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How to Write and Structure an Argumentative Essay | English Language / General Paper Tips

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How to write and structure an argumentative essay?

Writing an argumentative essay can prove to be challenging. In this article, we go through a few key points on how to write and structure an argumentative essay. Hopefully these tips will help you improve and make writing less challenging!

When you are writing an argumentative essay, you are making the effort to persuade your reader to accept your point of view on a given topic.

How to Write and Structure an Argumentative Essay – Understanding the question

In this article, we will discuss the question: “Education is the key to alleviating poverty in Singapore.” Do you agree?

Upon receiving your question paper, it is imperative that you take some time to first understand the question. Thereafter, plan out how you can best deploy your knowledge to answer the question. The first step on how to write and structure an argumentative essay is most critical.

Define the important terms within the question

It is important to establish an understanding of the words you will have to engage with. With reference to the question above, the relevant terms that students will have to deal with in their essay are: “Education”, “key”, and “alleviating poverty”.

  • Education. Training or mental development by way of a system formal instruction (e.g. in a school)
  • Key. Crucial or extremely important factor
  • Alleviating poverty. The meaning of “alleviating” is to make (something) less severe. In the context of this question, that something refers to poverty, the state where a person lacks the financial resources to sustain a minimum standard of living.

As we are now aware, the statement “Education is the key to alleviating poverty in Singapore”, is saying that Singapore’s system of formal instruction is crucial to reducing the severity of the societal problem. Where some people are unable to sustain a minimum standard of living. You do not need to write out these definitions individually, but you will have to demonstrate your understanding of them throughout the essay.

Decide where you stand

The question above is seeking an unambiguous position from the writer. It is asking whether or not you agree with the statement “Education is the key to alleviating poverty in Singapore”. You will have to decide, based on your knowledge of the topic, where you stand. This is typically a yes or no answer.

In the next section, we will discuss how to write and structure an argumentative essay..

A good argumentative essay should broadly follow the following structure:

1. Introduction

The introductory paragraph of your General Paper essay is arguably the most important one you will write. It will provide your reader with an understanding of:

  • The context and background prefacing your argument. This sets the tone for your essay by letting your readers know why they should care about the issue by. For instance, spelling out societal trends or incidents that illustrate or provide a basis for the core contention spelled out within the question.
  • Your thesis statement. For the most part, GP essay questions are set in a manner that requires you to take a principled stand in relation to the question. Questions are most commonly set to draw out opposing viewpoints (e.g. For / Against; Realistic / Unrealistic; To a large extent / To a small extent; etc.). Your thesis statement should be unambiguous (Pro Tip: do not write “well, it depends”), and follow logically from the context that you have written earlier. This helps to keep your reader focused.
  • The reasons why you believe your thesis to be true. Unlike novels, which contain a variety of twists, turns, and surprises, your argumentative essay should provide your reader with many signposts that guide them towards the inevitable conclusion that you were justified in taking your stand. These signposts should answer the “Why?” question that a discerning reader may have when they read your thesis statement (e.g. “why do you believe your statement to be true?”). These reasons should also form the basis for each of your content paragraphs.

Sample Paragraph

  • [Context] Singapore’s educational system is considered to be one of the best in the world. With its students consistently topping the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international benchmarking study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to test how well 15 year olds apply their academic knowledge towards solving problems.

    Despite this strong emphasis on education within the Republic, there still exists the perennial problem of poverty where many continue to struggle to make ends meet.
  • [Thesis Statement] In this essay, I will argue that education is not the key to poverty alleviation in Singapore,
  • [Reasons why you believe your thesis to be true] Its ability to help less privileged students escape poverty is limited by its narrow definition of merit. The job market disproportionately rewards traits that are more present in more economically-privileged candidates. Students from less privileged families have many more non-academic demands on their time as compared to more privileged students.

2. Address the opposing view

Argumentation is not a simple case of repeating one’s view over and over again. This is because your readers may not always share your beliefs and assumptions. Principled argumentation, therefore, requires a genuine understanding of the views and beliefs of one’s opponents. This makes your writing more credible, as you write from a place of understanding of why your opponents hold their beliefs.

When structuring this paragraph, you should:

  • Make it clear that you are engaging with an opposing perspective. Use appropriate language to place distance between your thesis statement and this opposing perspective. This lets your reader know to expect that you will be addressing reasons why you disagree with the opposing view.
  • Identify one of the core reasons why an informed reader would take the opposing view. While you may be tempted to set up the counterpoint weakly so you can “knock it out of the park”, it is best for you to flesh out the rationale for opposition view fully.
  • Transit to refuting the opposing perspective. This sentence should point out gaps or argumentative flaws that you have identified in the opposing viewpoint’s argument, which may include (i) non-applicability to local context, (ii) oversimplification of the issue, or (iii) circular reasoning. For a useful article on argumentative flaws, check out this article by Khan Academy.

My personal preference is to place this paragraph right after your introductory paragraph. In my view, this provides you with a good basis from which you build the rest of your arguments.

