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8 Effective Strategies to Write Argumentative Essays

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In a bustling university town, there lived a student named Alex. Popular for creativity and wit, one challenge seemed insurmountable for Alex– the dreaded argumentative essay!

One gloomy afternoon, as the rain tapped against the window pane, Alex sat at his cluttered desk, staring at a blank document on the computer screen. The assignment loomed large: a 350-600-word argumentative essay on a topic of their choice . With a sigh, he decided to seek help of mentor, Professor Mitchell, who was known for his passion for writing.

Entering Professor Mitchell’s office was like stepping into a treasure of knowledge. Bookshelves lined every wall, faint aroma of old manuscripts in the air and sticky notes over the wall. Alex took a deep breath and knocked on his door.

“Ah, Alex,” Professor Mitchell greeted with a warm smile. “What brings you here today?”

Alex confessed his struggles with the argumentative essay. After hearing his concerns, Professor Mitchell said, “Ah, the argumentative essay! Don’t worry, Let’s take a look at it together.” As he guided Alex to the corner shelf, Alex asked,

Table of Contents

“What is an Argumentative Essay?”

The professor replied, “An argumentative essay is a type of academic writing that presents a clear argument or a firm position on a contentious issue. Unlike other forms of essays, such as descriptive or narrative essays, these essays require you to take a stance, present evidence, and convince your audience of the validity of your viewpoint with supporting evidence. A well-crafted argumentative essay relies on concrete facts and supporting evidence rather than merely expressing the author’s personal opinions . Furthermore, these essays demand comprehensive research on the chosen topic and typically follows a structured format consisting of three primary sections: an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.”

He continued, “Argumentative essays are written in a wide range of subject areas, reflecting their applicability across disciplines. They are written in different subject areas like literature and philosophy, history, science and technology, political science, psychology, economics and so on.

Alex asked,

“When is an Argumentative Essay Written?”

The professor answered, “Argumentative essays are often assigned in academic settings, but they can also be written for various other purposes, such as editorials, opinion pieces, or blog posts. Some situations to write argumentative essays include:

1. Academic assignments

In school or college, teachers may assign argumentative essays as part of coursework. It help students to develop critical thinking and persuasive writing skills .

2. Debates and discussions

Argumentative essays can serve as the basis for debates or discussions in academic or competitive settings. Moreover, they provide a structured way to present and defend your viewpoint.

3. Opinion pieces

Newspapers, magazines, and online publications often feature opinion pieces that present an argument on a current issue or topic to influence public opinion.

4. Policy proposals

In government and policy-related fields, argumentative essays are used to propose and defend specific policy changes or solutions to societal problems.

5. Persuasive speeches

Before delivering a persuasive speech, it’s common to prepare an argumentative essay as a foundation for your presentation.

Regardless of the context, an argumentative essay should present a clear thesis statement , provide evidence and reasoning to support your position, address counterarguments, and conclude with a compelling summary of your main points. The goal is to persuade readers or listeners to accept your viewpoint or at least consider it seriously.”

Handing over a book, the professor continued, “Take a look on the elements or structure of an argumentative essay.”

Elements of an Argumentative Essay

An argumentative essay comprises five essential components:

Claim in argumentative writing is the central argument or viewpoint that the writer aims to establish and defend throughout the essay. A claim must assert your position on an issue and must be arguable. It can guide the entire argument.

2. Evidence

Evidence must consist of factual information, data, examples, or expert opinions that support the claim. Also, it lends credibility by strengthening the writer’s position.

3. Counterarguments

Presenting a counterclaim demonstrates fairness and awareness of alternative perspectives.

4. Rebuttal

After presenting the counterclaim, the writer refutes it by offering counterarguments or providing evidence that weakens the opposing viewpoint. It shows that the writer has considered multiple perspectives and is prepared to defend their position.

The format of an argumentative essay typically follows the structure to ensure clarity and effectiveness in presenting an argument.

How to Write An Argumentative Essay

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write an argumentative essay:

1. Introduction

  • Begin with a compelling sentence or question to grab the reader’s attention.
  • Provide context for the issue, including relevant facts, statistics, or historical background.
  • Provide a concise thesis statement to present your position on the topic.

2. Body Paragraphs (usually three or more)

  • Start each paragraph with a clear and focused topic sentence that relates to your thesis statement.
  • Furthermore, provide evidence and explain the facts, statistics, examples, expert opinions, and quotations from credible sources that supports your thesis.
  • Use transition sentences to smoothly move from one point to the next.

3. Counterargument and Rebuttal

  • Acknowledge opposing viewpoints or potential objections to your argument.
  • Also, address these counterarguments with evidence and explain why they do not weaken your position.

4. Conclusion

  • Restate your thesis statement and summarize the key points you’ve made in the body of the essay.
  • Leave the reader with a final thought, call to action, or broader implication related to the topic.

5. Citations and References

  • Properly cite all the sources you use in your essay using a consistent citation style.
  • Also, include a bibliography or works cited at the end of your essay.

6. Formatting and Style

  • Follow any specific formatting guidelines provided by your instructor or institution.
  • Use a professional and academic tone in your writing and edit your essay to avoid content, spelling and grammar mistakes .

Remember that the specific requirements for formatting an argumentative essay may vary depending on your instructor’s guidelines or the citation style you’re using (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). Always check the assignment instructions or style guide for any additional requirements or variations in formatting.

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Prof. Mitchell continued, “An argumentative essay can adopt various approaches when dealing with opposing perspectives. It may offer a balanced presentation of both sides, providing equal weight to each, or it may advocate more strongly for one side while still acknowledging the existence of opposing views.” As Alex listened carefully to the Professor’s thoughts, his eyes fell on a page with examples of argumentative essay.

Example of an Argumentative Essay

Alex picked the book and read the example. It helped him to understand the concept. Furthermore, he could now connect better to the elements and steps of the essay which Prof. Mitchell had mentioned earlier. Aren’t you keen to know how an argumentative essay should be like? Here is an example of a well-crafted argumentative essay , which was read by Alex. After Alex finished reading the example, the professor turned the page and continued, “Check this page to know the importance of writing an argumentative essay in developing skills of an individual.”

Importance of an Argumentative Essay


After understanding the benefits, Alex was convinced by the ability of the argumentative essays in advocating one’s beliefs and favor the author’s position. Alex asked,

“How are argumentative essays different from the other types?”

Prof. Mitchell answered, “Argumentative essays differ from other types of essays primarily in their purpose, structure, and approach in presenting information. Unlike expository essays, argumentative essays persuade the reader to adopt a particular point of view or take a specific action on a controversial issue. Furthermore, they differ from descriptive essays by not focusing vividly on describing a topic. Also, they are less engaging through storytelling as compared to the narrative essays.

Alex said, “Given the direct and persuasive nature of argumentative essays, can you suggest some strategies to write an effective argumentative essay?

Turning the pages of the book, Prof. Mitchell replied, “Sure! You can check this infographic to get some tips for writing an argumentative essay.”

Effective Strategies to Write an Argumentative Essay


As days turned into weeks, Alex diligently worked on his essay. He researched, gathered evidence, and refined his thesis. It was a long and challenging journey, filled with countless drafts and revisions.

Finally, the day arrived when Alex submitted their essay. As he clicked the “Submit” button, a sense of accomplishment washed over him. He realized that the argumentative essay, while challenging, had improved his critical thinking and transformed him into a more confident writer. Furthermore, Alex received feedback from his professor, a mix of praise and constructive criticism. It was a humbling experience, a reminder that every journey has its obstacles and opportunities for growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

An argumentative essay can be written as follows- 1. Choose a Topic 2. Research and Collect Evidences 3. Develop a Clear Thesis Statement 4. Outline Your Essay- Introduction, Body Paragraphs and Conclusion 5. Revise and Edit 6. Format and Cite Sources 7. Final Review

One must choose a clear, concise and specific statement as a claim. It must be debatable and establish your position. Avoid using ambiguous or unclear while making a claim. To strengthen your claim, address potential counterarguments or opposing viewpoints. Additionally, use persuasive language and rhetoric to make your claim more compelling

Starting an argument essay effectively is crucial to engage your readers and establish the context for your argument. Here’s how you can start an argument essay are: 1. Begin With an Engaging Hook 2. Provide Background Information 3. Present Your Thesis Statement 4. Briefly Outline Your Main 5. Establish Your Credibility

The key features of an argumentative essay are: 1. Clear and Specific Thesis Statement 2. Credible Evidence 3. Counterarguments 4. Structured Body Paragraph 5. Logical Flow 6. Use of Persuasive Techniques 7. Formal Language

An argumentative essay typically consists of the following main parts or sections: 1. Introduction 2. Body Paragraphs 3. Counterargument and Rebuttal 4. Conclusion 5. References (if applicable)

The main purpose of an argumentative essay is to persuade the reader to accept or agree with a particular viewpoint or position on a controversial or debatable topic. In other words, the primary goal of an argumentative essay is to convince the audience that the author's argument or thesis statement is valid, logical, and well-supported by evidence and reasoning.

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How to Write an Argumentative Essay

How to Write an Argumentative Essay

4-minute read

  • 30th April 2022

An argumentative essay is a structured, compelling piece of writing where an author clearly defines their stance on a specific topic. This is a very popular style of writing assigned to students at schools, colleges, and universities. Learn the steps to researching, structuring, and writing an effective argumentative essay below.

Requirements of an Argumentative Essay

To effectively achieve its purpose, an argumentative essay must contain:

●  A concise thesis statement that introduces readers to the central argument of the essay

●  A clear, logical, argument that engages readers

●  Ample research and evidence that supports your argument

Approaches to Use in Your Argumentative Essay

1.   classical.

●  Clearly present the central argument.

●  Outline your opinion.

●  Provide enough evidence to support your theory.

2.   Toulmin

●  State your claim.

●  Supply the evidence for your stance.

●  Explain how these findings support the argument.

●  Include and discuss any limitations of your belief.

3.   Rogerian

●  Explain the opposing stance of your argument.

●  Discuss the problems with adopting this viewpoint.

●  Offer your position on the matter.

●  Provide reasons for why yours is the more beneficial stance.

●  Include a potential compromise for the topic at hand.

Tips for Writing a Well-Written Argumentative Essay

●  Introduce your topic in a bold, direct, and engaging manner to captivate your readers and encourage them to keep reading.

●  Provide sufficient evidence to justify your argument and convince readers to adopt this point of view.

