How to write clear and convincing arguments

by Annelise Mitchell August 26, 2016

How to write clear and convincing arguments

If you’ve landed on this page I can imagine you have been wrestling with writing your argument. Either your teacher has said that your argument is not clear, or that what you have written is not going to convince anyone.

Am I right?

Regardless, it is hugely challenging at the beginning because we think writing a thesis statement has to be more complicated than it is. After all, it is called a thesis statement for a reason? Who uses language like that in everyday conversation? No one, and for good reason.

But, what is a thesis statement, you ask?

In every day speak, a thesis statement is your main argument, the statement that you are going to prove with every one of your paragraphs. It becomes the guiding focus (the heart) of your entire essay.

In the following infographic, the thesis statement is in the middle of the paragraph, and will guide the reader about what the writer is going to argue.

Thesis statement is the heart of the essay 

How to write clear and convincing thesis statements?

Let’s say you are asked to write an essay on the following question:

To what extent is aggressive behaviour the result of nature or nurture?

In response to the above question, you have a few options, you can argue that aggressive behaviour is mostly influenced by nature (genes), or nurture (upbringing), or you can argue that it is a combination of both. What response you choose will determine the direction of your essay.

Let’s say, for arguments sake, that you choose to prove that aggressive behaviour is influenced by nurture and not nature. The first thing you will need to do is respond to the question by stating your opinion.

You could do this by simply rewording the question into an answer, such as:

Aggressive behaviour is the product of nurture.

This thesis statement is a rewording of the question into an argument, as the statement makes an assertion that will need to be proved. However, it could be written in a way that does not sound like just a rewording of the question, such as:

An analysis of identical twin’s behaviour reveals that aggressive behavioural traits are the product of an individuals’ upbringing rather than their genetic predisposition.

In this example, the writer has provided a response that sounds like they have researched the data available, and come to an informed position on the topic.

Now, you are probably thinking, what about essay questions that are not singular. What happens when a lecturer asks multiple questions? This is very common, and can cause students frustration because they are not sure where to focus.

For example, let’s say that the question…

To what extent is aggressive behaviour the result of nature or nurture?
…is accompanied by another question:
Are criminals born or are they victims of circumstance?

This latter question is an extension of the first. What the lecturer is doing is probing the student to investigate the topic further but ultimately the first (former) question is the dominant focus. The student will need to focus on responding to the first question but ensure that they address the second question in their essay outline.

The good news is, it is a lot more straightforward than it sounds (thank goodness!) and there are just a few tips that we must be aware of before we begin.

This is known as the 3 Cs of thesis writing.

When your thesis statement is clear, concise and convincing (the three Cs), it provides you, as well as your readers, with a clear direction of what is the central point of your entire essay. Most of all, it helps stop you from going off track and discussing ideas that are irrelevant to your main idea.

Let’s look at a thesis statement that does not follow the three Cs.

Poor educational outcomes are due to inequality and disinterest that arises from unequal economic resources, a lack of educational support throughout schooling, and negative experiences in early childhood in traditional schooling, that causes a lack of interest in schooling.

What makes this a not so good thesis statement?

  1. It is not brief – it includes more than 20 words (37 in total)
  2. It is not clear, even though it is grammatically correct – it has far too many points (unequal economic resources, lack of support, negative experiences, lack of interest, etc. – which ones are the main ones?)
  3. It is not convincing, as the reader is unsure of the writer’s central point (Is it inequality or lack of interest?)

How can we improve the above thesis statement? Let’s look at a thesis statement that does follow the three Cs.

Poor educational outcomes are due to economic inequality experienced in a child’s formative years.

In this thesis statement, the writer has:

  1. Provided a brief statement (concise) – it is less than 20 words (11 in total)
  2. It is very clear, as the reader knows that the writer will be aiming to prove how inequality experienced during a child’s early childhood has caused the poor educational outcomes.
  3. It is convincing, as the reader understands the writer’s central point and is looking forward to see how the writer intends to prove their claim.

This is the reason why writing a clear, concise and convincing thesis statement is so important.

However, thesis statements that are clear and concise can be unconvincing.

Let’s take a look at another example:

Poor educational outcomes are due to bad teaching and dysfunctional children.

What makes this statement not convincing?
  1. It includes claims that are based on opinion and would be very difficult to prove with evidence. The word “bad” is an evaluative statement, meaning it is based on someone’s opinion rather than an objective fact.
  2. It is clear, as there is no doubt to what the argument will be, but because it appears to be based on subjective opinion, the argument will immediately discredit you in the eyes of your reader. You may think, hey, I have evidence that is going to prove teachers are bad at their job and that children are filled to the brim with disorders. Perhaps… but it will be very difficult to prove and would need to worded in way that didn’t sound so much like bad opinion.

Overall, there is a truth to the old adage that “a good thesis statement makes essay writing easier.”

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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