Sample Paragraph

We will continue to address the question “Education is the key to alleviating poverty in Singapore.” Do you agree? To address the opposing viewpoint, we must first know what it is. If, like me, your thesis is that education is not the key to alleviating poverty, you will need to engage with the view that education is the key to alleviating poverty in this paragraph.

  • [Clarity for reader that you are engaging with an opposing perspective] Many people believe that education is key to poverty reduction in Singapore.
  • [Flesh out the rationale for this position] Through Government speeches, the public is often provided with examples of less-privileged students doing well in school, overcoming the odds to win coveted scholarships and good jobs.
  • [Transit to refuting the opposing perspective] While education has indeed provided some less-privileged students with the opportunity for scholastic and career success, it is important to note that these examples are exceptions to the rule that poverty tends to persist across generations. Despite the efficacy of Singapore’s education system in transferring knowledge and skills to students. Dr. Mathew Mathews, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, observes that children born into lower income families may not only be less equipped (as compared to middle-income children) with literacy-related skills and conversational abilities. They also lack behavioural traits such as emotional self-regulation and the willingness to cooperate. He notes that ultimately, such disadvantages affects their self-esteem and motivation.

3. Advance Your Core Argument (or, what the heck is PEEL?)

Source: Quora

All English Language students in Secondary School and above have heard the acronym PEEL used in relation to essay writing. PEEL is a writing technique used to help writers structure their paragraphs in a way that presents a focused argument. In an argumentative, you should write three content paragraphs.

Each of your content paragraphs should be dedicated to a single aspect of your argument (see “Reasons why you believe your thesis to be true” above). This helps your reader to more easily understand the points you are trying to make. Remember, your examiners mark hundreds of exam scripts each, and messy logic (and handwriting!) will only be to your detriment.

So, what is PEEL?

  • Point. One of the reasons why you believe your thesis statement to be true.
  • Elaboration. Here, you answer natural (i.e. Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) questions a reader may have about your Point. This helps you to provide a more rounded perspective to your reader.
  • Example. An instance / trend / statistic that illustrates that your Point and Elaboration are both grounded in reality.
  • Link. Articulate how what you have said above justifies the Point you made.

Sample Paragraph

  • Point. Singapore’s education system is limited in its ability to alleviate poverty because of its narrow conception of merit.
  • Elaboration (in this instance, we answer the questions “What concept of merit does Singapore’s education system abide by, and how does this limit the education’s system’s ability to alleviate poverty?”). Throughout their academic careers, students in Singapore are subject to fierce competition. Students are consistently measured by their ability to achieve good academic results. From the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) that students take aged 12 to the Advanced Level Examinations (A-Levels) that they take aged 18. Students who have done well in standardised examinations are commonly perceived to have worked hard, and those who do not do well are seen to have not put in the requisite effort. Such reductionist thinking diminishes the individual circumstances that may hinder students from succeeding.
  • Example. In 2018, then-Education Minister Mr. Ong Ye Kung acknowledged that children from different family backgrounds are pushing off from different starting lines, and that the education system needed to move beyond a focus on academic merit. However, even mid-year examinations have been removed for students in non-graduating years, and more resources are being provided to help students from lower-income families nurture their interests and skills. High-stakes examinations such as the PSLE, N-Levels, O-Levels, and the A-Levels continue to place a disproportionate focus on academic achievement.
  • Link. It is clear that there is recognition even with the Government that Singapore’s education system today is limited by its narrow concept of merit. However, it is equally clear that educators are moving towards a paradigm where they can more effectively help less-privileged students. To allow them to compete with more privileged ones in the longer term.

4. Finish Strong

After you have completed three content paragraphs, it is time for you to conclude your essay. While it may be expedient to simply re-emphasize your three Points, it makes for a more satisfying read if you also provide the reader with a sense of:

  • Likely implications of the paradigm that you have proposed; or
  • Possible ramifications if they go with the opposing view.

It is especially important to draw together the paragraphs into a unifying theme that you wish to put across to the reader. Be mindful, however, not to introduce new arguments into the essay at this point.

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How to Write and Structure an Argumentative Essay – it’s no longer a challenge!

And there you have it! Structuring a good General Paper essay is no simple feat, but we hope that with these tips, you’ll have a smoother time with yours. Have further questions or need more help? Feel free to get in touch with us!

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Shaun is Founder of Learnable. Through Learnable, Shaun hopes to help learners optimise their efforts to achieve better results over time. Prior to Learnable, Shaun was previously with the Economic Strategy team in the Ministry of Finance, where he led policy development and strategic financing of key national initiatives. Shaun also brings with him deep experience in entrepreneurship, having served as Director, Strategy & Growth at TwinRock, co-founder of 40Tasks, and Editor-in-Chief of Matchmove. In his (very limited) free time, Shaun likes singing, and hiking. His poison: kopi-o-kosong ping. Get in Touch!
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