●  Consider, include, and fairly present all sides of the topic.

●  Structure your argument in a clear, logical manner that helps your readers to understand your thought process.

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●  Discuss any counterarguments that might be posed.

●  Use persuasive writing that’s appropriate for your target audience and motivates them to agree with you.

Steps to Write an Argumentative Essay

Follow these basic steps to write a powerful and meaningful argumentative essay :

Step 1: Choose a topic that you’re passionate about

If you’ve already been given a topic to write about, pick a stance that resonates deeply with you. This will shine through in your writing, make the research process easier, and positively influence the outcome of your argument.

Step 2: Conduct ample research to prove the validity of your argument

To write an emotive argumentative essay , finding enough research to support your theory is a must. You’ll need solid evidence to convince readers to agree with your take on the matter. You’ll also need to logically organize the research so that it naturally convinces readers of your viewpoint and leaves no room for questioning.

Step 3: Follow a simple, easy-to-follow structure and compile your essay

A good structure to ensure a well-written and effective argumentative essay includes:


●  Introduce your topic.

●  Offer background information on the claim.

●  Discuss the evidence you’ll present to support your argument.

●  State your thesis statement, a one-to-two sentence summary of your claim.

●  This is the section where you’ll develop and expand on your argument.

●  It should be split into three or four coherent paragraphs, with each one presenting its own idea.

●  Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that indicates why readers should adopt your belief or stance.

●  Include your research, statistics, citations, and other supporting evidence.

●  Discuss opposing viewpoints and why they’re invalid.

●  This part typically consists of one paragraph.

●  Summarize your research and the findings that were presented.

●  Emphasize your initial thesis statement.

●  Persuade readers to agree with your stance.

We certainly hope that you feel inspired to use these tips when writing your next argumentative essay . And, if you’re currently elbow-deep in writing one, consider submitting a free sample to us once it’s completed. Our expert team of editors can help ensure that it’s concise, error-free, and effective!

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Argumentative Essays

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What is an argumentative essay?

The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.

Please note : Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.

Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.

The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.

  • A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.

In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important ( exigence ) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.

  • Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.

  • Body paragraphs that include evidential support.

Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis ( warrant ).

However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.

  • Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).

The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.

  • A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.

It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.

A complete argument

Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.

The five-paragraph essay

A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.

Longer argumentative essays

Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.

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What is an Argumentative Essay? How to Write It (With Examples)

Argumentative Essay

We define an argumentative essay as a type of essay that presents arguments about both sides of an issue. The purpose is to convince the reader to accept a particular viewpoint or action. In an argumentative essay, the writer takes a stance on a controversial or debatable topic and supports their position with evidence, reasoning, and examples. The essay should also address counterarguments, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the topic.

Table of Contents

  • What is an argumentative essay?  
  • Argumentative essay structure 
  • Argumentative essay outline 
  • Types of argument claims 

How to write an argumentative essay?

  • Argumentative essay writing tips 
  • Good argumentative essay example 

How to write a good thesis

  • How to Write an Argumentative Essay with Paperpal? 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an argumentative essay.

An argumentative essay is a type of writing that presents a coherent and logical analysis of a specific topic. 1 The goal is to convince the reader to accept the writer’s point of view or opinion on a particular issue. Here are the key elements of an argumentative essay: 

  • Thesis Statement : The central claim or argument that the essay aims to prove. 
  • Introduction : Provides background information and introduces the thesis statement. 
  • Body Paragraphs : Each paragraph addresses a specific aspect of the argument, presents evidence, and may include counter arguments. 

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  • Evidence : Supports the main argument with relevant facts, examples, statistics, or expert opinions. 
  • Counterarguments : Anticipates and addresses opposing viewpoints to strengthen the overall argument. 
  • Conclusion : Summarizes the main points, reinforces the thesis, and may suggest implications or actions. 

how long is an average argumentative essay

Argumentative essay structure

Aristotelian, Rogerian, and Toulmin are three distinct approaches to argumentative essay structures, each with its principles and methods. 2 The choice depends on the purpose and nature of the topic. Here’s an overview of each type of argumentative essay format.

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Argumentative essay outline

An argumentative essay presents a specific claim or argument and supports it with evidence and reasoning. Here’s an outline for an argumentative essay, along with examples for each section: 3  

1.  Introduction : 

  • Hook : Start with a compelling statement, question, or anecdote to grab the reader’s attention. 

Example: “Did you know that plastic pollution is threatening marine life at an alarming rate?” 

  • Background information : Provide brief context about the issue. 

Example: “Plastic pollution has become a global environmental concern, with millions of tons of plastic waste entering our oceans yearly.” 

  • Thesis statement : Clearly state your main argument or position. 

Example: “We must take immediate action to reduce plastic usage and implement more sustainable alternatives to protect our marine ecosystem.” 

2.  Body Paragraphs : 

  • Topic sentence : Introduce the main idea of each paragraph. 

Example: “The first step towards addressing the plastic pollution crisis is reducing single-use plastic consumption.” 

  • Evidence/Support : Provide evidence, facts, statistics, or examples that support your argument. 

Example: “Research shows that plastic straws alone contribute to millions of tons of plastic waste annually, and many marine animals suffer from ingestion or entanglement.” 

  • Counterargument/Refutation : Acknowledge and refute opposing viewpoints. 

Example: “Some argue that banning plastic straws is inconvenient for consumers, but the long-term environmental benefits far outweigh the temporary inconvenience.” 

  • Transition : Connect each paragraph to the next. 

Example: “Having addressed the issue of single-use plastics, the focus must now shift to promoting sustainable alternatives.” 

3.  Counterargument Paragraph : 

  • Acknowledgement of opposing views : Recognize alternative perspectives on the issue. 

Example: “While some may argue that individual actions cannot significantly impact global plastic pollution, the cumulative effect of collective efforts must be considered.” 

  • Counterargument and rebuttal : Present and refute the main counterargument. 

Example: “However, individual actions, when multiplied across millions of people, can substantially reduce plastic waste. Small changes in behavior, such as using reusable bags and containers, can have a significant positive impact.” 

4.  Conclusion : 

  • Restatement of thesis : Summarize your main argument. 

Example: “In conclusion, adopting sustainable practices and reducing single-use plastic is crucial for preserving our oceans and marine life.” 

  • Call to action : Encourage the reader to take specific steps or consider the argument’s implications. 

Example: “It is our responsibility to make environmentally conscious choices and advocate for policies that prioritize the health of our planet. By collectively embracing sustainable alternatives, we can contribute to a cleaner and healthier future.” 

how long is an average argumentative essay

Types of argument claims

A claim is a statement or proposition a writer puts forward with evidence to persuade the reader. 4 Here are some common types of argument claims, along with examples: 

  • Fact Claims : These claims assert that something is true or false and can often be verified through evidence.  Example: “Water boils at 100°C at sea level.”
  • Value Claims : Value claims express judgments about the worth or morality of something, often based on personal beliefs or societal values. Example: “Organic farming is more ethical than conventional farming.” 
  • Policy Claims : Policy claims propose a course of action or argue for a specific policy, law, or regulation change.  Example: “Schools should adopt a year-round education system to improve student learning outcomes.” 
  • Cause and Effect Claims : These claims argue that one event or condition leads to another, establishing a cause-and-effect relationship.  Example: “Excessive use of social media is a leading cause of increased feelings of loneliness among young adults.” 
  • Definition Claims : Definition claims assert the meaning or classification of a concept or term.  Example: “Artificial intelligence can be defined as machines exhibiting human-like cognitive functions.” 
  • Comparative Claims : Comparative claims assert that one thing is better or worse than another in certain respects.  Example: “Online education is more cost-effective than traditional classroom learning.” 
  • Evaluation Claims : Evaluation claims assess the quality, significance, or effectiveness of something based on specific criteria.  Example: “The new healthcare policy is more effective in providing affordable healthcare to all citizens.” 

Understanding these argument claims can help writers construct more persuasive and well-supported arguments tailored to the specific nature of the claim.  

If you’re wondering how to start an argumentative essay, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you with the argumentative essay format and writing process.

  • Choose a Topic: Select a topic that you are passionate about or interested in. Ensure that the topic is debatable and has two or more sides.
  • Define Your Position: Clearly state your stance on the issue. Consider opposing viewpoints and be ready to counter them.
  • Conduct Research: Gather relevant information from credible sources, such as books, articles, and academic journals. Take notes on key points and supporting evidence.
  • Create a Thesis Statement: Develop a concise and clear thesis statement that outlines your main argument. Convey your position on the issue and provide a roadmap for the essay.
  • Outline Your Argumentative Essay: Organize your ideas logically by creating an outline. Include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph should focus on a single point that supports your thesis.
  • Write the Introduction: Start with a hook to grab the reader’s attention (a quote, a question, a surprising fact). Provide background information on the topic. Present your thesis statement at the end of the introduction.
  • Develop Body Paragraphs: Begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that relates to the thesis. Support your points with evidence and examples. Address counterarguments and refute them to strengthen your position. Ensure smooth transitions between paragraphs.
  • Address Counterarguments: Acknowledge and respond to opposing viewpoints. Anticipate objections and provide evidence to counter them.
  • Write the Conclusion: Summarize the main points of your argumentative essay. Reinforce the significance of your argument. End with a call to action, a prediction, or a thought-provoking statement.
  • Revise, Edit, and Share: Review your essay for clarity, coherence, and consistency. Check for grammatical and spelling errors. Share your essay with peers, friends, or instructors for constructive feedback.
  • Finalize Your Argumentative Essay: Make final edits based on feedback received. Ensure that your essay follows the required formatting and citation style.

