Writing the GMAT Argument Essay
This is the second article in a two-part series. Make sure you’ve read “Preparing to Write the Argument Essay” before this, or it won’t make much sense.
In the previous article, we talked about preparatory steps for writing the Argument essay. Once you’ve found three big assumptions, and have some specific examples in mind that you can use to criticize those assumptions, you’re ready to begin writing. The nice thing about the Argument essay is that it’s a much narrower, more constrained essay than the Issue essay. So the writing part will match up nicely with a predetermined structure. It’s like writing with a template.
The introduction must accomplish two things. It must establish what argument you’re responding to, so that the reader knows what the essay is about, and it must establish your point of view, so that the reader knows where you stand. As discussed in the first article, your point of view is a given: you’re going to say that the argument is terrible. So the rest of the introduction is just a paraphrase of the argument itself. Here is a basic template for the introduction.
The argument concludes [paraphrase conclusion]. This conclusion is based on the premises [paraphrase premises]. The argument is logically flawed, however, because it depends on numerous assumptions for which no evidence has been given.
This simple structure is all you need for an introduction. You can certainly make it fancier if you wish, but a basic version will do perfectly well. Obviously, in a real introduction you would have to actually paraphrase the conclusion and premises of the argument you’re writing about. Let’s look at an argument prompt to flesh this out.
In order to increase productivity, Jameson Engineering should require that all its employees attend Happiness Now! workshops, which teach techniques for being a happier person. These workshops have clearly benefited Bright Faces daycare center. Three years ago, 50 Bright Faces employees volunteered to attend an afternoon Happiness Now! workshop. Today, these employees are among the most productive in the company, and the company as a whole has increased its enrollment of children by 30%.
Here’s how a sample introduction might read:
The argument concludes that Jameson Engineering should require its employees to attend Happiness Now! workshops to learn happiness techniques, in order to increase productivity. This conclusion is based on the premise that after 50 Bright Faces daycare employees volunteered for an afternoon Happiness Now! workshop, enrollment increased by 30% and they were among the most productive employees. The logic of the argument is flawed, however, because the author makes numerous assumptions, but fails to adequately support them.
Your body paragraphs are where the real criticism happens. This is where you attack the assumptions you’ve identified one by one. Here is a list of some of the most problematic assumptions contained in the argument above.
- The workshop enabled the Bright Faces employees to be happier.
- Being happy caused these employees to be productive.
- These employees were not already among the most productive in the center before the workshop.
- An enrollment increase of 30% is evidence of productivity.
- An engineering company is similar enough to a daycare center that what works at the latter will work at the former.
- Mandatory attendance at these workshops will be as effective as voluntary attendance.
Remember, you’ll only be picking three of these to write about. Each body paragraph should identify an assumption and then proceed to criticize it. Here are a few templates for body paragraphs.
The argument assumes [assumption]. However, [all the reasons the assumption is a poor one].
The argument ignores the possibility that [assumption is false]. However, [all the reasons the assumption is a poor one].
The argument fails to consider that [assumption is false.] However, [all the reasons the assumption is a poor one].
Let’s begin a body paragraph based on one of the assumptions above.
First of all, the argument fails to consider that engineers are very different from daycare workers and what works to make the latter more productive may not work with the former. The author argues that because techniques to become happier made the daycare workers more productive, it will have the same effect on engineers. But this is a very dubious assumption. Daycare workers work directly with children all day. Their personal attitudes and happiness directly affect how they interact with the kids. A miserable daycare worker would have a much harder time entertaining and teaching children than a happy one. By contrast, an engineer’s job is much less affected by happiness techniques. Engineers interact with co-workers, but primarily spend their time designing and building things …
The paragraph could go on longer, but hopefully you get the idea.
The most important thing about the conclusion is that it’s there. You don’t need to break new ground with the conclusion, you’re just ending the essay on the right note. The conclusion should tie a bow on the essay and tell the reader, “Okay, nothing more to see here. We’re done now.”
In conclusion, the argument that mandatory Happiness Now! workshops will increase productivity at Jameson Engineering is weak. If the author demonstrated that being happy leads to higher productivity, that what works with daycare workers can be expected to work with engineers, and that mandatory attendance is as effective as voluntary attendance, then the argument would be strengthened. Absent that support, however, there is no reason to accept the argument’s conclusion.
Execute these basics, and you’ll do fine on your Argument essay.
– David Ragsdale, Princeton Review