argumentative research: Should couples cohabitate before marriage

Topic of for paper: Should couples cohabitate before marriage?


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Introductions, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions for an Argument Paper


This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

Contributors:Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2013-02-25 10:10:40

The following sections outline the generally accepted structure for an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that these are guidelines and that your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

You may also use the following Purdue OWL resources to help you with your argument paper:


The introduction is the broad beginning of the paper that answers three important questions:

  1. What is this?
  2. Why am I reading it?
  3. What do you want me to do?

You should answer these questions by doing the following:

  1. Set the context –provide general information about the main idea, explaining the situation so the reader can make sense of the topic and the claims you make and support
  2. State why the main idea is important –tell the reader why he or she should care and keep reading. Your goal is to create a compelling, clear, and convincing essay people will want to read and act upon
  3. State your thesis/claim –compose a sentence or two stating the position you will support with logos (sound reasoning: induction, deduction), pathos (balanced emotional appeal), and ethos (author credibility).

For exploratory essays, your primary research question would replace your thesis statement so that the audience understands why you began your inquiry. An overview of the types of sources you explored might follow your research question.

If your argument paper is long, you may want to forecast how you will support your thesis by outlining the structure of your paper, the sources you will consider, and the opposition to your position. You can forecast your paper in many different ways depending on the type of paper you are writing. Your forecast could read something like this:

First, I will define key terms for my argument, and then I will provide some background of the situation. Next I will outline the important positions of the argument and explain why I support one of these positions. Lastly, I will consider opposing positions and discuss why these positions are outdated. I will conclude with some ideas for taking action and possible directions for future research.

When writing a research paper, you may need to use a more formal, less personal tone. Your forecast might read like this:

This paper begins by providing key terms for the argument before providing background of the situation. Next, important positions are outlined and supported. To provide a more thorough explanation of these important positions, opposing positions are discussed. The paper concludes with some ideas for taking action and possible directions for future research.

Ask your instructor about what tone you should use when providing a forecast for your paper.

These are very general examples, but by adding some details on your specific topic, a forecast will effectively outline the structure of your paper so your readers can more easily follow your ideas.

Thesis checklist

Your thesis is more than a general statement about your main idea. It needs to establish a clear position you will support with balanced proofs (logos, pathos, ethos). Use the checklist below to help you create a thesis.

This section is adapted from Writing with a Thesis: A Rhetoric Reader by David Skwire and Sarah Skwire:

Make sure you avoid the following when creating your thesis:

  • A thesis is not a title: Homes and schools (title) vs. Parents ought to participate more in the education of their children (good thesis).
  • A thesis is not an announcement of the subject: My subject is the incompetence of the Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Court made a mistake when it ruled in favor of George W. Bush in the 2000 election.
  • A thesis is not a statement of absolute fact: Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.
  • A thesis is not the whole essay: A thesis is your main idea/claim/refutation/problem-solution expressed in a single sentence or a combination of sentences.
  • Please note that according to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition, “A thesis statement is a single sentence that formulates both your topic and your point of view” (Gibaldi 42). However, if your paper is more complex and requires a thesis statement, your thesis may require a combination of sentences.

Make sure you follow these guidelines when creating your thesis:

  • A good thesis is unified:
    • NOT: Detective stories are not a high form of literature, but people have always been fascinated by them, and many fine writers have experimented with them

(floppy). vs.

    • BETTER: Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills (concise).
  • A good thesis is specific:
    • NOT: James Joyce’s Ulysses is very good. vs.
    • BETTER: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious.
  • Try to be as specific as possible (without providing too much detail) when creating your thesis:
    • NOT: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious. vs.
    • BETTER: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious by utilizing the findings of Freudian psychology and introducing the techniques of literary stream-of-consciousness.

Quick Checklist:

_____ The thesis/claim follows the guidelines outlined above

_____ The thesis/claim matches the requirements and goals of the assignment

_____ The thesis/claim is clear and easily recognizable

_____ The thesis/claim seems supportable by good reasoning/data, emotional appeal

Copyright ©1995-2016 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University (Links to an external site.). All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Common Errors to Avoid in Writing an Argumentative Research Paper

Avoiding the Five Most Common Problems with Research Paper

There are many things to think about as you are writing, revising, and proofreading your research paper, as suggested by the Revision Checklist. This page is designed to help you focus on and avoid the five most common problems associated with research papers. While the Revision Checklist specifies many different aspects of your writing to examine, this page goes into more detail with just five common problems

One of the most common problems with research papers is not listed below, and this problem involves papers that do not reflect weeks of work but instead appear to be hastily put together in just a few days. There is a reason why we devote several weeks to the research paper: it takes that long to write a good research paper. Your paper should demonstrate careful and thorough research, significant revision, and effective proofreading.

