Doyle Online Writing Lab

Making Academic Arguments

Joseph Williams, the author of The Craft of Argument, Style, and The Craft of Research, argues most academic articles have four main components. Usually these components appear in the introduction to the article, but sometimes they are woven throughout the article. These four parts are

(1) Common Ground: Establishes a brief context that the author intends to qualify or question. This may be either a commonly held belief (some people...) or may be what other researchers have said about the subject.
(2) But... Introduces a question about something key that is not known or fully understood or contradicts this common ground.
(3) So What? States the significance of the question raised
(4) Thesis: the answer to problem/question. States the author’s main claim.

Here is an example of an introduction with this format:

Ever since the sixteenth century, when Girolamo Cardano began thinking about games of chance in quantitative terms (Cardano, 1545), risk has been treated as a purely mathematical problem ... In the twentieth century, researchers shifted their focus ... These problems, too, have been addressed almost exclusively with mathematical tools. context ( common ground) But researchers who try to communicate risk to a public audience have failed to understand that most people view do not view risk not as a rationally quantifiable question, but rather in ways that seem puzzling, even irrational, question (So what?) As a result, we do not understand how ordinary people make decisions about risks in their daily lives and so fail to communicate with the public about risk. significance Among the general public, most decisions about risk include at least six factors that may not be precisely quantifiable but are systematic and therefore predictable. (Thesis/main claim) (Example cited in Research and Its Reporting by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams.)