks, but they needed to get done. When I have a longer stretch to work this weekend, I’ll be able to take full advantage of it because I will have a plan and the resources I need.

How might you adjust your schedule to write first and write every day? We’d love to hear how you make space for your writing in your busy life.

If you’re interested in learning more about writing strategies like these, we recommend checking out Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day.


Cheryl Read Author Image

Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She loves finding strategies for writing to be a less painful--and even enjoyable--process. When she’s not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and working on her dissertation.



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