DATE:                                 NAME:                                                                     PERIOD:

A. There are two steps in planning an argument paper: (1) stating the thesis and (2) writing the brief.

B. The topic of an argument is called a THESIS or proposition. There are two kinds of propositions: (1) a truth thesis and (2) an action thesis A truth thesis states that a thing is or is not so. An action thesis states that something should or should not be done.


Indicate which of the following are action theses and which are truth theses. Use a capital letter A for action thesis; use a capital T for truth thesis.

1. God exists.

2. Americans do not love money.

3. Puerto Rico should be admitted as the next state.

4. Spiro Agnew (or Richard Nixon) was a victim of circumstances.

5. The sale of cigarettes should be banned.

The first step in planning an argument is to write out your thesis. The thesis is the most important part of your paper. A good thesis will make your task much easier. Make sure that your thesis does not commit you to prove more than you have to prove, more than you should, or more than you can. Many good arguments have been lost in an attempt to prove too much (biting off more than you can chew). For example, if your purpose were simply to clear a friend being charged with incompetence in office, the following theses would NOT be advisable:

Jack Jones has performed the duties of treasurer in a competent manner and is, in fact, the most capable and honest member of this organization.

If you fail to prove that he is the most capable and honest member of the organization, that failure of yours may reflect on your proof of his competence, which might more easily have been proven. Your thesis, therefore, must be sufficiently narrowed to cover only one topic. Moreover, your thesis should be written clearly and concisely. If you are vague about what you are going to prove, or if your audience (reader) is confused about what you are trying to do, you will probably present a weak argument or, at the very least, lose credibility with the reader. If your thesis rambles, it will be impossible to convince others that you are right in what you say or that you know what you are talking about.


Consider the following theses. Which one(s) are defective and why?

6. We must do something to keep the freshmen from weakening our school’s traditions.

7. Paul VI is a great pope; indeed, he is the greatest of all popes since St. Peter.

8. Machines will someday be able to out-think men.

9. The major cause of the Civil War was economics.

10. Of all the illegal substances, marijuana is the least harmful; thus, it should be legalized.

The second step in planning an argument is to write an outline of your argument. The outline is called a brief. Since it has a different purpose from the outline of an expository (informational) paper or the plot or plan of a narrative story, it also has a different form.

A brief has three principal parts:

(1) the introduction

(2) the proof

(3) the conclusion

The INTRODUCTION states the thesis and explains any terms that have more than one meaning or that may be misunderstood; it gives any explanation or background necessary for the reader to understand the argument; it states the issues of the argument.

The ISSUES are the major points on which the truth or falsity of the thesis depends. It is of utmost importance that the writer and his reader understand and agree on what the issues are.

The following is an example of the outline introduction to a brief (note particularly the format of the outline):

I. Introduction

A. Thesis: P.Z. Smithson is guilty of plagiarism.

B. Definition: Plagiarism is the passing off as one’s own the stolen writing of another.

C. Explanation: The victim of the plagiarism is L.G. Kleppin.

D. Issues: The case will be proven by establishing the following issues:

1. The two stories are identical.

2. Kleppin’s story was written three months before Smithson’s.

3. Smithson had access to Kleppin’s story on numerous occasion.

4. Smithson made use of Kleppin’s story.

The PROOF once again states each issue and follows it with the word because and reasons. Note the following example:

II. Proof

A. The two stories are identical because

1. Mr. Jones, a literary authority, has stated them to be so.

2. Your own eyes will prove them so.

B. Kleppin’s story was written three months before Smithson’s story because

1. Three expert witnesses will testify that they read the story in question on July 4, 1950.

2. Smithson’s own testimony and the printed evidence in Story magazine show that his story was not published before September 1990.

C. Smithson had access to Kleppin’s story because Kleppin had given it to him on June 17, 1950, for criticism.

D. Smithson made use of Kleppin’s story because

1. There is no other reasonable way to explain why the stories are identical.

2. Smithson admitted to reliable witnesses that he had copied the story and published it as his own.

The CONCLUSION restates the thesis and summarizes the issues as briefly as possible.

III. Conclusion: Since the stories are identical, since Kleppin’s story was written before Smithson’s, since Smithson had access to Kleppin’s story, and since Smithson made use of Kleppin’s story, therefore P.Z. Smithson is guilty of plagiarism.