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Argumentative essay writing tips

Here are eight strategies to craft a compelling argumentative essay: 

  • Choose a Clear and Controversial Topic : Select a topic that sparks debate and has opposing viewpoints. A clear and controversial issue provides a solid foundation for a strong argument. 
  • Conduct Thorough Research : Gather relevant information from reputable sources to support your argument. Use a variety of sources, such as academic journals, books, reputable websites, and expert opinions, to strengthen your position. 
  • Create a Strong Thesis Statement : Clearly articulate your main argument in a concise thesis statement. Your thesis should convey your stance on the issue and provide a roadmap for the reader to follow your argument. 
  • Develop a Logical Structure : Organize your essay with a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each paragraph should focus on a specific point of evidence that contributes to your overall argument. Ensure a logical flow from one point to the next. 
  • Provide Strong Evidence : Support your claims with solid evidence. Use facts, statistics, examples, and expert opinions to support your arguments. Be sure to cite your sources appropriately to maintain credibility. 
  • Address Counterarguments : Acknowledge opposing viewpoints and counterarguments. Addressing and refuting alternative perspectives strengthens your essay and demonstrates a thorough understanding of the issue. Be mindful of maintaining a respectful tone even when discussing opposing views. 
  • Use Persuasive Language : Employ persuasive language to make your points effectively. Avoid emotional appeals without supporting evidence and strive for a respectful and professional tone. 
  • Craft a Compelling Conclusion : Summarize your main points, restate your thesis, and leave a lasting impression in your conclusion. Encourage readers to consider the implications of your argument and potentially take action. 

how long is an average argumentative essay

Good argumentative essay example

Let’s consider a sample of argumentative essay on how social media enhances connectivity:

In the digital age, social media has emerged as a powerful tool that transcends geographical boundaries, connecting individuals from diverse backgrounds and providing a platform for an array of voices to be heard. While critics argue that social media fosters division and amplifies negativity, it is essential to recognize the positive aspects of this digital revolution and how it enhances connectivity by providing a platform for diverse voices to flourish. One of the primary benefits of social media is its ability to facilitate instant communication and connection across the globe. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram break down geographical barriers, enabling people to establish and maintain relationships regardless of physical location and fostering a sense of global community. Furthermore, social media has transformed how people stay connected with friends and family. Whether separated by miles or time zones, social media ensures that relationships remain dynamic and relevant, contributing to a more interconnected world. Moreover, social media has played a pivotal role in giving voice to social justice movements and marginalized communities. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #ClimateStrike have gained momentum through social media, allowing individuals to share their stories and advocate for change on a global scale. This digital activism can shape public opinion and hold institutions accountable. Social media platforms provide a dynamic space for open dialogue and discourse. Users can engage in discussions, share information, and challenge each other’s perspectives, fostering a culture of critical thinking. This open exchange of ideas contributes to a more informed and enlightened society where individuals can broaden their horizons and develop a nuanced understanding of complex issues. While criticisms of social media abound, it is crucial to recognize its positive impact on connectivity and the amplification of diverse voices. Social media transcends physical and cultural barriers, connecting people across the globe and providing a platform for marginalized voices to be heard. By fostering open dialogue and facilitating the exchange of ideas, social media contributes to a more interconnected and empowered society. Embracing the positive aspects of social media allows us to harness its potential for positive change and collective growth.
  • Clearly Define Your Thesis Statement:   Your thesis statement is the core of your argumentative essay. Clearly articulate your main argument or position on the issue. Avoid vague or general statements.  
  • Provide Strong Supporting Evidence:   Back up your thesis with solid evidence from reliable sources and examples. This can include facts, statistics, expert opinions, anecdotes, or real-life examples. Make sure your evidence is relevant to your argument, as it impacts the overall persuasiveness of your thesis.  
  • Anticipate Counterarguments and Address Them:   Acknowledge and address opposing viewpoints to strengthen credibility. This also shows that you engage critically with the topic rather than presenting a one-sided argument. 

How to Write an Argumentative Essay with Paperpal?

Writing a winning argumentative essay not only showcases your ability to critically analyze a topic but also demonstrates your skill in persuasively presenting your stance backed by evidence. Achieving this level of writing excellence can be time-consuming. This is where Paperpal, your AI academic writing assistant, steps in to revolutionize the way you approach argumentative essays. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use Paperpal to write your essay: 

  • Sign Up or Log In: Begin by creating an account or logging into paperpal.com .  
  • Navigate to Paperpal Copilot: Once logged in, proceed to the Templates section from the side navigation bar.  
  • Generate an essay outline: Under Templates, click on the ‘Outline’ tab and choose ‘Essay’ from the options and provide your topic to generate an outline.  
  • Develop your essay: Use this structured outline as a guide to flesh out your essay. If you encounter any roadblocks, click on Brainstorm and get subject-specific assistance, ensuring you stay on track. 
  • Refine your writing: To elevate the academic tone of your essay, select a paragraph and use the ‘Make Academic’ feature under the ‘Rewrite’ tab, ensuring your argumentative essay resonates with an academic audience. 
  • Final Touches: Make your argumentative essay submission ready with Paperpal’s language, grammar, consistency and plagiarism checks, and improve your chances of acceptance.  

Paperpal not only simplifies the essay writing process but also ensures your argumentative essay is persuasive, well-structured, and academically rigorous. Sign up today and transform how you write argumentative essays. 

The length of an argumentative essay can vary, but it typically falls within the range of 1,000 to 2,500 words. However, the specific requirements may depend on the guidelines provided.

You might write an argumentative essay when:  1. You want to convince others of the validity of your position.  2. There is a controversial or debatable issue that requires discussion.  3. You need to present evidence and logical reasoning to support your claims.  4. You want to explore and critically analyze different perspectives on a topic. 

Argumentative Essay:  Purpose : An argumentative essay aims to persuade the reader to accept or agree with a specific point of view or argument.  Structure : It follows a clear structure with an introduction, thesis statement, body paragraphs presenting arguments and evidence, counterarguments and refutations, and a conclusion.  Tone : The tone is formal and relies on logical reasoning, evidence, and critical analysis.    Narrative/Descriptive Essay:  Purpose : These aim to tell a story or describe an experience, while a descriptive essay focuses on creating a vivid picture of a person, place, or thing.  Structure : They may have a more flexible structure. They often include an engaging introduction, a well-developed body that builds the story or description, and a conclusion.  Tone : The tone is more personal and expressive to evoke emotions or provide sensory details. 

  • Gladd, J. (2020). Tips for Writing Academic Persuasive Essays.  Write What Matters . 
  • Nimehchisalem, V. (2018). Pyramid of argumentation: Towards an integrated model for teaching and assessing ESL writing.  Language & Communication ,  5 (2), 185-200. 
  • Press, B. (2022).  Argumentative Essays: A Step-by-Step Guide . Broadview Press. 
  • Rieke, R. D., Sillars, M. O., & Peterson, T. R. (2005).  Argumentation and critical decision making . Pearson/Allyn & Bacon. 

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9.3: The Argumentative Essay

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Learning Objectives

  • Examine types of argumentative essays

Argumentative Essays

You may have heard it said that all writing is an argument of some kind. Even if you’re writing an informative essay, you still have the job of trying to convince your audience that the information is important. However, there are times you’ll be asked to write an essay that is specifically an argumentative piece.

An argumentative essay is one that makes a clear assertion or argument about some topic or issue. When you’re writing an argumentative essay, it’s important to remember that an academic argument is quite different from a regular, emotional argument. Note that sometimes students forget the academic aspect of an argumentative essay and write essays that are much too emotional for an academic audience. It’s important for you to choose a topic you feel passionately about (if you’re allowed to pick your topic), but you have to be sure you aren’t too emotionally attached to a topic. In an academic argument, you’ll have a lot more constraints you have to consider, and you’ll focus much more on logic and reasoning than emotions.

A cartoon person with a heart in one hand and a brain in the other.

Argumentative essays are quite common in academic writing and are often an important part of writing in all disciplines. You may be asked to take a stand on a social issue in your introduction to writing course, but you could also be asked to take a stand on an issue related to health care in your nursing courses or make a case for solving a local environmental problem in your biology class. And, since argument is such a common essay assignment, it’s important to be aware of some basic elements of a good argumentative essay.

When your professor asks you to write an argumentative essay, you’ll often be given something specific to write about. For example, you may be asked to take a stand on an issue you have been discussing in class. Perhaps, in your education class, you would be asked to write about standardized testing in public schools. Or, in your literature class, you might be asked to argue the effects of protest literature on public policy in the United States.

However, there are times when you’ll be given a choice of topics. You might even be asked to write an argumentative essay on any topic related to your field of study or a topic you feel that is important personally.

Whatever the case, having some knowledge of some basic argumentative techniques or strategies will be helpful as you write. Below are some common types of arguments.

Causal Arguments

  • In this type of argument, you argue that something has caused something else. For example, you might explore the causes of the decline of large mammals in the world’s ocean and make a case for your cause.

Evaluation Arguments

  • In this type of argument, you make an argumentative evaluation of something as “good” or “bad,” but you need to establish the criteria for “good” or “bad.” For example, you might evaluate a children’s book for your education class, but you would need to establish clear criteria for your evaluation for your audience.

Proposal Arguments

  • In this type of argument, you must propose a solution to a problem. First, you must establish a clear problem and then propose a specific solution to that problem. For example, you might argue for a proposal that would increase retention rates at your college.

Narrative Arguments

  • In this type of argument, you make your case by telling a story with a clear point related to your argument. For example, you might write a narrative about your experiences with standardized testing in order to make a case for reform.

Rebuttal Arguments

  • In a rebuttal argument, you build your case around refuting an idea or ideas that have come before. In other words, your starting point is to challenge the ideas of the past.

Definition Arguments

  • In this type of argument, you use a definition as the starting point for making your case. For example, in a definition argument, you might argue that NCAA basketball players should be defined as professional players and, therefore, should be paid.


Essay Examples

  • Click here to read an argumentative essay on the consequences of fast fashion . Read it and look at the comments to recognize strategies and techniques the author uses to convey her ideas.
  • In this example, you’ll see a sample argumentative paper from a psychology class submitted in APA format. Key parts of the argumentative structure have been noted for you in the sample.

Link to Learning

For more examples of types of argumentative essays, visit the Argumentative Purposes section of the Excelsior OWL .

Contributors and Attributions

  • Argumentative Essay. Provided by : Excelsior OWL. Located at : https://owl.excelsior.edu/rhetorical-styles/argumentative-essay/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Image of a man with a heart and a brain. Authored by : Mohamed Hassan. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : pixabay.com/illustrations/decision-brain-heart-mind-4083469/. License : Other . License Terms : pixabay.com/service/terms/#license

Argumentative Essay – Outline, Form, and Examples

Daniel Bal

What is an argumentative essay?

An argumentative essay requires the writer to investigate a specific topic by collecting and evaluating evidence to establish a position on the subject matter.

When preparing to compose a good argumentative essay, utilize the following steps:

Step 1: Select a topic.

Step 2: Identify a position.

Step 3: Locate appropriate resources.

Step 4: Identify evidence supporting the position. ( NOTE: If there is little evidence in support of the claim, consider re-examining the main argument.)

