How to Reverse Engineer an Argumentative Essay
If you try to google “how to write an argumentative essay,” you’ll get thousands of results. Skim a post or five, and you’ll notice they are all the same, advising on how to write an introduction or formulate a thesis statement. They are all correct, yet equally unhelpful.
If it’s your first attempt to write an argumentative essay or any other assignment, generic advice won’t do any good. What you need is another approach, and that’s what we offer. Instead of telling you what you need to do, we suggest you treat this assignment as you would moving your favorite couch or desk to a new place. First, you need to disassemble the furniture, take photos and note how different pieces fit together and then reverse the process to get the same impressive result.
Disclaimer: We don’t promote plagiarism or urge you to rewrite others’ work and submit as your own. Instead, in a true scientific manner, we suggest you use award-winning examples to understand what makes argumentative essays tick, and learn to craft your arguments like a pro. Our method is suitable for up to three pieces, then you should be able to keep the best practices of argumentative writing in mind and apply them to your assignment.
Find a Worthy Example to Follow
You can browse our argumentative essay examples or use any other database, but remember these samples are provided by students, and there is no telling what grades these papers got. Instead, look for essay contests and use winning entries as your guidelines. When you are picking an essay competition, pay attention to:
- Age groups. Some contests are suitable only for high schoolers or college students, while others allow submissions across a variety of age groups and academic levels. Make sure the sample you choose comes from your peer group to ensure it fits the requirements of your school.
- Essay type. Many competitions call for reflective or narrative essays, short stories, or poems. Do not use them to model your argumentative paper. Instead, look for contests that raise controversial questions and require references; they will probably award argumentative or persuasive pieces.
- Submission subjects. Some contests allow writers to select exciting topics, others provide several choices, while the third group set one question for everyone. To make most of the essay sample, ensure it fits your class curriculum; otherwise, you’ll have trouble transferring the argumentative writing principles to your paper.
- Contest credibility. Academic writing companies use essay competitions to pad their paper databases and attract new customers, but you can never be sure whether their winners are worthy role models. Look for established contests held by newspapers, magazines, international or local organizations. They usually post several winning entries across the years.
Here are the essay competitions that reliably produce great winning entries worthy of your time:
- New York Times Student Editorial Contest
- JFK Library Profile in Courage Essay Contest
- American Foreign Service High School Essay Contest
- Fraser Institute Student Essay Contest
- Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation Essay Contest
If you find other essay contests with excellent winning entries, let us know, and we’ll add them to our list!
Start with the first place winner and go down the list until you find an essay that hits all your buttons. However, do not procrastinate by reading endless sample papers, this will discourage you instead of motivating. Set a limit at 3 to 5 essays and settle on one sample you want to reverse engineer. If it doesn’t perform well, you can pick another entry for your next assignment.
Read and Analyze the Sample
Print out your chosen essay or copy the text into a separate file and prepare for highlighting and note-taking. As you read it for the first time, use one color to highlight the phrases or sentences that strike a chord, seem most potent. Use other colors to mark different structural elements: thesis statement, transitions, topic sentences, evidence, analysis. Alternatively, you can copy the phases or passages into a table with columns named after these structural elements.
After your sample is all colored-in, let it settle in your mind, and jot down answers to these questions:
- Which angle does the author use to cover the subject?
- What is the writer’s stance on the topic?
- What are the strongest and weakest points the author makes?
- How would you strengthen the weak arguments?
- How does the writer connect different part of the essay into the whole?
Break down the Structure
It is useful to think of every critical piece of the paper as a structure, not content. For example, if we consider an argumentative essay thesis statement, it should reflect your stance on the issue, list the critical arguments to support your claim and possibly include the counterargument you want to rebuke.
The same principle applies to larger pieces of the paper, like body paragraphs. They usually include a topic sentence, evidence from one or more references along with citations, their analysis and the transition to the next point. There might be interesting and unique structures in the essay samples you use; transfer them into your paper if they would benefit your writing.
At a larger scale, the whole essay may also be structured differently. Some argumentative essay topics shine with a simple five-paragraph structure that sandwiches three points between an introduction and a conclusion. Other papers rely on rebutting the counterargument first and listing supporting points afterward. You can also alternate pro and con claims from one passage to the next to keep the readers on their toes. Consider these options and reverse outline your sample to keep your writing on the straight and narrow:
- Create the first-level outline by writing a generic title for each passage (i.e., Intro, Pro 1, Con 1, Pro 2, Conclusion).
