Forming, writing, and presenting an argument
Presented by William Treuting, Marine Corps Gazette Associate Editor
As the professional journal of the Marine Corps, the Marine Corps Gazette strengthens the intellectual capability of the Marine Corps by providing an open forum to exchange ideas; however, the power of this discussion is only as strong as its participants. To encourage further participants from all ranks, we offer this writer’s guide to help those who may not be well versed in the art of writing and establish a template from which they can express their ideas.
Why are you writing?
The essence of writing for the Marine Corps Gazette is to help answer an institutional question: How can we improve the Marine Corps? The success of the Marine Corps has largely been dependent upon its ability to embrace change and practice new and innovative methods for success both on and off the battlefield. There could be a variety of reasons for writing an article: you wish to change a particular standard operating procedure, you found a new way to implement a piece of equipment, you know of a historical event that has contemporary relevancy, or you believe that major intuitional changes need to occur.
An example of an important institutional question for the Marine Corps is: Does the Marine Corps need tanks?
In order to answer these institutional questions and form your own argument, you will have to do your own research and find evidence to support whatever position you take. Evidence could come in many shapes and forms: professional books and articles, film, newspapers, and even lived experiences. When compiling evidence for your argument, it is good look at conflicting opinions and consider the pros and cons of both sides. A well written article will consider opposing views and break them down to demonstrate how they are flawed.
Not all evidence is equal; for instance, a book on the Eastern Front of World War II written by a military historian with a professional degree is more reliable than a former SS soldier recounting his personal experiences. While the former is well researched and incorporates a wide variety of cross-examined sources, the latter is recounting experiences from memory and may be attempting to reconstruct their place in history—such as omitting or outright denying participation in war crimes. Always try to question the validity of your evidence and any possible biases associated with it.
Finally, remember to be careful in documenting and tracking your sources. We will go into detail later about how to properly cite your evidence.
Continuing with our previous example of determining whether the Marine Corps needs tanks, some evidence might be a book on the use of tanks in the Pacific during World War II, after-action reports from the Battle of Hue, or interviews from participants of the Battle of Mogadishu.
Making an argument
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, your article is an argument—you have an idea that you believe to be of value and worth people’s time. The goal of your article is to convince the reader of the validity of your argument with the hope it will promote further discussion that could eventually lead to change. When forming your argument, think about the key takeaway that you want to reader to have once they finish your article.
An example of an argument would be: The Marine Corps needs to keep its tanks. Thus, after finishing your article, your reader should be convinced that the Marine Corps needs to keep its tanks.
Establish supporting arguments
So far, you have made an argument supported by evidence; now you need to organize your thoughts with supporting arguments. Your supporting arguments are based off your evidence and should concisely group your evidence into similar themes. Plainly stated, your supporting argument answers the “because why” of your argument.
Continuing with our example, your supporting arguments would follow your main argument: The Marine Corps needs to keep its tanks because they can support infantry in increasingly urbanized environments, increase firepower without limiting mobility, and remain a psychological force—especially against non-state entities.
The first step in writing an article is to create a rough draft. This draft is by no means exhaustive, just a simple way to organize your argument, supporting arguments, and evidence. Your first draft can be as simple as below:
- Supporting Argument 1
- Evidence 1
- Evidence 2
- Evidence 3
- Supporting Argument 2
- Evidence 4
- Evidence 5
- Evidence 6
- Supporting Argument 3
- Evidence 7
- Evidence 8
- Evidence 9
When writing an article, you must remember that you are competing for your readers’ time. Oftentimes, your reader will cursorily scan the introduction of your article, and if you fail to grab their attention, at most they will quickly scan your article before moving on to something more interesting. The introduction is an opportunity to get your readers’ attention so that they may grasp the value of your argument and know what is at stake. Good introductions come in many forms: personal vignettes, historical accounts, hypothetical scenarios, or making a standout claim. After reading your introduction, your readers should feel compelled to continue reading.
After you grasp your readers’ attention, your next job is to establish your argument. To do so, you must create a thesis. Your thesis is essentially a statement that combines your argument with your supporting argument. This should be done in no more than two sentences so as to succinctly explain to the reader both your stance and how you are going to defend it.
Using our earlier example, your thesis should look like this: The Marine Corps needs to keep its tanks because they can support infantry in increasingly urbanized environments, increase firepower without limiting mobility, and remain a psychological force—especially against non-state entities. Notice how this is just a simple combination of the previous argument and supporting arguments.
Your next job after introducing your argument is to defend it. You should begin each supporting argument by explaining how it relates back to your main argument. Next, you need to present the evidence supporting your argument. Remember, it is not enough just to copy and paste a quote or figure; you must break down the evidence and explain its importance and relevance to your overall argument. If you are incorporating a piece of evidence that goes against your argument, take the time to dissect the flaws to demonstrate how your alternative is the superior approach. Once you finish detailing one of your supporting arguments, remember to write a transition to clarify to your reader that you are now moving onto the next topic.
At the Marine Corps Gazette, we use a form of the Chicago Manual of Style when citing sources. If you are unfamiliar with Chicago Style, please consult https://www.bibme.org/chicago. At the very least, please make sure you provide the following information: author’s first and last name, the title of work, publisher, publisher’s city/state, publication date, and URL if a web source.
When writing your conclusion, your purpose is to summarize how your supporting arguments support your main argument while underlining how your argument will help improve the Marine Corps. Try to make your conclusion as succinct as possible and avoid bringing up or mentioning things that have no relevance to your overall argument.
After having completed your first full draft, take some time off from writing and editing; give yourself enough time to reflect and reapproach your paper with a fresh set of eyes. Also, feel free to ask for feedback from your peers to evaluate both the clarity and strength of your argument.
A formal article written in the classical argumentative style is but only one way of many to address an argument. Some authors have chosen instead to present their argument in the form of a fictional story. Recently, many have written vignettes emphasizing the potential that new technology offers on the battlefield. Others have followed in the style of the Defense of Duffer’s Drift by using a fictional scenario to demonstrate how a concept can be correctly applied on the battlefield. Regardless, the sorts of articles still follow the same format as a classical essay by having an introduction, thesis, supporting arguments, and closing. Using creative writing can help better capture your readers’ attention while still presenting the case for your argument.