Steps to write an argumentative essay

When gathering evidence, use credible sources . To determine the credibility of the source, consider authority, currency, accuracy, and objectivity:

Who is the author ? Are they an expert in the field? Has a reputable publisher published the work?

How current is the information in the source? Does the currency of the source matter? Does the age of the source impact the content? Is there newer information that disproves the source’s information?

Can other sources verify the accuracy of the information? Does the information contradict that found in other commonly accepted sources?

Is there any evidence of bias, or is the source objective ? Is the research sponsored by an organization that may skew the information?

The following are typically recognized as providing appropriate, credible research material:

Peer-reviewed journals/research papers

Government agencies

Professional organizations

Library databases

Reference books

Credible sources

Writers should avoid using the following sources:

Social media posts

Out-of-date materials

Step 5: Utilize the research to determine a thesis statement that identifies the topic, position, and support(s).

Step 6: Use the evidence to construct an outline, detailing the main supports and relevant evidence.

Steps to write an argumentative essay

Argumentative essay outline

After gathering all of the necessary research, the next step in composing an argumentative essay focuses on organizing the information through the use of an outline:


Attention Grabber/Hook

Background Information: Include any background information pertinent to the topic that the reader needs to know to understand the argument.

Thesis: State the position in connection to the main topic and identify the supports that will help prove the argument.

Topic sentence

Identify evidence in support of the claim in the topic sentence

Explain how the evidence supports the argument

Evidence 3 (Continue as needed)

Support 2 (Continue as needed)

Restate thesis

Review main supports

Concluding statement

Invite the audience to take a specific action.

Identify the overall importance of the topic and position.

Argumentative essay outline

How to write an argumentative essay

Regardless of the writer’s topic or point of view, an argumentative essay should include an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, a conclusion, and works cited.

Background information

Body Paragraphs

Analysis of evidence

Rephrased thesis

Review of main ideas

Call to action

Works Cited

Components of an argumentative essay

Argumentative essay introduction

The introduction sets the tone for the entire paper and introduces the argument. In general, the first paragraph(s) should attract the reader’s attention, provide relevant context, and conclude with a thesis statement.

To attract the reader's attention , start with an introductory device. There are several attention-grabbing techniques, the most common of which consist of the following:

The writer can emphasize the topic’s importance by explaining the current interest in the topic or indicating that the subject is influential.

Pertinent statistics give the paper an air of authority.

There are many reasons for a stimulating statement to surprise a reader. Sometimes it is joyful; sometimes it is shocking; sometimes it is surprising because of who said it.

An interesting incident or anecdote can act as a teaser to lure the reader into the remainder of the essay. Be sure that the device is appropriate for the subject and focus of what follows.

Provide the reader with relevant context and background information necessary to understand the topic.

Conclude with a thesis statement that identifies the overall purpose of the essay (topic and position). Writers can also include their support directly in the thesis, which outlines the structure of the essay for the reader.

Avoid the following when writing the introduction to argumentative writing:

Starting with dictionary definitions is too overdone and unappealing.

Do not make an announcement of the topic like “In this paper I will…” or “The purpose of this essay is to….”

Evidence supporting or developing the thesis should be in the body paragraphs, not the introduction.

Beginning the essay with general or absolute statements such as “throughout history...” or “as human beings we always...” or similar statements suggest the writer knows all of history or that all people behave or think in the same way.

Argumentative essay thesis

The thesis statement is the single, specific claim the writer sets out to prove and is typically positioned as the last sentence of the introduction . It is the controlling idea of the entire argument that identifies the topic, position, and reasoning.

When constructing a thesis for an argumentative paper, make sure it contains a side of the argument, not simply a topic. An argumentative thesis identifies the writer’s position on a given topic. If a position cannot be taken, then it is not argumentative thesis:

Topic: Capital punishment is practiced in many states.

Thesis: Capital punishment should be illegal.

While not always required, the thesis statement can include the supports the writer will use to prove the main claim. Therefore, a thesis statement can be structured as follows:


No Supports: College athletes (TOPIC) should be financially compensated (POSITION).

Supports: College athletes (TOPIC) should be financially compensated (POSITION) because they sacrifice their minds and bodies (SUPPORT 1), cannot hold

Argumentative essay body paragraphs

Body paragraphs can be of varying lengths, but they must present a coherent argument unified under a single topic. They are rarely ever longer than one page, double-spaced; usually they are much shorter.

Lengthy paragraphs indicate a lack of structure. Identify the main ideas of a lengthy paragraph to determine if they make more sense as separate topics in separate paragraphs.

Shorter paragraphs usually indicate a lack of substance; there is not enough evidence or analysis to prove the argument. Develop the ideas more or integrate the information into another paragraph.

The structure of an argumentative paragraph should include a topic sentence, evidence, and a transition.

The topic sentence is the thesis of the paragraph that identifies the arguable point in support of the main argument. The reader should know exactly what the writer is trying to prove within the paragraph by reading the first sentence.

The supporting evidence and analysis provide information to support the claim. There should be a balance between the evidence (facts, quotations, summary of events/plot, etc.) and analysis (interpretation of evidence). If the paragraph is evidence-heavy, there is not much of an argument; if it is analysis-heavy, there is not enough evidence in support of the claim.

The transition can be at the beginning or the end of a paragraph. However, it is much easier to combine the transition with the concluding observation to help the paragraphs flow into one another. Transitions in academic writing should tell the reader where you were, where you are going, and relate to the thesis.

Some essays may benefit from the inclusion of rebuttals to potential counterarguments of the writer’s position.

Argumentative essay conclusion

The conclusion should make readers glad they read the paper. It can suggest broader implications that will not only interest readers but also enrich their understanding in some way. There are three aspects to follow when constructing the conclusion: rephrase the thesis, synthesize information, and call the reader to action.

Rephrased the thesis in the first sentence of the conclusion. It must be in different words; do not simply write it verbatim.

Synthesize the argument by showing how the paper's main points support the argument.

Propose a course of action or a solution to an issue. This can redirect the reader's thought process to apply the ideas to their life or to see the broader implications of the topic.

Avoid the following when constructing the conclusion:

Beginning with an unnecessary, overused phrase such as "in conclusion," "in summary," or "in closing;" although these phrases can work in speeches, they come across as trite in writing

Introducing a new idea or subtopic in the conclusion

Making sentimental, emotional appeals that are out of character with the rest of the paper

Including evidence (quotations, statistics, etc.) that should be in the body of the paper

Argumentative essay examples

Examples of argumentative essays vary depending upon the type:

Academic essays differ based upon the topic and position. These essays follow a more traditional structure and are typically assigned in high school or college. Examples of academic argumentative essay topics include the following:

Advantages or disadvantages of social media

Animal testing

Art education

Benefit or detriment of homework

Capital punishment

Class warfare


School uniforms

Universal healthcare

Violence in video games

Argumentative literary essays are typically more informal and do not follow the same structure as an academic essay. The following are popular examples of argumentative literary essays:

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Death of the Moth” by Virginia Woolf

“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell

“Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” by Sigmund Freud

“Does the Truth Matter? Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization” by Carl Sagan

“Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Argumentative Essay Examples to Inspire You (+ Free Formula)

Argumentative Essay Examples to Inspire You (+ Free Formula)

Table of contents

how long is an average argumentative essay

Meredith Sell

Have you ever been asked to explain your opinion on a controversial issue? 

  • Maybe your family got into a discussion about chemical pesticides
  • Someone at work argues against investing resources into your project
  • Your partner thinks intermittent fasting is the best way to lose weight and you disagree

Proving your point in an argumentative essay can be challenging, unless you are using a proven formula.

Argumentative essay formula & example

In the image below, you can see a recommended structure for argumentative essays. It starts with the topic sentence, which establishes the main idea of the essay. Next, this hypothesis is developed in the development stage. Then, the rebuttal, or the refutal of the main counter argument or arguments. Then, again, development of the rebuttal. This is followed by an example, and ends with a summary. This is a very basic structure, but it gives you a bird-eye-view of how a proper argumentative essay can be built.

Structure of an argumentative essay

Writing an argumentative essay (for a class, a news outlet, or just for fun) can help you improve your understanding of an issue and sharpen your thinking on the matter. Using researched facts and data, you can explain why you or others think the way you do, even while other reasonable people disagree.

Free AI argumentative essay generator > Free AI argumentative essay generator >

argumentative essay

What Is an Argumentative Essay?

An argumentative essay is an explanatory essay that takes a side.

Instead of appealing to emotion and personal experience to change the reader’s mind, an argumentative essay uses logic and well-researched factual information to explain why the thesis in question is the most reasonable opinion on the matter.  

Over several paragraphs or pages, the author systematically walks through:

  • The opposition (and supporting evidence)
  • The chosen thesis (and its supporting evidence)

At the end, the author leaves the decision up to the reader, trusting that the case they’ve made will do the work of changing the reader’s mind. Even if the reader’s opinion doesn’t change, they come away from the essay with a greater understanding of the perspective presented — and perhaps a better understanding of their original opinion.

All of that might make it seem like writing an argumentative essay is way harder than an emotionally-driven persuasive essay — but if you’re like me and much more comfortable spouting facts and figures than making impassioned pleas, you may find that an argumentative essay is easier to write. 

Plus, the process of researching an argumentative essay means you can check your assumptions and develop an opinion that’s more based in reality than what you originally thought. I know for sure that my opinions need to be fact checked — don’t yours?

So how exactly do we write the argumentative essay?

How do you start an argumentative essay

First, gain a clear understanding of what exactly an argumentative essay is. To formulate a proper topic sentence, you have to be clear on your topic, and to explore it through research.

Students have difficulty starting an essay because the whole task seems intimidating, and they are afraid of spending too much time on the topic sentence. Experienced writers, however, know that there is no set time to spend on figuring out your topic. It's a real exploration that is based to a large extent on intuition.

6 Steps to Write an Argumentative Essay (Persuasion Formula)

Use this checklist to tackle your essay one step at a time:

Argumentative Essay Checklist

1. Research an issue with an arguable question

To start, you need to identify an issue that well-informed people have varying opinions on. Here, it’s helpful to think of one core topic and how it intersects with another (or several other) issues. That intersection is where hot takes and reasonable (or unreasonable) opinions abound. 

I find it helpful to stage the issue as a question.

For example: 

Is it better to legislate the minimum size of chicken enclosures or to outlaw the sale of eggs from chickens who don’t have enough space?

