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How to Write an Argumentative Essay in Leadership Studies: the Guide to End All Guides

An argumentative essay, as follows from its name, is an academic assignment that presents arguments about a certain issue on which there is no unanimous opinion. You pick a topic that allows for multiple interpretations or suggestions and build an argument in favor of your view on the matter (explaining something, offering a solution to a problem, refuting a theory, etc.).

Usually, one is expected to present both sides of the argument (or more, if there are more than two sufficiently significant points of view). However, you do not necessarily have to maintain a balance between them. If you clearly support a specific point of view, there is nothing wrong about spending most of your essay proving it right and dedicating only limited attention to the opposing viewpoints, accompanying it with evidence that refutes them.

When it comes to leadership studies, argumentative essays usually deal with weak and strong points of particular leadership styles, arguments in favor and against specific practices, the positive and negative sides of leadership trends dominant right now and in the past. The important thing here is to remember that leadership studies is a rather subjective discipline – it is hard to determine and calculate in exactly what ways a particular practice or leadership style is superior or inferior when compared to others because it involves making suppositions and probably attaching more importance to some factors than they deserve. This means that you have to be particularly attentive when gathering evidence to avoid appearing overly subjective and judgmental.

Pre-writing stage

Selecting a Topic

It is a crucial moment – unless your instructor assigns a topic to you, the right choice here can make or break your essay. Leadership studies is relatively flexible in this regard, which means that usually you are free to be as creative as you like. The very nature of an argumentative essay – i.e., its being built around proving a point of view right (or wrong) – makes it a very rewarding type of work. To make sure you write to your full potential, consider the following when deciding what to write about:

  • Think about the topics discussed in your course. Do you have any strong opinions about them? Do you support or oppose certain points of view? Do you want to propose your own solutions to particular problems? Writing an argumentative essay presupposes having a position of your own – it helps if you really do have it and do not have to feign interest;
  • Keep your focus narrow. An essay is a relatively short piece of writing, and you will have to analyze and provide arguments covering a few different viewpoints. Do not overextend yourself, make sure you can cover all the important points related to the topic within the allotted word count;
  • Make sure you have sufficient evidence in your favor before you start writing. You may feel strongly about something, but if you cannot back yourself up, the value of your argument will be doubtful;
  • Avoid obvious topics. Think what your peers are likely to write about. What topics suggest themselves? If it was too easy to stumble upon a venue of research, probably you should look a little further or modify the topic to view the subject in question from an unexpected position. For example, nobody doubts that motivating subordinates is an important part of ensuring their effectiveness. Then why not take a closer look at potential downsides of overmotivating them?

Eventually, you should end up with a sufficiently narrow topic allowing for deep analysis within a relatively short essay, e.g.:

Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
  • Self-Confidence as a Primary Quality for a Leader: Positions of Western and Eastern Societies;
  • Leading by Authority and Leading by Example: Up- and Downsides;
  • The Importance of Vision in Establishing a Meaningful Relationship between the Leader and the Subordinates;
  • Money and Fulfillment as Primary Employee Motivation Methods: Which Is More Effective?
  • The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Successful Leadership.

Research the Topic

Even if you believe that you are well-acquainted with the topic in question, you are unlikely to have all the information and facts at your fingertips right at this moment. Once you start to actually delve deeper, you may discover that there is not enough provable facts and authoritative scientists to back you up. This is why you should gather the sources of information and analyze them (at least superficially) while there is still time to modify or change your topic.

When picking sources, remember that not all of them are equally valuable, and you have only a limited word count. This means that you should focus on the most trustworthy and authoritative sources of information. Usually one evaluates them using the following criteria:

  • Authority – who is the author? Does he/she have relevant background to pass judgments on the topic? How often he/she is cited in bibliographies? What is his/her h-index?
  • Accuracy – can the information presented in the source be verified? Is it specific? Is it based on observations, measurements etc. or conjectures?
  • Objectivity – does the author have an agenda? Is he/she biased? Is he/she affiliated with an organization that may be interested in promoting a particular point of view?
  • Currency – how old is the source? Was there any significant research in this area since its publication?
  • Coverage – does the source fully cover the topic? Are all the questions successfully addressed?

Write a Thesis Statement

In a thesis statement, you express the main idea or point behind your essay as concisely as possible. Originally, you write it to organize your thoughts and limit the scope of your writing. Later, you will have to use it at the end of the introduction.

A thesis statement should be:

  • Short – one or two sentences. Even so, if you have to use two sentences, you should probably try to further boil it down;
  • To the point – eliminate any superficial elements and focus only on what is truly important for your argument;
  • Unambiguous – reread your thesis statement multiple times and make sure one can understand it in only one way.

