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Argumentation Essay Guidelines

 The Argumentation essay will be a 5-6 page essay that, in the end, makes your argument about what the U.S. should do about police reform. To engage in this issue, you will use two sources: “No, We Can Still Reimagine and Reform the Police” by Tobias Winright and Jacqueline Helfgott’s “The Movement to Defund the Police Is Wrong, and Here’s Why.” Make sure to summarize each writer’s argument objectively and without any bias. Give each about the same amount of time. The first part of your essay will be neutral. Until well into the essay—probably at least page 4—we should have no idea which of these writers you agree with more. Then, after you’ve levelly summarized their arguments and given the key quotes from them, you can start agreeing or disagreeing with key points—usually shown in quotes—that catch your attention. Here’s a basic pattern to use in the essay.


  • Give a paragraph that tells the reader the broad outline of the Defund or police reform movement. Explain the big issues involved that have influenced the debate and what some of the sides of the debate say about it. Think of this paragraph as setting context for the arguments the two essays you discuss will make.
  • In your second paragraph, introduce both writers’ names, the titles of their essays and the broad arguments they make. You don’t need to get into detail. Don’t quote, either. There’s time for that in the body. Here, say, in your own words, what the writers say.



  • Pick one of the essays and summarize it in greater detail. Cover the essay in the order it comes, quoting key passages. Use the statement, quote, analysis pattern to ensure that before every quote, you have stated something you want to communicate with it and have analyzed and developed that point as you go. Spend about a page and a half on the first essay.
  • Transition to the other essay. Do the same for it. Spend about the same amount of time on its key ideas and passages. This time, since you’ve already talked about the first essay, you can look back at it. When the second writer says something that agrees or disagrees with the other, point it out. However, do not take sides with either of the essays until you have discussed both.
  • Toward the end of this, you can start picking sides. Point out logical problems with the points they make.



  • Don’t mention yourself or use any examples outside the two essays, but the conclusion will be mostly your opinion on their opinions. If you think there are things either of the writers has left out or general ideas they have misinterpreted, now is the time to say so.
  • Touch on the key point from the ideas these two essays have created that you want the reader to think about. Remind us of those points.
  • Leave the reader with a final idea—your argument about what we should do about police reform, based on these two essays.


Argumentation Essay Partial Example

 This is not a complete essay. It samples paragraphs from strategic segments of the essay: the introduction paragraph, moving into talking about the two essays, moving into agreement or disagreement with the essays, and concluding the essay. The introduction and conclusion should be general, and the body should get into the specifics of the two essays’ arguments. These are how you will consider the issues to come to your own conclusion on the Defund movement. I have taken different essays and a different issue to demonstrate the discussion.


Introduction—An Overview of the Issue Without Getting Deeply into the Essays


The debate over capital punishment has caused controversies in the United States for decades. Social conservatives have argued that extreme crimes require extreme consequences. They contend that if the price of taking a life is the loss of one’s own life, that will deter people from committing murder. The strength and certainty of punishment would make the crime less common than it is today. Social liberals see capital punishment itself as a crime. They argue it is enforced arbitrarily, much more often used against people of color and those without access to good legal representation. Both sides argue over the innate cruelty of the death penalty, its logistical difficulties and even the methods of execution. It is a difficult and emotional issue that intersects with many fault-lines in America today.

Introduction—The First Article

Just give the broad strokes of the writer’s argument. If you quote at all, it will be short. Your main issue is to cover the main reasons the writer feels as he or she does on the issue and set yourself up to quote and use specific issues and examples used in the body.


In “The Overwhelming Evidence Against the Death Penalty,” Austin Sarat argues that the large number of “botched” (par. 4) executions by lethal injection undercuts any contention that capital punishment can be performed in any way that is not cruel and unusual, in violation of United States law and basic human decency. Execution has taken an oversized place in our national attempt to punish and end murder. For Sarat, the problems of the death penalty has continued throughout our history, from hanging through the electric chair and the gas chamber and into the twenty-first century. Lethal injection has not solved these problems because there is no way to change the innate cruelty of putting a person to death. He argues that we should acknowledge the injustice of the ultimate penalty and abolish capital punishment.




Body—Neutral Summary

Here, you should get into the specific examples writers use. Quote, and use statement, quote, analysis to wrestle through the issues you see as important in the passage. But we should have no idea what you feel about the issue until you’ve thoroughly and objectively summarized the argument. Here, I’m using the other article, Kim Masters Evans’ “Capital Punishment Should Be Maintained.”

             Evans argues that use of the death penalty should be “measured and commensurate” (par. 3). We should limit the number of crimes we use it for to the most “heinous” crimes (par. 3), such as especially depraved murders. This would fulfill the will of the American people, who are the direct and indirect victims of horrible crimes and have a stake in how to end them: “This limited application strikes a balance between the demands of society for just punishment for the perpetrators of the most serious offenses with a respect for the sanctity of human life” (par. 3). As frightening as putting a person to death may be, the people of the United States have consistently supported it as the only “just punishment” (par. 4) for crimes that break the most basic connections of human existence. This contrast between the things that make life valuable and actions that show absolutely no value in that life provides a place where the ultimate price must be paid.

Body—Agreement or Disagreement with Specific Points

After you have neutrally summarized the writer’s argument and shown the reader both what the writer argues and the examples he or she has used, you can start to agree or disagree with specific points. You do so by building from what the writer says to something you think about it. If you agree, we can tell by the fact that you aren’t disputing the points. Here’s an example of agreement that can happen late in your discussion of a specific argument.


Evans distances herself from the more emotional aspects of this issue by stating her argument in negatives founded in reasonable agreement with her opponents: “That is not to say that I reject the notion of deterrence as a justification generally. Rather, I am not persuaded that a statistically sound correlation has been established. I do not believe that the perpetrators of such crimes weight the consequences of their actions in ways even remotely similar to how most of us go through life” (par. 4). Deterrence is not the reason to have executions. Research suggests people who commit extreme murders rarely act with a direct connection in mind between committing these horrors and being punished for them. That would not change if the punishment were less extreme, so the ultimate role of capital punishment must be to eliminate those whose crimes extend beyond any hope of salvaging anything useful for humanity from their continued existence.

If you disagree with the same passage, you’ll pick up on something in the quote and dispute it. Here’s an example that uses the same passage.

 Evans hedges her bets with a list of negatives: “That is not to say that I reject the notion of deterrence as a justification generally. Rather, I am not persuaded that a statistically sound correlation has been established. I do not believe that the perpetrators of such crimes weight the consequences of their actions in ways even remotely similar to how most of us go through life” (par. 4). She struggles with her argument’s weakness by admitting what she cannot avoid. Deterrence of crime, the main rationale for the death penalty, does not work. This leaves justice as the only remaining motivation for using capital punishment; however, Evans’ justice is really revenge.

Conclusion—Making Sense of It All

In your conclusion, you need to express your own opinion, based on the points the writers have made and your discussion of them. Look back at what you’ve said, and leave us with a final idea to take away from it. If you’ve mostly agreed with one side or the other, we should see that coming, but you need to make general points about the specific arguments you’ve quoted or summarized in the body of your essay. It will sound something like this.

 Evans and Sarat have illustrated some of the vital issues in capital punishment. It is final. There is no going back once we have executed a person, so Evans is right that it should be something we do only in the most extreme cases. Sarat has a point that the methods we use do not change the horror of killing another human being, no matter how monstrous that person’s actions have been. We naturally recoil from what Evans sees as justice and Sarat views as one of the most unjust institutions in our nation’s history. In the end, we cannot shirk our responsibilities to the human race, which is lessened each time a human being commits the acts of a monster. We cannot salvage anything from the loss of human life by treating serial murder or other irredeemable acts as crimes like kidnapping but with longer sentences. The punishment must balance the crime, and only a life will balance the depraved taking of a life. We must use capital punishment sparingly, but we cannot have genuine justice without it.

These passages are single-spaced to fit this page’s structure. For how they will look when double-spaced, look at the argumentation essay packet Word file on the module.