Should snow removal policies focus more on effectively keeping roads clear for traffic or the environmental impacts of snow removal methods?

Once you have your arguable question ready, start researching the basic facts and specific opinions and arguments on the issue. Do your best to stay focused on gathering information that is directly relevant to your topic. Depending on what your essay is for, you may reference academic studies, government reports, or newspaper articles.

‍ Research your opposition and the facts that support their viewpoint as much as you research your own position . You’ll need to address your opposition in your essay, so you’ll want to know their argument from the inside out.

2. Choose a side based on your research

You likely started with an inclination toward one side or the other, but your research should ultimately shape your perspective. So once you’ve completed the research, nail down your opinion and start articulating the what and why of your take. 

What: I think it’s better to outlaw selling eggs from chickens whose enclosures are too small.

Why: Because if you regulate the enclosure size directly, egg producers outside of the government’s jurisdiction could ship eggs into your territory and put nearby egg producers out of business by offering better prices because they don’t have the added cost of larger enclosures.

This is an early form of your thesis and the basic logic of your argument. You’ll want to iterate on this a few times and develop a one-sentence statement that sums up the thesis of your essay.

Thesis: Outlawing the sale of eggs from chickens with cramped living spaces is better for business than regulating the size of chicken enclosures.

Now that you’ve articulated your thesis , spell out the counterargument(s) as well. Putting your opposition’s take into words will help you throughout the rest of the essay-writing process. (You can start by choosing the counter argument option with Wordtune Spices .)

how long is an average argumentative essay

Counterargument: Outlawing the sale of eggs from chickens with too small enclosures will immediately drive up egg prices for consumers, making the low-cost protein source harder to afford — especially for low-income consumers.

There may be one main counterargument to articulate, or several. Write them all out and start thinking about how you’ll use evidence to address each of them or show why your argument is still the best option.

3. Organize the evidence — for your side and the opposition

You did all of that research for a reason. Now’s the time to use it. 

Hopefully, you kept detailed notes in a document, complete with links and titles of all your source material. Go through your research document and copy the evidence for your argument and your opposition’s into another document.

List the main points of your argument. Then, below each point, paste the evidence that backs them up.

If you’re writing about chicken enclosures, maybe you found evidence that shows the spread of disease among birds kept in close quarters is worse than among birds who have more space. Or maybe you found information that says eggs from free-range chickens are more flavorful or nutritious. Put that information next to the appropriate part of your argument. 

Repeat the process with your opposition’s argument: What information did you find that supports your opposition? Paste it beside your opposition’s argument.

You could also put information here that refutes your opposition, but organize it in a way that clearly tells you — at a glance — that the information disproves their point.

Counterargument: Outlawing the sale of eggs from chickens with too small enclosures will immediately drive up egg prices for consumers.

BUT: Sicknesses like avian flu spread more easily through small enclosures and could cause a shortage that would drive up egg prices naturally, so ensuring larger enclosures is still a better policy for consumers over the long term.

As you organize your research and see the evidence all together, start thinking through the best way to order your points.  

Will it be better to present your argument all at once or to break it up with opposition claims you can quickly refute? Would some points set up other points well? Does a more complicated point require that the reader understands a simpler point first?

Play around and rearrange your notes to see how your essay might flow one way or another.

4. Freewrite or outline to think through your argument

Is your brain buzzing yet? At this point in the process, it can be helpful to take out a notebook or open a fresh document and dump whatever you’re thinking on the page.

Where should your essay start? What ground-level information do you need to provide your readers before you can dive into the issue?

Use your organized evidence document from step 3 to think through your argument from beginning to end, and determine the structure of your essay.

There are three typical structures for argumentative essays:

  • Make your argument and tackle opposition claims one by one, as they come up in relation to the points of your argument - In this approach, the whole essay — from beginning to end — focuses on your argument, but as you make each point, you address the relevant opposition claims individually. This approach works well if your opposition’s views can be quickly explained and refuted and if they directly relate to specific points in your argument.
  • Make the bulk of your argument, and then address the opposition all at once in a paragraph (or a few) - This approach puts the opposition in its own section, separate from your main argument. After you’ve made your case, with ample evidence to convince your readers, you write about the opposition, explaining their viewpoint and supporting evidence — and showing readers why the opposition’s argument is unconvincing. Once you’ve addressed the opposition, you write a conclusion that sums up why your argument is the better one.
  • Open your essay by talking about the opposition and where it falls short. Build your entire argument to show how it is superior to that opposition - With this structure, you’re showing your readers “a better way” to address the issue. After opening your piece by showing how your opposition’s approaches fail, you launch into your argument, providing readers with ample evidence that backs you up.

As you think through your argument and examine your evidence document, consider which structure will serve your argument best. Sketch out an outline to give yourself a map to follow in the writing process. You could also rearrange your evidence document again to match your outline, so it will be easy to find what you need when you start writing.

5. Write your first draft

You have an outline and an organized document with all your points and evidence lined up and ready. Now you just have to write your essay.

In your first draft, focus on getting your ideas on the page. Your wording may not be perfect (whose is?), but you know what you’re trying to say — so even if you’re overly wordy and taking too much space to say what you need to say, put those words on the page.

Follow your outline, and draw from that evidence document to flesh out each point of your argument. Explain what the evidence means for your argument and your opposition. Connect the dots for your readers so they can follow you, point by point, and understand what you’re trying to say.

As you write, be sure to include:

1. Any background information your reader needs in order to understand the issue in question.

2. Evidence for both your argument and the counterargument(s). This shows that you’ve done your homework and builds trust with your reader, while also setting you up to make a more convincing argument. (If you find gaps in your research while you’re writing, Wordtune Spices can source statistics or historical facts on the fly!)

how long is an average argumentative essay

Get Wordtune for free > Get Wordtune for free >

3. A conclusion that sums up your overall argument and evidence — and leaves the reader with an understanding of the issue and its significance. This sort of conclusion brings your essay to a strong ending that doesn’t waste readers’ time, but actually adds value to your case.

6. Revise (with Wordtune)

The hard work is done: you have a first draft. Now, let’s fine tune your writing.

I like to step away from what I’ve written for a day (or at least a night of sleep) before attempting to revise. It helps me approach clunky phrases and rough transitions with fresh eyes. If you don’t have that luxury, just get away from your computer for a few minutes — use the bathroom, do some jumping jacks, eat an apple — and then come back and read through your piece.

As you revise, make sure you …

  • Get the facts right. An argument with false evidence falls apart pretty quickly, so check your facts to make yours rock solid.
  • Don’t misrepresent the opposition or their evidence. If someone who holds the opposing view reads your essay, they should affirm how you explain their side — even if they disagree with your rebuttal.
  • Present a case that builds over the course of your essay, makes sense, and ends on a strong note. One point should naturally lead to the next. Your readers shouldn’t feel like you’re constantly changing subjects. You’re making a variety of points, but your argument should feel like a cohesive whole.
  • Paraphrase sources and cite them appropriately. Did you skip citations when writing your first draft? No worries — you can add them now. And check that you don’t overly rely on quotations. (Need help paraphrasing? Wordtune can help. Simply highlight the sentence or phrase you want to adjust and sort through Wordtune’s suggestions.)
  • Tighten up overly wordy explanations and sharpen any convoluted ideas. Wordtune makes a great sidekick for this too 😉

how long is an average argumentative essay

Words to start an argumentative essay

The best way to introduce a convincing argument is to provide a strong thesis statement . These are the words I usually use to start an argumentative essay:

  • It is indisputable that the world today is facing a multitude of issues
  • With the rise of ____, the potential to make a positive difference has never been more accessible
  • It is essential that we take action now and tackle these issues head-on
  • it is critical to understand the underlying causes of the problems standing before us
  • Opponents of this idea claim
  • Those who are against these ideas may say
  • Some people may disagree with this idea
  • Some people may say that ____, however

When refuting an opposing concept, use:

  • These researchers have a point in thinking
  • To a certain extent they are right
  • After seeing this evidence, there is no way one can agree with this idea
  • This argument is irrelevant to the topic

Are you convinced by your own argument yet? Ready to brave the next get-together where everyone’s talking like they know something about intermittent fasting , chicken enclosures , or snow removal policies? 

Now if someone asks you to explain your evidence-based but controversial opinion, you can hand them your essay and ask them to report back after they’ve read it.

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Hey guys! I'm working on an argumentative essay assignment for my English class. Just curious, what's the typical length for this type of essay? Any advice would be appreciated!

Hey there! The length of an argumentative essay can vary depending on the requirements set by your teacher or the complexity of the topic. In general, a typical high school argumentative essay might be around 3-5 pages (double-spaced), or roughly 800-1,500 words. However, in college, it could go up to 6-10 pages or even more, depending on your assignment.

I'd recommend checking the assignment details provided by your teacher or asking them directly for their preferred length or page count. Ultimately, it's essential to fully develop your argument and provide enough evidence while adhering to your teacher's guidelines.

Remember, the focus should be on presenting a strong, well-researched argument rather than just meeting a specific word count. Aim to stay concise, clear, and persuasive. Good luck with your essay!

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How Long Should an Argumentative Essay Be? (Quick Answer)

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by  Antony W

August 10, 2023

how long should argumentative essay be

When it comes to writing an argumentative essay , you want nothing more than to score the best grade for the assignment.

If you can use hard, factual, and logical evidence to support your position and convince a reader to agree with your stand, you’re already on your way to scoring high grades for the paper.

A common question that many students have about argumentative essays is how long they should be.

It’s a good question to ask for the simple reason that it helps students to write good essays without spreading themselves too thin and/or going overboard with word/paragraph count.

No Time to Read the Guide? 

Let our team of writers help you research your topic, determine the ideal length, and write your argumentative essay for you

So what’s the recommended length for an argumentative essay?

How Long Should an Argumentative Essay Be?

In general, an argumentative essay should be between three and five paragraphs.

Although the topics your instructor asks you to work on will span across different fields, from history and science to society and literature, you will need to maintain the same argumentative essay structure throughout your writing.

In other words, you must not only give a claim but also provide reasonable evidence from at least three or four relevant sources to defend your position.

Not to mention you need to make sure you stick strictly to the standard format as you write the essay.

Can an Argumentative Essay be More than Five Paragraphs?

Yes, an argumentative essay can be more than 5 paragraphs depending on a number of factors. So you don’t have to treat it strictly as a mathematical construct with a fixed number of paragraphs or word count.

