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:

Repetition is a standard part of Homeric epic, the same stories told and phrases used by different characters at various points in poems. These repetitions have often been viewed as insignificant, an inevitable result of works shared orally, from memory: what could be more natural, for a poet working from memory, than adapting a single tale multiple times? One of the most famous episodes of The Odyssey, Penelope's weaving and unweaving of the shroud, is told no fewer than three times, by Antinous, Amphimedon, and by Penelope herself, without much apparent change in substance. (the context, commmon ground) However, each time a story is re-told, it undergoes shifts and revisions depending on the person telling the tale, or the context in which it is told. (the but) These changes can indicate important differences among various characters' points of view, ultimately demonstrating the poem's capacity for self-reflection about its own cultural values. (the so what, significance) Penelope's variant of the shroud story reveals that she understands xenia to combine openness, trust, strategy and cunning. (the thesis)