Eric Palmer, Philosophy Instructor at Santa Barbara City College, designed the following graphic organizer for use when composing an argumentative essay. The example presents an argument for the abolition of capital punishment. The graphic organizer is followed by a written argument illustrating the function of each sentence in the structure. A section follows which explains the format and provides directions on the procedure for writing it out. Prof. Palmer elaborates upon this in his Philosophy 110: Critical Thinking and Writing class.
PARAGRAPH 1: INTRODUCTION
Thesis : Capital punishment should be abolished.
Premise 1: Capital punishment is not justified by deterrence.
Premise 2: Capital punishment is arbitrarily used.
Premise 3: The principle upon which capital punishment is based, `an eye for an eye', is not accepted by American society.
PARAGRAPH 2: MAIN BODY OF THE PAPER
Main Idea of paragraph 2: Capital punishment is not justified by deterrence.
Premise 1 of ¶ 2: Statistics show that capital punishment does not deter.
Premise 2 of ¶ 2: American society rejects other punishments that might have equal or greater deterrence value, e.g. torture, and punishment of the innocent.
PARAGRAPH 3 : MAIN BODY OF THE PAPER
Main idea of paragraph 3: Capital punishment is arbitrarily used.
Premise 1 of ¶ 3: Statistics show direct correlation between (a) income and ethnicity and (b) death sentence.
Premise 2 of ¶ 3: Mandatory death sentencing has been unsuccessful in curbing discrimination in use of death penalty.
PARAGRAPH 4 : MAIN BODY OF THE PAPER
Main idea paragraph 4: The principle upon which capital punishment is based, `an eye for an eye', is not accepted by American society.
Premise 1 of ¶ 4: We do not steal from people as a punishment for theft.
Premise 2 of ¶ 4: We do not assault people as a punishment for assault.
PARAGRAPH 5: CONCLUSION
Consider broader social implications of argument and thesis.
Notice the parallel format between the structure of the introduction and the structure of the essay: the introduction outlines the format of the essay. The structure of each paragraph in the main body of the paper is a reflection of the structure of the introduction in that the introduction has a thesis and supporting premises while each paragraph has a main idea and supporting premises. Notice also that what occurs in the introduction as a premise becomes the main idea of a paragraph in the main body of the paper; this main idea then has its own supporting premises.
The student may apply the preceding as a strategy in the following manner.
In paragraph 1 (the introduction) the student begins by identifying her position on a controversial topic (this becomes the initial thesis). The student then asks herself why someone should accept this thesis. She then produces three reasons for accepting the thesis (these are the supporting premises). In paragraph 2 the student begins with a restatement of the first premise from the introduction, which becomes the main idea of paragraph 2. The student then asks herself why someone should accept this main idea as true. She produces two reasons for accepting this main idea. This provides the structure for the second paragraph. This process is repeated for subsequent paragraphs. The structure can be filled out by explaining how the reader should understand the meaning of each main idea and premise. The student may want to use examples for this purpose. The student might also explain to the reader how she sees the premises as supporting the main ideas and the initial thesis. The conclusion provokes further thought on the subject by considering the broader social implications of the argument.