First, look at the task at hand and particularly the topic in the essay prompt.

If the assignment is simple enough to support with basic arguments, stick with the 5-paragraph essay limit.

This being the case, the first paragraph should introduce the argument, the second and third should support it, the fourth should focus on the counter argument in the essay , and the final paragraph should be a solid conclusion for your argument.

Second, you shouldn’t limit yourself to the five-paragraph standard unless your instructor has asked you to do so.

That’s because if the five paragraphs aren’t enough to convince an audience about your claim and stand, adding more paragraphs can explain your position way more better.

Third, an argumentative essay can be more than five paragraphs if you have more points to add to your arguments.

Just remember that each paragraph should have a claim linked to your central theme in the thesis and include detailed explanations, statistics, and examples to strengthen your argument and your position. 

How Can I Determine the Length of the Argumentative Essay Assignment? 

There are two ways to determine how long to make your argumentative essay.

The first option is to read the essay prompt. Your instructor may have included the suggested number of paragraphs in the essay guideline, so this should point you in the right direction.

The second option is to ask. While there is nothing wrong with overlooking this, it’s just to engage your instructor in a one-minute conversation to determine who long to make your argumentative essay.

If they don’t give you a limit, simply look at how many points you can include in the essay and plan yourself accordingly.

How Long Should the Thesis Statement of an Argumentative Essay Be?

We’ve covered about thesis statement in an argumentative essay writing already. However, since this guide is on the length of the assignment, it’s important to touch a bit on the length of the thesis statement.

From what you already know, a thesis statement is the most important part of any type of an argumentative writing .

Since that’s the case, you might fall into the temptation that it’s okay to make it longer to clearly bring your idea to life . However, there’s a caveat to this. And that is the thesis can only one or two sentences long.

It must come after the opening paragraph and it should be very short and concise.

After all, you don’t need that much writing real estate to summarize what your essay will be about. The one or two sentences are enough to let your readers know what to expect.

How Many Pages Should an Argumentative Essay Be?

There is no right or wrong answer to this, which is why we can confidently say that it depends.

From what we understand as an academic writing company , the number of pages you end up with for an argumentative essay will depend on the number of paragraphs, the spacing used, and the length of the essay. 

More often than not, short essays will be at least 5 paragraphs, so you’ll end up with about two or three pages depending on the spacing used.

Argumentative essays that have more than 5 paragraphs tend to be longer, which means more pages regardless of the type of spacing used.

For example, if you decide to make your essay as long as 10 to 15 paragraphs, you’ll end up with at least 6 to 8 pages give or take.

You get the idea.

Do You Need Help With Your Argumentative Essay?

Although writing a good argumentative essay isn’t impossible, it certainly can be challenging.

For one, you have to do a lot of research to be able to make reasonable claims, construct your arguments, and defend your position. Not to mentation you have to include counter claims to sound authentic.

If all that seems like a lot of work, you can reach out to Help for Assessment for some constructive assignment help.

Get Help, NOW!

Our team of writers is always working hard to help you every step of the way. In fact, many students we’ve helped with argumentative essays always end up scoring good grades. So you too can join us and become part of the success that you want to be.

What sets us apart from other writing service is how we approach your assignment.

Instead of just getting it done and forgetting, we take you through every step of the assignment. That way, you can easily defend your paper if your content ever raises your instructor’s eyebrow.

Do you want to get started with us? Check out our argumentative essay writing service here. Place your order and let us help you ace the assignment.

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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How to Write the AP Lang Argument Essay + Examples

What’s covered:, what is the ap language argument essay, tips for writing the ap language argument essay, ap english language argument essay examples, how will ap scores impact my college chances.

In 2023, over 550,148 students across the U.S. took the AP English Language and Composition Exam, and 65.2% scored higher than a 3. The AP English Language Exam tests your ability to analyze a piece of writing, synthesize information, write a rhetorical essay, and create a cohesive argument. In this post, we’ll be discussing the best way to approach the argumentative essay section of the test, and we’ll give you tips and tricks so you can write a great essay.

The AP English Language Exam as of 2023 is structured as follows:

Section 1: 45 multiple choice questions to be completed in an hour. This portion counts for 45% of your score. This section requires students to analyze a piece of literature. The questions ask about its content and/or what could be edited within the passage.

Section 2: Three free response questions to be completed in the remaining two hours and 15 minutes. This section counts for 55% of your score. These essay questions include the synthesis essay, the rhetorical essay, and the argumentative essay.

  • Synthesis essay: Read 6-7 sources and create an argument using at least three of the sources.
  • Rhetorical analysis essay: Describe how a piece of writing evokes meaning and symbolism.
  • Argumentative essay: Pick a side of a debate and create an argument based on evidence. In this essay, you should develop a logical argument in support of or against the given statement and provide ample evidence that supports your conclusion. Typically, a five paragraph format is great for this type of writing. This essay is scored holistically from 1 to 9 points.

Do you want more information on the structure of the full exam? Take a look at our in-depth overview of the AP Language and Composition Exam .

Although the AP Language Argument may seem daunting at first, once you understand how the essay should be structured, it will be a lot easier to create cohesive arguments.

Below are some tips to help you as you write the essay.

1. Organize your essay before writing

Instead of jumping right into your essay, plan out what you will say beforehand. It’s easiest to make a list of your arguments and write out what facts or evidence you will use to support each argument. In your outline, you can determine the best order for your arguments, especially if they build on each other or are chronological. Having a well-organized essay is crucial for success.

2. Pick one side of the argument, but acknowledge the other side

When you write the essay, it’s best if you pick one side of the debate and stick with it for the entire essay. All your evidence should be in support of that one side. However, in your introductory paragraph, as you introduce the debate, be sure to mention any merit the arguments of the other side has. This can make the essay a bit more nuanced and show that you did consider both sides before determining which one was better. Often, acknowledging another viewpoint then refuting it can make your essay stronger.

3. Provide evidence to support your claims

The AP readers will be looking for examples and evidence to support your argument. This doesn’t mean that you need to memorize a bunch of random facts before the exam. This just means that you should be able to provide concrete examples in support of your argument.

For example, if the essay topic is about whether the role of the media in society has been detrimental or not, and you argue that it has been, you may talk about the phenomenon of “fake news” during the 2016 presidential election.

AP readers are not looking for perfect examples, but they are looking to see if you can provide enough evidence to back your claim and make it easily understood.

4. Create a strong thesis statement

The thesis statement will set up your entire essay, so it’s important that it is focused and specific, and that it allows for the reader to understand your body paragraphs. Make sure your thesis statement is the very last sentence of your introductory paragraph. In this sentence, list out the key points you will be making in the essay in the same order that you will be writing them. Each new point you mention in your thesis should start a paragraph in your essay.

Below is a prompt and sample student essay from the May 2019 exam . We’ll look at what the student did well in their writing and where they could improve.

Prompt: “The term “overrated” is often used to diminish concepts, places, roles, etc. that the speaker believes do not deserve the prestige they commonly enjoy; for example, many writers have argued that success is overrated, a character in a novel by Anthony Burgess famously describes Rome as a “vastly overrated city,” and Queen Rania of Jordan herself has asserted that “[b]eing queen is overrated.”

Select a concept, place, role, etc. to which you believe that the term “overrated” should be applied. Then, write a well-developed essay in which you explain your judgment. Use appropriate evidence from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument.

Sample Student Essay #1:

[1] Competition is “overrated.” The notion of motivation between peers has evolved into a source of unnecessary stress and even lack of morals. Whether it be in an academic environment or in the industry, this new idea of competition is harmful to those competing and those around them.

[2] Back in elementary school, competition was rather friendly. It could have been who could do the most pushups or who could get the most imaginary points in a classroom for a prize. If you couldn’t do the most pushups or win that smelly sticker, you would go home and improve yourself – there would be no strong feelings towards anyone, you would just focus on making yourself a better version of yourself. Then as high school rolled around, suddenly applying for college doesn’t seem so far away –GPA seems to be that one stat that defines you – extracurriculars seem to shape you – test scores seem to categorize you. Sleepless nights, studying for the next day’s exam, seem to become more and more frequent. Floating duck syndrome seems to surround you (FDS is where a competitive student pretends to not work hard but is furiously studying beneath the surface just like how a duck furiously kicks to stay afloat). All of your competitors appear to hope you fail – but in the end what do you and your competitor’s gain? Getting one extra point on the test? Does that self-satisfaction compensate for the tremendous amounts of acquired stress? This new type of “competition” is overrated – it serves nothing except a never-ending source of anxiety and seeks to weaken friendships and solidarity as a whole in the school setting.

[3] A similar idea of “competition” can be applied to business. On the most fundamental level, competition serves to be a beneficial regulator of prices and business models for both the business themselves and consumers. However, as businesses grew increasingly greedy and desperate, companies resorted to immoral tactics that only hurt their reputations and consumers as a whole. Whether it be McDonald’s coupons that force you to buy more food or tech companies like Apple intentionally slowing down your iPhone after 3 years to force you to upgrade to the newest device, consumers suffer and in turn speak down upon these companies. Similar to the evolved form of competition in school, this overrated form causes pain for all parties and has since diverged from the encouraging nature that the principle of competition was “founded” on.

The AP score for this essay was a 4/6, meaning that it captured the main purpose of the essay but there were still substantial parts missing. In this essay, the writer did a good job organizing the sections and making sure that their writing was in order according to the thesis statement. The essay first discusses how competition is harmful in elementary school and then discusses this topic in the context of business. This follows the chronological order of somebody’s life and flows nicely.

The arguments in this essay are problematic, as they do not provide enough examples of how exactly competition is overrated. The essay discusses the context in which competition is overrated but does not go far enough in explaining how this connects to the prompt.

In the first example, school stress is used to explain how competition manifests. This is a good starting point, but it does not talk about why competition is overrated; it simply mentions that competition can be unhealthy. The last sentence of that paragraph is the main point of the argument and should be expanded to discuss how the anxiety of school is overrated later on in life. 

In the second example, the writer discusses how competition can lead to harmful business practices, but again, this doesn’t reflect the reason this would be overrated. Is competition really overrated because Apple and McDonald’s force you to buy new products? This example could’ve been taken one step farther. Instead of explaining why business structures—such as monopolies—harm competition, the author should discuss how those particular structures are overrated.

Additionally, the examples the writer used lack detail. A stronger essay would’ve provided more in-depth examples. This essay seemed to mention examples only in passing without using them to defend the argument.

