Setting Up an Effective Argument for a CC Paper


Prior to writing your paper, you will need to think about what problem or question you want to address. Your argument will be the position you take and support in this conversation.[1]

  • An argument is the assertion of a thesis/claim supported by reasons and evidence.
    • Reasons → respond to “how” or “why” questions related to your claim
    • Evidence → makes your reasons persuasive (text quotes and examples, along with your analysis of them, serve as support)
  • Your voice makes an argument in dialogue with the texts we are reading and the existing conversation that surrounds them.
  • A thesis/claim is a statement…
    • that I hold to be true,
    • that needs defense AND that I can defend with reasons and evidence,
    • that I offer in conversation with others about a problem that matters to us and with the goal of persuading them,
    • and that can thus contribute to solving a problem or answering a question.

Consider these claims responding to a prompt: Analyze what Confucius has to say about how to be good.

What Not to Do:

Many of Confucius’s teachings focus on the concept that men should be obedient and respectful to their elders in order to be good men.

  • While this sentence makes a statement about Confucius’s teachings that can be backed up by evidence, the sentence does not make an argument analyzing why Confucius emphasizes this point nor how it is important to being good.

What to Do:

Confucius encourages obedience and respect for one’s elders as a way to maintain and reinforce his society’s hierarchical structure because he believes social harmony is the highest good.

  • This sentence provides an argument about why Confucius focuses on obedience, and the argument would need to be backed up with relevant evidence from the text.

Putting Together an Introduction

Your introduction should consist of a common ground, destabilizing condition, and thesis/claim.

  1. To start, familiarize your audience with the subject surrounding the problem or question that your claim solves; this section should include your “common ground”.

NOTE: By first thinking about the problem or question you are addressing, you will develop a more targeted and effective common ground that will lead the reader more directly toward your thesis/claim than you might have done if you jumped right into the common ground before considering the problem.

  1. After establishing your common ground, raise the problem or question that emerges (which your claim will have to address); this section is your destabilizing condition because you are destabilizing your common ground so that your thesis/claim can address the problem or question that you raise.
  2. Introduce your thesis as the solution to your destabilizing condition. At this point, your common ground, destabilizing condition, and thesis should all work together to make the reader see the plausibility and significance of the argument you will make in your essay.

What Not to Do:

Common Ground: In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, the protagonist, a fugitive slave, takes the life of her own baby rather than surrender her to perpetual enslavement. Destabilizing Condition: As Ahab, Medea, Hamlet and others always remind us, literature, like life, is full of difficult choices. Thesis: Choosing a preparation book for the AP exams in English Literature and Language is also no easy matter…

  • In this case, the common ground was way too specific for the thesis — the lack of connection between the three parts results in confusion for the reader and insignificance for the topic.

What to Do:

Common Ground: Most high school students that take AP classes do so with the aim of scoring high on the AP test and compiling credit for college courses. Destabilizing Condition: However, studying for the AP test is often a struggle, especially when students are faced with choosing from among the many preparation books (which are often overpriced and unproven) for the AP examinations in English Literature and Language. Thesis: Luckily, the relatively cheap preparation guides published by Super Tutors are also the best option for most students, because they are easy to use and have an established track record of improving student scores.

  • Here, the common ground is directly tied to the claim and the destabilizing condition, which helps all three elements work together to introduce the argument and give it significance.

[1] They Say, I Say is golden advice! This text is a standard resource in the CC Freshman Program and beyond — feel free to consult it on further advice for setting up an argument, incorporating evidence and quotes, and much more!