S.R.’s excellent question

Today in class, S.R. asked the question that lies at the heart of nearly all college writing:

How is a thesis statement an “argument”? If your thesis statement is supposed to be true, then it’s not just your opinion.

In asking this question, S.R. honed in on the essential difference between college writing and “opinion” or “personal” writing. (Yay!)

In college we write argument (in most subjects) — but “argument” in the academic sense does not mean “personal opinion.”

“Argument” means something more like “informed opinion,” “educated opinion,”assertion,” or “claim.”

“Argument” means:

  • You believe that your thesis statement is true.*
  • You know that an intelligent person could disagree.
  • You don’t just believe that your thesis is true; you can present evidence and logic to show that it is true, and that is what you do in a college paper.

In short, an argument is a claim or assertion you can support with logic and evidence.

* In an English paper, you might say that your thesis is a “good interpretation” (or avalid interpretation”) as opposed to “true.” The word “true” tends to imply that there is only one ‘right answer,’ which isn’t the case when you are analyzing literary works.