It should also be noted that the structure of the essay is incomplete. The introduction only has a thesis statement and no additional context. Also, there is no conclusion paragraph that sums up the essay. These missing components result in a 4/6.

Now let’s go through the prompt for a sample essay from the May 2022 exam . The prompt is as follows:

Colin Powell, a four-star general and former United States Secretary of State, wrote in his 1995 autobiography: “[W]e do not have the luxury of collecting information indefinitely. At some point, before we can have every possible fact in hand, we have to decide. The key is not to make quick decisions, but to make timely decisions.”

Write an essay that argues your position on the extent to which Powell’s claim about making decisions is valid. 

In your response you should do the following:

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible position. 
  • Provide evidence to support your line of reasoning. 
  • Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning. 
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.

Sample Student Essay #2:

Colin Powell, who was a four star general and a former United States Secretary of State. He wrote an autobiography and had made a claim about making decisions. In my personal opinion, Powell’s claim is true to full extent and shows an extremely valuable piece of advice that we do not consider when we make decisions.

Powell stated, “before we can have every possible fact in hand we have to decide…. but to make it a timely decision” (1995). With this statement Powell is telling the audience of his autobiography that it does not necessarily matter how many facts you have, and how many things you know. Being able to have access to everything possible takes a great amount of time and we don’t always have all of the time in the world. A decision has to be made with what you know, waiting for something else to come in while trying to make a decision whether that other fact is good or bad you already have a good amount of things that you know. Everyone’s time is valuable, including yours. At the end of the day the decision will have to be made and that is why it should be made in a “timely” manner.

This response was graded for a score of 2/6. Let’s break down the score to smaller points that signify where the student fell short.

The thesis in this essay is clearly outlined at the end of the first paragraph. The student states their agreement with Powell’s claim and frames the rest of their essay around this stance. The success in scoring here lies in the clear communication of the thesis and the direction the argument will take. It’s important to make the thesis statement concise, specific, and arguable, which the student has successfully done.

While the student did attempt to provide evidence to support their thesis, it’s clear that their explanation lacks specific detail and substance. They referenced Powell’s statement, but did not delve into how this statement has proven true in specific instances, and did not provide examples that could bring the argument to life.

Commentary is an essential part of this section’s score. It means explaining the significance of the evidence and connecting it back to the thesis. Unfortunately, the student’s commentary here is too vague and does not effectively elaborate on how the evidence supports their argument.

To improve, the student could use more concrete examples to demonstrate their point and discuss how each piece of evidence supports their thesis. For instance, they could discuss specific moments in Powell’s career where making a timely decision was more valuable than waiting for all possible facts. This would help illustrate the argument in a more engaging, understandable way.

A high score in the “sophistication” category of the grading rubric is given for demonstrating a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, context, etc.), making effective rhetorical choices, or establishing a line of reasoning. Here, the student’s response lacks complexity and sophistication. They’ve simply agreed with Powell’s claim and made a few general statements without providing a deeper analysis or effectively considering the rhetorical situation.

To increase sophistication, the student could explore possible counterarguments or complexities within Powell’s claim. They could discuss potential drawbacks of making decisions without all possible facts, or examine situations where timely decisions might not yield the best results. By acknowledging and refuting these potential counterarguments, they could add more depth to their analysis and showcase their understanding of the complexities involved in decision-making.

The student could also analyze why Powell, given his background and experiences, might have come to such a conclusion, thus providing more context and showing an understanding of the rhetorical situation.

Remember, sophistication in argumentation isn’t about using fancy words or complicated sentences. It’s about showing that you understand the complexity of the issue at hand and that you’re able to make thoughtful, nuanced arguments. Sophistication shows that you can think critically about the topic and make connections that aren’t immediately obvious.

Now that you’ve looked at an example essay and some tips for the argumentative essay, you know how to better prepare for the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

While your AP scores don’t usually impact your admissions chances , colleges do care a lot about your course rigor. So, taking as many APs as you can will certainly boost your chances! AP scores can be a way for high-performing students to set themselves apart, particularly when applying to prestigious universities. Through the process of self-reporting scores , you can show your hard work and intelligence to admissions counselors.

That said, the main benefit of scoring high on AP exams comes once you land at your dream school, as high scores can allow you to “test out” of entry-level requirements, often called GE requirements or distribution requirements. This will save you time and money.

To understand how your course rigor stacks up, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine . This resource takes your course rigor, test scores, extracurriculars, and more, to determine your chances of getting into over 1600 colleges across the country!

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peer-reviewed publication

Using AI to predict grade point average from college application essays

by PNAS Nexus


Jonah Berger and Olivier Toubia used natural language processing to understand what drives academic success. The authors analyzed over 20,000 college application essays from a large public university that attracts students from a range of racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds and found that the semantic volume of the writing, or how much ground an application essay covered predicted college performance, as measured by grade point average.

They published their findings in PNAS Nexus .

Essays that covered more semantic ground predicted higher grades. Similarly, essays with smaller conceptual jumps between successive parts of its discourse predicted higher grades.

These trends held even when researchers controlled for factors including SAT score, parents' education, gender, ethnicity, college major, essay topics, and essay length. Some of these factors, such as parents' education and the student's SAT scores, encode information about family background , suggesting that the linguistic features of semantic volume and speed are not determined solely by socioeconomic status.

According to the authors, the results demonstrate that the topography of thought, or the way people express and organize their ideas, can provide insight into their likely future success.

Journal information: PNAS Nexus

Provided by PNAS Nexus

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This Is a Very Weird Moment in the History of Drug Laws

The war on drugs failed, but decriminalization is facing its own backlash. what’s next.


From New York Times Opinion, this is “The Ezra Klein Show.”

In 2020, voters in Oregon passed a ballot measure, a drug reform policy, that was beyond what I ever thought would pass in any state in America.

Overnight, Oregon became the first state in the country to decriminalize most street drugs.

Even drugs like cocaine, heroin, meth, and oxycodone.

It’s a sea change. Measure 110, which was passed by 58 percent of Oregon voters, treats active drug users as potential patients rather than criminals.

I’ve been involved in drug policy reform for a long time. I got into it in high school. And this was not a politics that seemed possible back then. In that era, the idea that you would have a state decriminalize heroin possession, I mean, it was unthinkable. But in the coming decades, there would be a real turn on the war on drugs — the overpolicing, the mass incarceration, the racism, the broken families. It was not achieving, as far as anybody could tell, anybody’s policy goals.

So we began to move in this other direction. Oregon was at the vanguard of this, but it wasn’t alone. In Washington state, you saw the Supreme Court overturn the law that had made a lot of drug possessions and felonies. In a bunch of different cities, you had these very liberal district attorneys who instead of running on tough on crime platforms were running against overpolicing, against mass incarceration.

Something that had really never been tried before in America was all of a sudden being tried. We were moving towards a radically different equilibrium than anybody had imagined even just a few years before on drugs. I mean, you could walk down the streets — you can right now in many states — and buy all kinds of cannabis products from shops. It was, again, unthinkable.

But this politics and these policies are not working out the way people had hoped. Chesa Boudin, who was the district attorney in San Francisco, one of these very liberal set of reformers, he was recalled. Legislation was passed rebuilding an enforcement structure around drugs in Washington state. There are a lot of concerns and, I think, quite bright ones about how cannabis legalization and particularly cannabis commercialization is working out in a bunch of places.

And in Oregon, Measure 110 was gutted. The results of it had not been what many of the advocates had hoped for. Drug policy feels very unsettled to me right now. The war on drugs was a failure, often a cruel one. The war on the war on drugs has not been the success its advocates had hoped. So what comes next?

Keith Humphreys is a professor at Stanford University who specializes in addiction and drug policy. He’s advised the White House, California, the UK. I always find that he balances compassion and rigor unusually well. So I wanted to have him walk me through what he has seen and where he’s landed. As always, my email for guest suggestions, for reflections, [email protected].

Keith Humphreys, welcome to the show.

Thanks, Ezra. Good to talk to you.

There’s a tendency to just use this term “drugs.” And that tendency just belies a huge amount of variation, I think, in how people think about different drugs, how they think about opioids, how they think about stimulants, how they think about psychedelics, how they think about cannabis, alcohol, caffeine. Is this a useful term?

So “drug” is an incredibly vague term that covers an enormous number of drugs that have very different properties. The biggest one, I think, is the capacity to instill addiction. People don’t get addicted to LSD, for example. But they do get addicted to heroin. That’s really important. They do get addicted to nicotine. That’s really important. So you would think about those drugs differently, the ones that have the ability to generate an illness with obsessive compulsion to use in the face of destructive consequences over and over and over again. Those belong in their own class, I think.

The second thing is that we should stop pretending that legal and illegal drugs are so different for lots of reasons. We could learn much more about what to do with illegal drugs if we looked at legal drugs. When I talk to policymakers, they say, well, I know what I don’t want. And that’s a carceral, racist war on drugs. I say, OK, I’m glad that option is off the table. That, of course, leaves millions and millions of other options to choose from.

And how some people have framed that is there’s really only two choices here. You can have that, that horrible thing. Or you can throw the switch the other way — tolerance, acceptance, public sale. And that’s going to be better.

And the problem with that argument, even before we get into what happened in places like Oregon, is the number one drug that kills people on the planet is cigarettes. The number one drug associated with arrests, violence, and incarceration is alcohol. Those drugs are legal. It’s not that drugs suddenly become easy to deal with once they’re legal.

You get to pick the set of problems you have, as our mutual friend Mark Kleiman used to say. But you don’t get to get rid of those problems. So people are right to identify substantial costs to prohibition of drugs or for that matter of everything. But that is different than saying there is some other framework that doesn’t also include pretty substantial costs.

So this major drug policy reform went into effect in Oregon in 2021, Measure 110. It passes. What happens next?

Part of what happens is exactly what the reformers hoped would happen, which is that there’s a dramatic drop in arrests — arrests for drug possession and arrests for drug dealing. So they say, wow, that’s a victory. On the other hand, some of the other aspects of it didn’t work out the way people planned.

So there was a system that they thought would encourage people to enter treatment in replacement of criminal penalties. You’d be written a ticket, let’s say, if you were using fentanyl on a park bench. And it said there’s $100 fine for doing this, but you don’t have to pay the fine. All you have to do is call this toll free number, and you can get a health assessment and a potential referral to treatment. Well, it turned out that over 95 percent of the people got those tickets simply threw them away, which, keeping with the spirit of the law, there was no consequence for doing that. Hardly anybody called. The new body they set up to distribute the new funds had very serious management problems because the people — they may have been terrific human beings, but they weren’t actually experienced in how do you run a government bureaucracy.