Write an Outline

An outline is a detailed plan of your essay. Here you list all its parts and jot down what exactly you want to say in each of them: what information to include, what examples to mention, which works to cite. Some students prefer to forgo this stage, but it is crucial for your success and helps to save time anyway. If you prepare an outline beforehand, writing the essay turns into a straightforward process – you simply write down what you already decided.

Writing Process

Choose a Structure

One can write an argumentative essay according to two major models. The most widespread classic model uses the following structure:

  • Introduction:
    • Hook – the first sentence that grabs the reader’s attention;
    • Background information – basic information necessary to understand the main contents;
    • Thesis statement;
  • Body – a few paragraphs (usually no less than three), each covering an individual argument in support of a particular viewpoint and containing evidence to back up your ideas;
  • Counterargument – possible objections to the arguments made earlier and explanations why they are incorrect or insufficient;
  • Conclusion – rephrasing of the thesis statement, call back to the major points made earlier and concluding remarks based on them.

Another model you can choose is Toulmin model. It consists of:

  • Claim – what you want to prove;
  • Grounds – evidence that supports the claim;
  • Warrant – the assumption that connects them;
  • Backing – additional support of the warrant;
  • Qualifier – admission that the claim may not be true under all circumstances;
  • Rebuttal – acknowledgement of another valid viewpoint.

Write Body Paragraphs

In academic writing, it is usually best to make only tentative drafts of introduction and conclusion before starting to flesh out the main paragraphs of the essay. This way, if in the process of writing you find new data that has to be referred to in the introduction, you will not have to rewrite it.

Although the structure of an average body paragraph may vary, usually it consists of the following:

  • Topic sentence. It defines what the paragraph is about and ties it back to the thesis statement;
  • Evidence. Facts, statistics, quotations, etc. that back up your claim. Make sure you do not leave any of your points without sufficient proof;
  • Conclusion. If a paragraph is large enough, you may need to summarize what you say in it and make it obvious how it is relevant for your overall arguments;
  • Transition sentences. Connect the paragraph to the preceding and the following ones (they may be both in the beginning and the end of the paragraph), e.g., ‘In addition, we have to mention that lack of appreciation on the part of upper management harms the general productivity of employees’.

Anticipate Counterarguments

The argumentative essay is called this way for a reason. If you write it, it means that there are more than one opinion on the subject matter. This means that you cannot just exclude the information that is damaging to your argument because it is inconvenient – it is bound to crop up immediately once the discussion starts. Therefore, think of potential refutations and objections to what you say as you write. You will not be able to predict all of them, but it is a good practice to mention at least some of them in your writing – this way the audience will see that you do not just blindly support a claim trying to obscure the facts, but are also aware of other viewpoints.

Readdress the Issue in the Conclusion

When you write a conclusion for an argumentative essay, you should not just restate your thesis statement in different words, but revisit it in the light of the arguments you analyzed and evidence you provided. As it is the part that your audience reads the last, it will leave the most immediate and lasting impression. You have to make it as logical and effective as possible.

  • Do not introduce any new information – instead, synthesize and rearrange the data you introduced throughout the essay;
  • Review your thesis and make sure the audience understands why the topic is important and why your proposed point of view is optimal;
  • Discuss potential additional research that may shed further light on the topic based on the findings you made.

Revision & Proofreading

Take a Break

If you can afford it, do not start revising and editing your essay immediately after you finish it. The memory of what you wrote is still too fresh, and you will unconsciously skip over parts of your text, thus precluding yourself from noticing mistakes. Taking a 24- or 48-hour break between writing and revising significantly improves its effectiveness.

Do not Rely on Tools Very Much

In addition to Microsoft Word spellchecker, the Internet is rife with all kinds of tools that supposedly improve the quality of your writing. Hemingway Editor, Grammarly and other grammar checkers, etc. – they claim to improve your style, find grammar and spelling mistakes and make your writing better in other ways. Do not trust them too much – they are simply algorithms that do not analyze each piece of writing individually as a whole. Therefore, they can only make suggestions, and these suggestions are often pretty far off the mark.

Ask for a Second Opinion

Ask a trusted friend or acquaintance to read and evaluate your essay from the standpoints of grammar, style and general logic. Better yet, hire a professional proofreader. Other people are always more likely to see mistakes and inconsistencies than the text’s author.

Writing an argumentative essay on leadership studies is an interesting, challenging and complex task – but now at least you understand its inner workings and can proceed without reservations.