department of english

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This is perhaps the most ambiguous term in freshman writing classrooms and one of the most difficult terms for students to comprehend. When we use the term “argument” at FAU, we mean the central, problem-solving idea that drives the paper, a concept that many of us learned to think of as a “thesis.”   We might also think of this as a “position” or as a “project,” all of which suggest that there is a central point the student is trying to make in the paper.  The argument will usually show up in a thesis statement on the first page of the paper, but this is not the sole defining characteristic of an argument.

The student should have a goal in a paper, something he or she is trying to accomplish, often defined by a specific, argumentative statement. But even when this statement is absent, the goal is often still apparent, whether as a summation in the conclusion or an underlying/recurring theme of the paper.

An ideal argument will be spelled-out in a clear thesis statement and will provide both a direction for the paper and a motivation for that direction (a problem to solve, a goal to accomplish, a position to defend, a project to complete etc.).


If an argument presents a problem and a potential solution, the evidence attempts to prove the urgency of that problem and the validity of that solution. Evidence consists of examples, details, and quotations (gleaned from the assigned texts) that work together to support the argument.

The most important concerns of evidence relate to relevance and quantity. Strong evidence is directly related to the argument, correctly interpreted and applied from the text, and presented alongside enough similar evidence to ensure the persuasiveness of the argument. Strong use of evidence also often includes the consideration of possible counter-examples.

Student papers should demonstrate this relevant, clear, accurately interpreted and applied, and sufficient use of evidence in every paragraph, as each paragraph will have a point to make and will need evidence to prove that point.

Primarily this will be achieved through strong use of quotation.  When a quotation is provided in the text, the student will provide some analysis of that quotation and/or will indicate how that quotation and its analysis relate to the larger argument.

“Connection” is the term we use when students bring together the ideas of different texts by relating quotations from two different authors and using that analysis to say something about one or both authors in the context of the argument.


Organization refers to the way the evidence of the paper is presented. A strong paper will demonstrate organization at the paper level, the paragraph level, and the sentence level. Perhaps most importantly, though, a strong paper will demonstrate a logical kind of cohesiveness that demonstrates organization between the paragraphs.

Student papers should have a clear sense of purpose indicated by their argument, but they should also have a clear plan of action for solving the problem they have presented. Often, strong writers will make use of an organizational statement that specifically lays out this plan toward the beginning of the paper. With or without an organizational statement, though, the direction of the paper should be clear to the reader.

Strong organization at the paper level will make purpose and direction clear. Surprises and unpredictable changes of direction are often characteristics of weak organization. In a strongly organized paper, each paragraph logically connects to and follows from the previous paragraphs. Sentences flow in a way that builds on preceding information, and paragraphs do the same. Lesser organizational patterns rely on listing, a familiar structure for many high school writers.

Attention to audience

Attentiveness to the reading audience is an element of writing that will be new to most of our students. In the past, they have written for teachers and for grades. Our intention is to teach them to write for real readers. Our peer review process gives students an opportunity to see the reaction of like student writer/readers, and this reaction should be a consideration during all stages of the writing process.

A paper indicates attention to audience by doing much of what was mentioned in the other categories: presenting a strong argument with sufficient evidence to support the claims and organizing the paper in a logical way. Attention to audience involves the additional efforts of ensuring that clarity and logic is present in every part of the paper, anticipating and addressing audience questions and concerns, and leading the audience through difficult concepts.

Confused readers often signal confusing papers, a malady that attention to audience should remedy. Maintaining a consistent tone and plan throughout a paper can make it more palatable. Offering enough contextual information does the same. It is a strong writer’s responsibility to make sure the paper is understandable to the audience and, if necessary, to prepare or educate the reader in order to ensure that the paper is understandable.

Attention to audience also means ensuring that the audience cares about the paper. A readable, easy to navigate paper is part of this, but it is also necessary to create a paper that the audience will care about. It is the writer’s job to create that relevance, to ensure that the reader understands why the issue/argument is universally important.

Grammar and format

FAU’s writing program makes use of standard written English. Grammar and spelling in student papers should follow these conventions. A required handbook is available to clarify student questions.

Students are expected to write all work in MLA (Modern Language Association) format. The purpose here, aside from universality across the program, is not so much to teach MLA format as it is to ensure that students are able to work within an assigned format in general.  In this way, we prepare them for the work they will do in their eventual majors and disciplines, each of which uses its own system of citation.  MLA is used, then, to give students practice in this convention of academic writing and to underscore its importance in the creation of knowledge.

 Last Modified 5/22/14