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Developing arguments

A key part of academic study is the ability to analyse information and formulate your own answer or argument on a topic. Your argument is then supported by evidence to justify your position. The key is to convince your lecturers that your argument has merit and this will depend on how you develop and present your points and evidence.

We develop arguments every day to support decisions we make. Think about the last key decision you made – for example, buying a car – you probably had arguments for and against a certain brand, and would have researched thoroughly before you made your decision.

The same applies to your studies. In most of your assignments, you will likely be asked to critique a topic and put forward your argument. The following tips will help you develop and present effective arguments.

1. Deconstruct the question

Deconstruct your assignment question to know exactly what it is asking of you. Some questions may be framed in a way that asks you to consider advantages and disadvantages of a particular topic, which will make the following steps easier. For those that don’t, just remember there are always multiple sides to an argument and you need to present and demonstrate at least one in your writing.

2. Map a tentative stance on the topic

What do you already know about your assignment topic and what argument do you take at this stage in your research? Brainstorm your tentative argument and note down the pros and cons.

3. Find and review preliminary evidence

Find out what opinions exist about the topic. Sometimes a simple Google search to see what others are saying about the topic can give you some cues. However, you must refer to credible sources such as assigned textbooks and peer-reviewed articles in your assignments. This downloadable literature table can help you categorise your information and is useful to refer to when it comes to writing your assignment.

4. Revise your stance

Based on your review of the preliminary evidence, has your argument changed? Revise your brainstorm and note important ideas and impressions.

5. Formulate an argument statement and identify main points

Refer to your brainstorm and formulate a statement of your argument, noting your main points. For example, if my assignment question asked me to:

Discuss the impact of the TPPA agreement and whether NZ should enter into it

and my review of the evidence (literature) suggested that NZ shouldn’t enter the agreement, my statement would be:

NZ should not enter the TPPA agreement because

Point 1 and evidence

Point 2 and evidence

Point 3 and evidence


6. Note counter arguments for your main points

Note down counter-arguments for the main points of your argument. You don’t necessarily have to agree with these counter-points, this will just help you demonstrate that your argument is well-considered and you have thought about the other side of the argument. Following on from the example given in step 5 above, your notes might look like this:

NZ should not enter the TPPA agreement because

Point 1 / Counter Point 1

Point 2 / Counter Point 2

Point 3 / Counter Point 3


7. Write up your argument

How you write up your argument will depend on the assignment you need to produce. The key to putting forward a good argument is to write it in a way that gives more weight to your main points of evidence and less to the counter-arguments you identified. You want to persuade the reader to agree with your argument but at the same time demonstrate that you’ve looked at all of the evidence.

Further information