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Advice for Writing an Argumentative Graduate Level Paper

written by: •edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 12/31/2010

By the time you get to graduate school, you may or may not have had the opportunity to write other argumentative papers. Regardless of your paper-writing experience, much more in terms of style and expertise will be expected of you when writing an argumentative graduate level paper. Find tips here.

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    Writing an Argumentative Graduate Level Paper Requires Forethought

    Which do you think is easier: tug-of-war or writing an argumentative graduate level paper? No matter what your discipline is, chances are that while you are in graduate school, you will be asked to show your understanding and mastery of a topic in seminar by writing an argumentative graduate level paper. Before you bite your fingernails down, empty your coffee pot, or participate in other self-soothing activities brought on by the threat of a stressful event, take a deep breath. I'm going to let you in on a secret: Writing an argumentative graduate level paper isn't as difficult as you think it is. "Great," you may say, "this is coming from a philosopher--you excel at argument." While that's true, the art of skillful argumentation is a trick everyone is able to learn.

    The first thing you need to do when planning for writing your argumentative paper is determine what you think your argument might be. By solidifying your own position you will take in the paper, before you do outside research, you can start to formulate your argument--and understand what a valid counter argument might look like. Then, you should compile your potential list of references. Don't overlook references in foreign languages that you speak--that, after all, is why the language requirement was imposed on you by your department.

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    Researching for Your Argumentative Graduate Level Paper

    When you're researching an argumentative paper for graduate school, you will want to categorize your findings into three areas: scholars who agree with your position, neutral scholars, and scholars who disagree with your position. By grouping your findings, you'll discover whether or not the argument you wish to pose is feasible. If you find that only two people are proponents of your position, but fifty oppose it, you'll want to either adjust your argument or make a good argument as to why the fifty individuals are wrong and your position is correct. Be sure that those who agree with you are recently published. One of the worst things to happen to a graduate student is posing an argument for a theory that has long been discounted.

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    Organizing Your Graduate Level Argumentative Paper

    Once you've completed your research (you did document your sources accurately, right?), then you can begin to organize your paper. The best way to organize an argumentative paper at the graduate level is as follows:

    • Introduction: tell your reader what you hope to argue, who in the literature supports your argument, and who opposes your argument and why.
    • First section: in this section, you will set up the background of the argument. What are the historical positions on this topic? Make sure you give equal treatment to both supporting and opposing sides; otherwise, you could be accused of setting up a straw man.
    • Second section: here you will develop your particular position. Explain to your readers why it is that you take this position and cite places in the literature where your position is supported.
    • Third section: the opponent's response to your argument. If you anticipate the response of the opposition, you can show your readers that your position has been well thought out. By demonstrating that you have an answer to the concerns brought forth by the opposition, you can demonstrate your prowess at rhetoric.
    • Conclusion: restate what you argued, why you argued it, why someone might argue against you, and why they are wrong.

    NOTE: While in undergrad, it is sufficient to analyze the arguments of others, as a graduate student, you will be expected to pose your own original argument. So it will not be enough to find someone who agrees with you. Instead, you have to demonstrate why they are correct, how their argument could be further supported by your claims, etc.

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    Getting Ready to Submit Your Paper

    At the graduate level, it is absolutely unacceptable to turn in a paper with typos, spelling errors, or grammatical errors. Professors at this level will expect you to turn in work that, if original, could be published in a scholarly journal. Moreover, you will want to consider submitting your work at the graduate level to journals and professional conferences in order to get a jump start on your career. Rather than looking at graduate school as a continuation of college, you should instead look at graduate school as the beginning of your professional journey. Never turn in anything less than your best work and never wait until the last minute to write your graduate school argumentative paper.

    Finally, if you have time, see if you can exchange papers with a fellow student that you trust and get their feedback on the paper you have written. A second set of eyes can often point out holes in your argument, spot typos you missed, and give you further information to think about before turning in a final draft of your paper. It is not uncommon for graduate students to revise their arguments multiple times before turning their final papers.