'Argument!' Helping students understand what essay writing is about

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Argumentation is a key requirement of the essay, which is the most common genre that students have to write. However, how argumentation is realised in disciplinary writing is often poorly understood by academic tutors, and therefore not adequately taught to students. This paper presents research into undergraduate students’ concepts of argument when they arrive at university, difficulties they experience with developing arguments in their essays, and the type and quality of instruction they receive. A three-part definition which describes argumentation by what students need to learn was used as the framework for analysis. The findings show that students have only partial or incorrect concepts of argument. Many problems they encounter are caused by their lack of knowledge of what an argumentative essay requires, particularly of the need to develop their own position in an academic debate. The advice they receive does not make the requirements explicit and refers to argumentation inconsistently and vaguely. An ‘essay writing framework’, based on the three-part definition, is proposed for improving the teaching of writing. This approach puts argumentation at the centre of instruction and explains other aspects of writing according to the function they have in the development of argument.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbern/a
Pages (from-to)145-154
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of English for Academic Purposes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


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