How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 3 – Building your argument, by Dr Nuno Nodin

How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 3 – Building your argument, by Dr Nuno Nodin

In the two previous posts, we covered some of the essential aspects of preparing and writing up your undergraduate essay. One key aspect still missing is that of the argument. This can sometimes seem like a complicated or elusive aspect of essay writing. However, it does not have to be that way. There are ways to approach building an argument that will make your life simpler. In the final blog post of this series, we provide some guidance on how to elaborate and effectively develop your argument.

Elaborating the argument

Whether the essay assignment is a question that needs answering, or a statement that should be discussed critically, you should think about your position on the topic. As you start to read in preparation for your essay, it is likely that you will start to form your own views. For example, let’s imagine that the essay question is ‘Who should win the award of the most influential figure in the history of Psychology?’ A number of authors come to mind as possible answers, such as Freud, Pavlov, Piaget, Watson, and many, many others. Different people will have different perspectives on who should win such an award. The task is to try to convince the reader as to why your choice is the best one.

This can only be achieved by collecting evidence and presenting it in a way that will demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that there is solid ground to support your choice. This may include looking for arguments against your choice (counter-arguments) and explaining why those arguments are not solid or valid (refutation), thus making a stronger case in support of your choice.

The thesis statement

Your position, or key argument, should be included in the introduction of the essay (this is called the ‘thesis statement’). In the example used here, this could be something along the lines of: ‘Due to his important contributions to the understanding of the human mind, to the development of psychological interventions, and to his influence on many key authors in the field, Freud should win the award of the most influential figure in the history of Psychology’.

The thesis statement then needs to be supported by relevant evidence, with one topic per paragraph in the body of the essay. The thesis statement should be restated and the supporting evidence should be summarised in the conclusion (for more detail about structure, see the second blog post in the series ‘How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 2 – Writing up’). Supporting evidence can be drawn from various sources, such as research, theory, statistics, facts, logical argumentation, etc. Importantly, this evidence should be presented and discussed critically. For instance, you may find one study, which found that Freud was the choice for the most influential figure amongst a group of psychologists, but the study has a small sample, and the methodology is flawed. Even if you decide to use this study in support of your own perspective that Freud should win the award, you should also point out its limitations and find other more solid evidence to support this point.

It is important to keep in mind that practice makes better! The more essays you write, the better you will become at essay writing. Also, make sure that you carefully read the feedback you receive in all your essays in order to identify aspects of your writing that may need improvement.

In conclusion

Although a lot of ground is covered in this and the previous two ‘How to write a good undergraduate essay’ blog posts, they do not exhaust all possible guidance on essay writing at undergraduate level. You can find links to a few useful sources, which provide additional information at the end of this post.

Happy writing!

By Dr Nuno Nodin


How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 1 – Getting started 

How to write a good undergraduate essay, part 2 – Writing up

Recommended essay-writing resources: