Leeds University Library

Building an argument

The most important voice to get across in your writing is your own; it is how you can show the reader (usually your tutor) what you are thinking, what your views are and how you have engaged critically with the topic being discussed. You can do this by building an effective and persuasive argument for your reader.

Making an argument in your writing is how you express your viewpoint and answer the question you have been set, using evidence. Your argument can help you plan the structure of your work and guide you to find the evidence you need to support it. Make sure that your argument runs throughout your writing and that everything you include is relevant to it. Try to sum up your argument in a few words before you start writing and keep checking that it remains the focus as you research and write your work.  

Structure your argument by thinking about how you can guide your reader through it in a logical way. Think about what questions your reader might have; if you can answer these through your argument, it will seem more convincing. Present both sides of the debate, along with your thoughts, linking together the different elements.

You can then work towards a conclusion by weighing the evidence and showing how certain ideas win out and why others are rejected. Your conclusion should make clear where you stand.

Develop your argument by considering the evidence and drawing your own conclusion.

If you are considering a range of opinions, try to group them together under different headings. Look at the strengths and weaknesses of the different sets of evidence and present these clearly and in a critical way. This will help to show you understand what you have read. Take the evidence into account in developing your own argument and make clear what your viewpoint it. Perhaps your argument has strengths and weaknesses as well - it is fine to acknowledge these. 

These examples show how you can use evidence in your argument:

Using evidence in your argument
How? Example
Make your unattributed (not referenced) assertion at the start of paragraphs followed by evidence, findings, arguments from your sources.  To date there is no well-established tool to measure divided attention in children. Current methods used to assess divided attention usually involve a variation of the CPT with an additional task included e.g. counting or listening to auditory stimuli (Salthouse, 2003). 
Explicitly tell your reader what the connections are between sources. Smith (2009), however takes a different approach...
Explicitly tell your reader what the connections are between sources/evidence and your main assertion. Netzer's argument challenges the term 'renaissance', as it displays repeatedly the use of classical imagery during the medieval period, therefore illustrating that canonising a chronological period can be disadvantageous as characteristics of the term.
Using language to show your strong agreement/disagreement/cautious agreement with sources.

Smith's (2009) findings show a clear...
A serious weakness with this argument is...
The research suggests...

Include 'so what' summary sentences (evaluative sentences) at the end of paragraphs. This shows that it is detrimental to strictly categorise chronological periods with artistic genres, as many art historians suggest different movements were taking place in separate geographical locations at the same time.

Including your own voice in your writing

Your voice will emerge through discussion of the sources you have used and how you interpret them; your evaluation of the sources, and through the arguments you present in your work.  

You can let your voice stand out in your writing by using evidence from other sources to support your arguments and conclusions.  You can tell your reader what the sources are saying about your topic, and what your evaluation of these sources is.  

Using different verbs in your writing will show your understanding of the sources, for example: 

  • Stevenson (2015) explains that...
  • Stevenson (2015) argues...
  • Stevenson (2015) describes how...

You can also use verbs to show you think of other author's arguments; use different verbs to show agreement or disagreement. For example:

  • Stevenson (2015) correctly identifies...
  • Stevenson (2015) examines in detail...
  • Stevenson (2015) reveals...

or

  • Stevenson (2015) claims
  • Stevenson (2015) overlooks...
  • Stevenson (2015) fails to consider...

The Manchester Academic Phrasebank provides many more examples that you can use in your written work. 

More information

The Royal Literary Fund explains what an academic argument is and provides examples of how arguments can be presented.