how to write an essay
Step 2: Analysis

As you research your topic, you will naturally be analyzing the arguments of different authors. In contrast to more popular reading, in the academic world, authors must supply copious amounts of evidence and nuanced reasoning in order persuade other scholars of their ideas. To enter the scholar's "gladiator arena," you will need to understand the principles of argument. Both analyzing an argument and coming up with your own will require careful thought.


Identify the argument

An argument consists of two main components: a claim, and reasons for that claim. Neither a claim without reasons, nor reasons without a claim, is an argument. Only when one leverages particular reasons to make a claim from those reasons do we say that an "argument" is taking place.

When analyzing an argument of any text, or creating one of your own, first identify the main claim and then locate all the reasons for it. The claim is the controversial, debatable assertion of the essay, while the reasons offer the explanations and evidence of why the claim is true. It is helpful to map this reasoning out:

CLAIM = ________________________________________

  • Reason 1: ____________________________
  • Reason 2: ____________________________
  • Reason 3: ____________________________

Assess the reasoning

Once you have the argument mapped out, assess the reasoning. Ask yourself the following questions to help you identify weaknesses of logic:

(1.) Is there an alternative explanation that is possible? An alternative explanation is a different reason for the same claim. Probing the alternative explanations or reasons for a claim is an excellent way to open up weaknesses in the author's logic.

  • Example: "John was late because he obviously doesn't care about the class." (An alternative explanation for John's lateness could be that he got in a car wreck, and therefore couldn't make it on time to class, not that he doesn't care about it.)
(2.) Is the evidence presented sufficient? Evidence refers to the support given for a claim. This support may be in the form of facts, statistics, authoritative quotations, studies, observations, experiences, research, or other forms of proof.
  • Example: "John was late because he has Alzheimer's disease, and according to the American Medical Association, Alzheimer's patients frequently forgot who and where they are" (Jones 65). (The writer has given evidence in the form of research for his or her reasoning.)

(3.) What assumptions do the reasons rest on? An assumption is what one takes for granted to be true, but which actually may not be true. All arguments rest on some common assumptions. This common ground makes it possible for two people to have a dialogue in the first place, but these assumptions, because they are based on groundless ideas, make for a "sweet spot" of attack in argument.

  • Example: "John was late because his previous class is on the far side of campus." (The assumption is that it takes a long time to get from the far side of campus to class. If John walked the same speed as the one presenting the argument, the assumption would be a shared one. However, it may be the case that John actually walks much faster than assumed, and that he was late for another reason.)

 (4.) Does the writer commit any logical fallacies? Fallacies are commonly committed errors of reasoning. Being aware of these fallacies will help you see them more abundantly in the texts you read. Although there are probably at least a hundred different fallacies, the following six are the most common:




Tom Johnson. Last updated May 2004.