There's nothing like a good argument to get the adrenaline flowing and the brain cells clicking. Whether it's you and your brother arguing about the latest pitcher acquisition for the Red Sox or your banker brother-in-law and Aunt Glad (former union organizer and socialist) having a grand set-to about the incredible salaries of American CEOs, arguing is a fundamental and exciting activity. It doesn't exactly set us apart from the other animals — cats and dogs have been arguing for eons — but the allegedly high level of our discourse and our ability to sustain argument and to change our behavior based on what we learn from argument is surely a hallmark of what it means to be human.

How, though, do we argue in a paper, where there is only one of us, the writer? The argumentative essay has to take into consideration the fact that the writer is the only one who has permission to speak; he or she holds the floor, the gavel, and the microphone all at once. What counts in an argumentative essay, then, is the writer's ability to create a sense of interior debate, of allowing other voices their say, and maintaining equilibrium among those voices. It's a matter of fairness and reasonableness.

One stylistic point: it is probably more true of the argumentative essay than it is of the other kinds of essays that we must be very careful of transitions, the devices we use to move from one point to another, to hold ideas together for comparison's sake, to create and organize landmarks along the path of our thinking. Before writing an argumentative essay, it might be a good idea to review the section on Coherence: Transitions Between Ideas. (Later, we will see transitional devices at work in a sample argumentative essay.)

In this section of Principles of Composition we will explore some of the techniques of argument that might come into play in argumentative essays.

The sub-sections of this part of Principles of Composition should probably be read in the following order: