3.5 Presenting a coherent argument
Presenting a coherent argument is closely linked to ‘answering the question’. The essence of an essay is that it sets out to be an argument about the issues raised in the title. Even if you have a lot of good material in it, it will not be judged ‘a good essay’ unless the material is organised so that it hangs together. This implies two things:
You need to sort out your points into groups so that they can be presented in a structured way, giving the essay a beginning, a middle, and an end.
You need to keep a thread of meaning running through your essay. Each sentence should flow on from the previous one, with adequate signposting to help your reader follow the moves you are making.
Presenting a coherent argument is also closely linked with ‘showing your grasp of ideas’. One of the reasons why your writing tasks are set in the essay form – the form of an argument – is because that makes you use the ideas you have been studying to say something. Anyone can copy material from books. The point of an essay is to make you think. When you present a coherent argument you are showing that you can take hold of the ideas and organise them to do some work for you.
Perhaps you were a bit puzzled when I said earlier that Philip and Hansa both argue quite well, in view of the criticisms I had made of their arguments. What I meant was that they both have some sense of what an academic argument should be like. Most important, they show they know that arguing in an essay is not the same thing as ‘having an argument’ in everyday life, when people tend to confront each other – often being stubborn, emotional, irrational, and making wild generalisations. An argument in an essay aims at the very opposite of these things. The writer must be objective, precise, logical, and concerned to back a case with evidence.
Philip and Hansa sometimes write in a vague and woolly way, but at other times they are quite precise – accurate in what they say, and careful to use the right word. This shows they know it matters which words you choose in making a particular point, even if they don't always find them. And they connect up the stages in their argument well enough to show that they are aware they should present their ideas in a reasoned or logical sequence, not spray them around any old how. Even if they do not use enough evidence from Ellis's article to illustrate and support what they say, they use enough to show they know this matters too. In other words, they both give signs of recognising what it means to write an academic essay, and this is fundamental to everything else.