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Developing a critical argument

UEL east london aerial

This guide looks at how you can express an argument within a paragraph of your essay.

Statements and conclusions

Often, essay questions use expressions like:

Critically discuss

To what extent do you agree?


Types of question

These types of question want a discussion in the form of an academic argument. An argument can be broken down into ‘statements’ and ‘conclusions from statements’.

Statements are:

things that you believe to be true, e.g. facts and figures from an article, quotes from a book, even other people's conclusions.
Conclusions are: 

end points of your thinking based on the statements.
Example 1

That guy’s soaking.
It must be raining.
Example 2

I haven’t seen her.
She might be in the canteen.

‘That guy’s soaking’ is a statement, whereas ‘It must be raining’ is a conclusion based on that statement.

‘I haven’t seen her’ is a statement, whereas ‘She might be in the canteen’ is a conclusion based on that statement. In this case it is a less strong conclusion.

Now do the exercise to check that you can distinguish between Statements and conclusions.

Organising your argument

If we take the idea of arguments as statements and conclusions, it’s a small jump to organising an argumentative paragraph. For example, let’s say that you’ve been given the essay question:

Tourism in London is generally beneficial. Discuss

And you plan to structure your essay something like this:

Introduction:General introduction plus some sort of road map of where you’re going. Paragraph One:

Yes, it is beneficial ... for the tourists.
Paragraph Two:

Yes, it is beneficial … for the economy. (Lots of facts and figures about the British economy).
Paragraph Three:

But not completely... there's evidence that the money from tourism doesn’t go to local people.

More paragraphs leading to Conclusion

Looking at Paragraph Three in more detail, we can see how statements and conclusions work to build a paragraph that (partly) answers the question.

Paragraph Three statement
Ingredients of the paragraph
(1) There are problems with the view that tourism is overwhelmingly beneficial to all. (1) ‘Focusing sentence’

This focuses the paragraph by giving the reader your direction. It is also sometimes called a ‘topic sentence’. Everything below this should be linked to this statement. In this example when I’ve finished reading the first sentence, I know that everything in the paragraph is going to be about problems with tourism and when I read the examples, I know that they are supporting this point.
(2) Often the local population does not see a proportion of the profits from local tourism as companies that specialize in tourism are often owned by other interests outside of the immediate community. (2) Explanation of focusing sentence

This explains that first sentence in more detail.
(3) Take Belper, for example, where several operators are owned by national or international companies (Keck et al., 2003). The profits from such companies will not be funnelled into the local economy but will go to shareholders. (3) Support/Evidence for the direction

In this example, it’s the point about tourism having a negative effect but the support could be facts and figures from other authors, opinions of other authors, diagrams, graphs, figures etc.
(4) If this is representative of the country in general, it could be argued that local tourism has, overall, a negative effect on the local population, especially considering the environmental issues associated with any increase in tourism. (4) Conclusion

Paragraphs often reach conclusions based on the evidence. These should be directly related to your essay question.

Now try the Organising an argument exercise to practise structuring a paragraph as an argument.

Strength of conclusions

If you’re writing an argument essay/paragraph, you need to select the kind of language that reflects how sure you are of the conclusion. For example, in each of the conclusions below, the highlighted words help show how certain the author is:

It does suggest that CCTV cameras can have a negative effect on society.

These reasons alone strongly support a ban on small arms production.

This increased charge most probably prevents sub-Saharan countries from investing in treatments for HIV/AIDS.

It could be argued that local tourism has, overall, a negative effect on the local population, especially considering the environmental issues associated with any increase in tourism.

It’s worth saying at this point that a weak conclusion is not a bad conclusion, and neither is a strong conclusion. The trick is to choose the right language that reflects the evidence you have put forward. If you draw a very strong conclusion from weak evidence, you open yourself up to criticism. Good academic arguments contain conclusions that follow from sound analysis and interpretation of appropriate evidence.

The Strength of conclusions exercise will help you with writing appropriate conclusion statements.


In this guide we have looked at:
  • How an argument is made up of statements and conclusions.
  • How a paragraph argument can be organized as:
    • focusing (topic) sentence
    • perhaps some more explanation of the focusing sentence
    • supporting/evidence statements
    • conclusion/s
  • How you can express conclusion statements differently to make them stronger or weaker, according to the evidence.

Expressing academic arguments is a core part of your degree and you will be expected to develop your skills with each essay you write so that you can produce an in-depth dissertation in your final year. So if you are not clear about the basics please re-read the guide and try out the exercises again. You might then want to practise constructing paragraph arguments for a real essay you are working on.