- Add a second level to the outline by listing the main components of each part without adding topic-specific details (i.e., Intro: dictionary definition, a short personal anecdote, thesis statement).
- Include word count to your outline to help you plan your writing (i.e., thesis statement – 50 words).
- Copy the reverse outline and cross out the elements you don’t want to use, add new components that will strengthen your argument, and calculate the acceptable word count for each block to fit your professor’s requirements.
Find the Right Issue
You can complete all the steps up to this point without settling on a topic, but any further progress is possible only if you know what your paper needs to discuss. Professors are sneaky and want to shift the responsibility of topic selection onto you, claiming free will is a blessing. However, endless possibilities can drive the most stable students up the wall and eat up your time better spent writing than agonizing over the topic selection. If you are fresh out of ideas, check out our list of argumentative essay topics. Pick a couple and pitch them to your professor and let them help you settle on the final choice.
If you don’t find any suitable options on our list, you can look for inspiration using:
- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr
- Newsfeeds of credible papers and magazines
- The talk around campus
- Your professor’s published works
- Class curriculum and additional reading
- Google Scholar, Academia.edu, ResearchGate, DeepDyve
If possible, get your professor’s approval of the final topic before you move on to research and writing; otherwise, you will waste time and effort without getting the grade you want.
Put your Template to Use
Research is an inevitable part of writing an argumentative essay, but having a plan beforehand helps speed up the process and achieve quick results. By this point, you should know how many arguments you want to make to support your stance and how many counterarguments you wish to refute. You should also have an idea of the number of sources necessary, either from your essay prompt or your preliminary outline.
- Start with collecting the required number of references plus a few additional sources.
- Read and take notes on all possible arguments that support your stance and the compelling opposing claims.
- Use this list to narrow down your options according to the outline.
- Experiment with different orders to find the sequence that enhances the impact.
- Add topic-specific information from the sources to your preliminary outline to make it usable and helpful during the writing stage.
- Specify the particular claims for each body paragraph, include the quotes you want to use and summarize your analysis using short sentences.
- Once the main arguments are in place, draft a thesis statement to use in your introduction and conclusion.
Fill in the Blanks
At this stage, you should have a comprehensive outline of your argumentative essay along with sources and a draft of the thesis statement. You should also know how long each of your paper’s building blocks should be. There is no need to agonize over how to start an argumentative essay or the best way to wrap it up. All you have to do now is fill in the blanks.
Even if writing the paper was intimidating at first, after all the preliminary work you have a list of manageable tasks, each only 50 to 150 words long. You can write this much text in 5 minutes or less, as all the necessary information is already in your head. Make a pact with yourself to write at least one block a day, and within two weeks your 1500 word essay will be done!
If you are more of a “rip it off like a band-aid” student, use the brain dump or freewriting method to get everything on paper in a single sitting. With a detailed outline, it should be a piece of cake. This way, you will also have the time to take a break and come back for editing and proofreading with fresh eyes.
In case the pre-writing steps took too much time, you can upload your outline to our order form and let our writers complete the final stages for you. This way, you won’t feel guilty for taking a shortcut, and the paper will turn out exactly as you want it to be.
Check the Paper Before Submission
Those essay contest winners do not get first place and prize money by submitting their entries the moment they were complete. Instead, they follow in the steps of professional writers who divide their time equally between writing and editing. If you wish for a high grade, do not neglect this final step.
The easiest way to check how closely your paper resembles the chosen template is to repeat the reverse outlining step. This time, summarize your own piece without including many topic-related details. Compare it to the original structure and analyze whether the deviations make your paper stronger or weaker. Eliminate poor reasoning and weak evidence and replace it with more credible data. If you feel your analysis is lacking, rewrite the sentences and passages that require more impact.
Delegate proofreading to a friend, a classmate, or a family member. You can also use professional software to eliminate the grammar and punctuation errors along with typos. If your final grade depends on the paper, look for a professional editor or proofreader. Our experts can provide actionable suggestions on improving your essay and polish your writing to appease your nitpicky professor.
An argumentative paper is one of the most complicated writing assignments for high schoolers and college students. If you want to master the skill, start with modeling the award-winning essays, learn what makes them convincing and compelling, and transfer the knowledge to your writing. We hope our reverse engineering approach helps you write A-worthy papers. However, know that our professional writers are one click away to pick up the slack in case you feel out of your depth. Fill in the paper topic and subject in the order form, set the deadline, and wait for your essay to appear in the Inbox.