Tips for Organizing an Argumentative Essay

Addressing “Flow”: Tips for Organizing an Argumentative Essay

“Flow”, in regard to a characteristic of an essay, is a fairly murky and general concept that could cover a wide range of issues.  However, most often, if you’re worried about “flow”, your concerns actually have their roots in focus and organization.  Paragraphs may not clearly relate back to the thesis or each other, or important points may be buried by less-important information.  These tips, though by no means exhaustive, are meant to help you create a cohesive, “flowing” argumentative essay.  While this handout was written with argumentative essays (particularly within the humanities) in mind, many of the general ideas behind them apply to a wide range of disciplines.

1) Pre-Write/Outline

  • There are not many aspects of the writing process that are as universally dreaded as the outline. Sometimes it can feel like pointless extra work, but it actually is your best safeguard against losing focus in a paper, preserves organization throughout, and just generally makes it easier to sit down and write an essay.
  • It doesn’t matter what form your outline takes as long as it’s something that details what points you want to make and in what order. Figuring out your main points before you start drafting keeps you on topic, and considering order will make transitions easier and more meaningful.

2) Make sure you begin each paragraph with a topic sentence.

  • A topic sentence should state the point/claim you make in your paragraph
    • Example: Carroll uses Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat about madness both to explain the world of Wonderland and critique a Victorian emphasis on facts and reason.
  • A topic sentence should not be description, summary, or general background information
    • Example: In Alice in Wonderland, Alice has a conversation with the Cheshire Cat about madness.

3) Make sure every topic sentence (and therefore, every paragraph) relates directly back to your thesis statement.

  • Each topic sentence should say why/how the content of the paragraph matters to your overall argument
    • e., If your thesis claims that Alice in Wonderland critiques Victorian education for children by doing x and also y, every topic sentence of each of your body paragraphs should have to relate to Victorian education and x and/or y.
  • If your paragraph doesn’t relate to your thesis, consider incorporating it into another one, or cutting it out entirely
    • e., you might want to talk about the White Hare as a symbol for Victorian obsession with time. However, if your paper as a whole is otherwise about passages/paragraphs that critique Victorian education, then it is out of place, and will only confuse your paper’s focus.

4) Use effective transitions between paragraphs

  • Transitions should be used to mark a connection/opposition between a previous point and your current one
    • Connection:
      • Paragraph A: talks about Alice’s encounter with the caterpillar
      • Transition to Paragraph B: Similarly, Alice encounters another strange creature in the form of the Cheshire Cat, with whom, like the caterpillar, she holds a conversation with larger implications for the world of the novel.
    • Opposition:
      • Paragraph A: details how the madness of Wonderland critiques the fact-based Victorian England
      • Transition to Paragraph B: Despite the nature of madness and this criticism of facts and order, there is a kind of logic to Wonderland, and it is deliberately inversive.
    • NB: These are only two examples of how to involve transitions in your paper; there are many other ways to do so. But no matter what transition you use, it should in some way establish a relationship between a previous point in your essay and the one you’re about to talk about.

5) Re-read your paper!

  • Many issues that might hamper flow are small/general enough that you can catch them just by proofreading–i.e., sentence fragments, clunky/lengthy sentences, etc.
  • Reading your paper out loud is especially helpful for catching awkward phrases/sentences