At the bottom of this page you will find several links to web pages that explain some of the items referred to below in more depth. The five most common problem with research papers are listed below in no particular order.

Problem 1: Weak Organization

The longer a paper, the more challenging it is to ensure that the paper is well organized and unified. Sometimes, the writer will start to drift from idea to idea in the paper, losing focus on the thesis. The following questions may help you ensure that your research paper is well organized.

  • Is your thesis clearly stated in the introduction in just one sentence?
  • Does each body paragraph begin with a topic sentence clearly conveying a claim that is a major aspect of your thesis?
  • Within each body paragraph, do you stay well focused on proving the claim or claims presented in the first sentence of the paragraph?
  • Within each body paragraph, do you remind readers of the main point you are trying to prove in the paragraph by referring back to the main idea or ideas conveyed in the topic sentence?
  • Is there a logical progression of ideas throughout your paper? In other words, is there a logical reason for the order of your ideas throughout your paper, and will this logical order be clear to readers?

Try this: You should be able to summarize accurately the entire content of your paper by listing just a few sentences from the paper: the thesis statement, the topic sentence for each body paragraph, and the restatement of the thesis. Collectively, these sentences should accurately convey everything you discuss in the paper. If any of the sentences or ideas in your paper are not clearly related to one of these sentences, then organization may be a problem.

The lengths of paragraphs can also give you an indication of possible problems with organization. If your paper has excessively long paragraphs (over a page and a half each) or excessively short paragraphs (paragraphs of only 5 or 6 sentences each), organization may be a problem.

To better unify and organize your paper, you should delete any sentences that are not clearly vital to the thesis for the paper. You might present some good ideas in those sentences, but if the ideas are not vital to the paper’s thesis, they should not be in the paper.

Strong organization is especially important for a long paper. You have to ensure that readers will not get lost anywhere in your paper, that readers will always know how what they are reading logically relates to the thesis of the paper.

Problem 2: Poor Support and Development of Ideas

Poor support and development of ideas is closely related to weak organization, and excessively short or long paragraphs are one indication that the ideas in a paper are not developed well. It is also difficult to develop ideas successfully without the use of effective topic sentences.

Look carefully at the first sentence of each body paragraph. This sentence is what readers most likely will regard as the topic sentence for the paragraph. Again, there should be no sentences or ideas in a body paragraph that are not clearly related to main idea or ideas conveyed in the topic sentence. Does the first sentence of each body paragraph in your paper accurately summarize everything you discuss in the paragraph?

The following questions should help you determine how well you support and develop ideas in your paper.

  • Have you limited the number of claims that you present in your paper? In other words, in each body paragraph, you should give yourself only one point (or at least no more than a few points) to prove: the majority of each paragraph should be comprised of supporting facts, not of claims that need to be proven.
  • Do you support each claim with specific evidence?
  • Is the majority of support you use in your paper from the primary source, not from secondary sources?
  • Does every piece of evidence in your paper clearly support a specific claim?
  • In each body paragraph, do you use at least three or four pieces of supporting evidence?
  • Do you explain how the evidence you present logically supports a specific claim?
  • Are all of the claims and supporting evidence in the paper clearly relevant to the thesis of the paper?
  • Could any quotation be shortened to exclude information not vital to the claim you are trying to prove with the quotation?

Remember that your research paper not only is interpretive but also persuasive: you have to argue your interpretation, convincing readers that you have an interpretation that is well supported with evidence from the play itself and further supported by insights from other scholars and experts.

Problem 3: Weak Use of Secondary Sources

Another common problem is the weak use of material from secondary sources. The following questions should help you evaluate how effectively you use material from sources to support and develop your thesis.

  • Does all material from secondary sources provide meaningful insightful into the play? If any material only summarizes something that happens in the play or conveys information that is obvious from the play itself, you should put the information into your own words and delete your citation of the secondary source. You do not need a secondary source to tell you what is obvious from the play itself.
  • Are all of your sources credible? How do you know?
  • Do you not use general reference sources in your paper, such as a general encyclopedia? You should use more insightful sources: general reference sources seldom go into much depth.
  • Does your paper reflect that you understand well the meaning of the words and ideas you use from sources?
  • Does your paper as a whole demonstrate that you have a good understanding of what others have said about the play?
  • Does material from secondary sources comprise, at most, no more than 20% of your paper?
  • Do you avoid using long quotations and instead smoothly integrate shorter quotations into your own sentences?
  • Does the material from secondary sources flow smoothly with your own writing and clearly and logically relate to the ideas you are developing?
  • Do you avoid relying heavily on material from just one or two secondary sources?
  • Do you avoid getting crowded out of your own paper by material from sources? Are there passages in your paper where you present several sentences in a row of material from secondary sources? If so, you probably need to get more of your own words and ideas into the passage.

In addition, problems with the proper presentation, citation, and documentation of sources in papers are common. With the following questions in mind, review all of the material you use from sources in your paper.

  • Are all quoted words presented in your paper exactly as they appear in the original source?
  • Do you put quotation marks around all words copied from a source?
  • Are all paraphrases and summaries of material from secondary sources really in your own words? (Note that plagiarism occurs if you do not use quotation marks and copy a phrase, a sentence, or sentences from a source and only change a few words. The sentence structure and words of a paraphrase or summary should be your own.)
  • Have you properly cited all material from secondary sources?
  • Have you checked and double-checked your paper to ensure that it does not contain any plagiarism?
  • Do you have a good understanding of what constitutes plagiarism? (Understanding plagiarism is extremely important. A paper containing plagiarism will receive a failing grade.)
  • Have you properly listed all sources, including the primary source, on the “Works Cited” page? (If you guess about how to list sources, you can assume that you will be wrong!)
  • Have you checked and double-checked to ensure that you follow proper MLA standards for the citation and documentation of all sources?

There are many things to consider when you use sources in a paper, but you have access to all of the resources you need to use, cite, and document sources properly. Of course, just ask if you have any questions.

Problem 4: Excessive Errors

English Composition 2 is the last writing course most students take in college. By now, errors should not be a problem. Errors on the research paper will significantly reduce the grade, so make sure to proofread very carefully. Review your other essays to identify any errors that have caused problems for you in the past, and make sure that those errors, or any other errors, are not a problem in the research paper.

You have many resources to help you understand and eliminate errors. If you have any questions about errors, though, make sure to ask those questions.

Problem 5: Stylistic Weaknesses

By now, your writing should be free from stylistic weaknesses. Use the following questions to help you determine how strong your research paper is stylistically.

  • Have you integrated every quotation smoothly and logically into your own sentences? No quotation in your paper should be standing by itself. This is something that I cover during the first few weeks of English Composition 1.
  • Have you avoided common wordy expressions (“the fact that,” “at this point in time,” “people in this world,” etc.)?
  • Do you use a formal voice throughout your paper, with no first-person references (“I think,” etc.), no contractions, and no slang or other informal language?
  • Do you use transitional phrases to take readers smoothly and logically from one idea to the next and from one sentence to the next?
  • Do you use a variety of sentences, both in terms of length and structure?
  • Do you use varied word choice, avoiding unnecessary repetition of words?
  • Do you avoid using the passive voice, using it only sparingly for specific reasons?

Additional Information

See the following web handouts for more information about some of the items listed above:

Using, Citing, and Documenting Material from Secondary Sources

Developing and Supporting Ideas Effectively

Style and Mechanics


This page was last updated on June 06, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo (Links to an external site.), 2006.

MLA Format

MLA Formatting and Style Guide


MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (8th ed.) and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors:Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2014-10-10 09:09:47

Please use the example at the bottom of this page to cite the Purdue OWL in MLA.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the three most widely used citation styles, including a chart of all MLA citation guidelines, see the Citation Style Chart (Links to an external site.).

You can also watch our MLA vidcast series (Links to an external site.) on the Purdue OWL YouTube Channel (Links to an external site.).

General Format

MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.

Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.

If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries; it is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this handout for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA style.

Paper Format

The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.

General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor’s guidelines.)
  • Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

Formatting the First Page of Your Paper

  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
  • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor’s name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
  • Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
  • Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in “After Apple Picking”
  • Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
  • Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)

Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:

Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper

Section Headings

Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.


MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.

1. Early Writings

2. The London Years

3. Traveling the Continent

4. Final Years


MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.

If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.

Sample Section Headings

The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.


1. Soil Conservation

1.1 Erosion

1.2 Terracing

2. Water Conservation

3. Energy Conservation

Formatted, unnumbered:

Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left

Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left

Level 3 Heading: centered, bold

Level 4 Heading: centered, italics

Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left

How to Cite the Purdue OWL in MLA

Entire Website

The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 2010. Web. Date of access.

Individual Resources

Contributors’ names and the last edited date can be found in the orange boxes at the top of every page on the OWL.

Contributors’ names. “Title of Resource.” The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, Last edited date. Web. Date of access.

Russell, Tony, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli. “MLA Formatting and Style Guide.” The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 4 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 July 2010.

Copyright ©1995-2016 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University (Links to an external site.). All rights reserved. This material may not be published, r

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