So there was no real improvement in the availability of treatment, no real improvement in the number of people interested in seeking it. And those things may well have contributed to Oregon having a very high overdose rate. So currently going up about 40 percent per year, 4-0. Of course, some of that is due to fentanyl, which is raising — I’m here in California. Our rate’s up 5 percent, but it’s certainly not up 40 percent.

And the last thing is the intangible. And I say this as someone who goes to Oregon a lot and talks to people there almost every week, which is just the change in neighborhoods was really palpable of what it was like to go out in the street or try to go to a park, how much visible drug use you saw, how much disorder connected to it. And this was accentuated even further by the pandemic. There were fewer people on the street who had the choice. So the experience became more frightening as people were perhaps outnumbered in their neighborhood by people who had clearly visible problems were using drugs. And that generated significant and, I think, understandable upset as to how things were going in Oregon.

So not everybody agrees that Measure 110 was a failure, certainly not as a policy. I mean, it definitely failed politically. The Drug Policy Alliance says that it failed because of disinformation because there was a concerted effort to undermine it. And they cite data from the Oregon Health Authority saying that, look, health needs screenings increased by almost 300 percent. Substance use disorder treatment increased by 143 percent. Is there some argument to this that we’re looking at the wrong measures and, judged according to its goals, 110 was actually kind of working?

If what you care about the most was a drop in drug arrests and involvement of people who use drugs and deal drugs in the criminal justice system, then it was a success clearly because there was very little contact anymore between law enforcement and people who sell and deal drugs. But on the health side, no, I don’t think that. And those statistics on treatment I believe count a lot of one time consultations. I think what most people, particularly people who love someone who has an addiction, are looking for is evidence on people getting better, people getting into recovery, not just at some point having some transitory contact with the system.

There’s another argument that’s made in the Drug Policy Alliance document and other things I’ve seen and that has occurred to me, too, because when I think about Oregon, when I think about San Francisco, when I think about Washington State, I mean, you’re talking about places with very broken housing markets. We’ll talk I’m sure more about the Tenderloin.

But the Tenderloin is dystopic in the way the Tenderloin is dystopic because it is a giant homeless encampment. And that was true well before the current wave of drug policy liberalization. And so one argument here is that the drug system is being blamed for policymakers’ inability to solve these other problems. Is there something to that?

There’s an intense argument out here in the Bay Area between people who say, look, the homeless crisis is just a side effect of addiction. And people say, look, the addiction crisis is just a side effect of homelessness. And I would say they’re both wrong in that, even within my personal group of acquaintances, I know people who lost their home because of an addiction. And it’s not that the housing market discharged them, they had an empty property. But they were out on the streets. And then there are people who lost their housing and then were living next to drug markets on the streets and developed an addiction there.

So I don’t think we can separate that Gordian knot. And I don’t know if in policy terms we have to. I mean, I think we should be able to pursue policies that increase the access to housing and still work on policies that reduce the damage from addiction.

So to go back to Oregon and one of the theories that was operating there was that we’re going to move more money into treatment. We’re going to make it easier and safer in the sense that you will not be arrested for seeking treatment. We’re going to make it easier and safer for you to seek treatment. We’re going to make it cheap to seek treatment. Why didn’t more people seek treatment?

That theory reflects a misunderstanding about the nature of addiction, which is that it is like, say, chronic pain or depression, conditions that feel lousy for the person who has them all day long, and they will do anything to get rid of them. Drug addiction is not like that. It has many painful experiences. It destroys people’s lives.

But drug use feels in the short term incredibly good. That is why people do it. They’re getting intense reward. So they are ambivalent about giving that up in a way no one with chronic pain is ambivalent about giving up chronic pain and no one with depression is ambivalent about giving up depression.

The other point about it is a huge number of the problems from drug use and addiction fall on other people rather than the person concerned. And so people like me who work in this field, we get calls and calls and calls from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children concerned about their loved ones. But it’s very rare we get a call from somebody concerned about their own use.

Take the law out of it and look at a drug that is legal and widely accepted. Studies of people who seek treatment for an alcohol problem, slightly over 9 in 10 of those people say they were pressured to come. And the pressure might be family pressure, mom and dad said or my spouse said, this keeps up, I’m moving out. The boss said, one more day drunk at work, and you’re fired. Doctor said, you keep doing this, you will be dead in six months. It could be this is your fourth or fifth arrest for drunk driving, and your lawyer says, you better get into treatment because the judge otherwise might throw you in the penitentiary. That is overwhelmingly the situation of people seeking treatment — pressure from outside.

So let’s just remove all pressure. No legal pressure, no disapproval. Then people will spontaneously say, OK, I really want to make a change, and I’ll come in. Look, those of us who do this for a living, we pray for patients like that. It’s great when they come in, but that is just a very rare person.

Let me ask about this from the other direction, which is maybe this all just wasn’t nearly liberal enough because one of the arguments made — and I do think there’s evidence behind it — is people are getting stuff they don’t know. And the reason people die from fentanyl laced heroin or simply fentanyl that they thought was heroin is because they don’t have a source they can trust. Part of the difficulty here is, yes, people end up addicted. We don’t have really good treatments for addiction that we can come back to whether you think that is a true claim.

And then we also make it very difficult for people and dangerous for people to get what they need to avoid withdrawal to keep feeling normal. And if we made that easier on them, if we made it so they didn’t have to go to a place like the Tenderloin and instead get something safe, they would not die from overdose. They would not die from fentanyl laced heroin. Is there validity to that?

Yeah, well, certainly using fentanyl in an illicit market is extraordinarily dangerous. And my colleagues and I are trying to figure out the death rate per year of a regular user. It might be as high as 5 percent. So that is an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do.

And the arguments you’re making have been influential in this region to the point that if you go up slightly even further in the Pacific Northwest into Canada and British Columbia, they’ve gone so far to say it’s the government’s job to supply these drugs because prohibition makes things more dangerous, so we have a positive obligation to do this. But the problem with that reasoning is we did flood communities with legally made, consistent quality, clearly labeled opioids for years. And the net effect was millions of people getting addicted and hundreds of thousands of people dying.

That’s, in fact, how we got here. I think everyone knows what OxyContin is, all the other opioids that were really pushed out there. So it’s just really hard to sustain that argument that at a population level, huge access to addictive drugs is not going to cause a lot of addiction and overdose as long as they’re clearly labeled and of consistent quality. If that were true, we would never had an opioid crisis.

So Measure 110 passes in 2020. It goes into effect in 2021. What happens to it in 2023?

At that point, overdoses were way up. And popular sentiment has shifted pretty dramatically. I think quite a few people felt burned. They hadn’t gotten what they’d been promised. And that included people who, for example, had relatives who were addicted who they assume would be getting into treatment and recovery and then weren’t able to get services.

Neighborhoods are decaying. Polling showed that about two thirds of the Oregon population wanted Measure 110 repealed in part or in whole. And interestingly, those sentiments were even stronger among Black and Hispanic Oregon residents.

In response to all this, both Houses by very large margins replaced Measure 110 with a different approach to drug policy. It restored the ability to impose criminal penalties, to use those penalties particularly to leverage people to change their behavior — for example, by restoring drug courts and other kinds of diversion and monitoring programs. It is definitely not correct to say they reinstated the war on drugs because, it has to be remembered, Oregon never really had a war on drugs policy. They were the first state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana over 50 years ago, in fact. They decriminalized marijuana. They had a very low rate of putting nonviolent criminals into prisons.

So it was more a restoration of that progressive, liberty loving approach that they’d had before but supplemented with a lot more funding for treatment, which is something they’ve had a lot of problems standing up for years, which had nothing to do with Measure 110. The treatment system was in very bad shape before Measure 110. And it still is.

If you’ve been around drug policy conversations for a long time, you’ll have heard a lot, I have heard a lot, about Portugal. And Portugal is a place where they decriminalized drugs. And it has been a much more sustainable, solid policy. So what is different about Portugal?

Portugal is different in policy and different in culture. So they definitely don’t throw people in prison, and it’s decriminalized. But they do have what are called dissuasion commissions that do assessments of people, say, who arrested in the street for using drugs. And you have to show up to this assessment. And they can push and nudge people to seek care.

And they can also apply penalties if they want to. They can say, you’re a cab driver. You’ve been caught using cocaine. And we’re going to take your cab license away until you seek treatment and stop using cocaine. Things like that. It is not a war on drugs approach, but it is a push in the policy. And that has never been taken on seriously by American advocates who cite Portugal.

Portugal also has a universal health care. We do not have that. We are the only developed Western country that doesn’t have that. So that makes it easier to get help irrespective of what the laws are. And Portugal had at least at the time of their decriminalization a very nice network of treatment services and harm reduction services for people. And all that together worked in the policy mix.

The other point is the culture of Portugal is much more family oriented. It’s much more communitarian than American general and certainly much more true than our freedom loving Libertarian Pacific Coast. If you spend time in Lisbon, you have a common experience of running into people and say, where are you born? And they’ll say, well, Lisbon. And where were your parents born? Lisbon. And they still live in my neighborhood. And my grandparents live in my neighborhood, too. You never hear this in San Francisco or Portland. Everybody is from somewhere else. And many people actually moved to the West to get away from everybody else, to get away from social constraints. I want to be my own person. Well, Portugal is the opposite of that.

So there’s a lot of constraint on behavior. It’s loving constraint, but it is constraint, those boundaries around people’s behavior that don’t exist out in the West with the exception of recent immigrant communities, which, by the way, have very low rates of drug problems.

This is something that I always think people underestimate at least about San Francisco, which is one of these cities under the best, which is that it is a culture of enormous tolerance. And that is a lot of what makes San Francisco remarkable, what has made it a home for L.G.B.T.Q. people when that was a very rare thing to be, what has made it open to all these weird ideas from computer scientists and strange nerds who came around with their thoughts about AI and their thoughts about visual operating systems.

And people don’t like necessarily the dark side of this open, tolerant, nonjudgmental way of looking at the world. There’s a bit of a divided soul, a difficulty judging, a discomfort with paternalism, and a kind of optimism that if you let subcultures have their freedom and grapple their way forward, they’ll find their way to an equilibrium and that we should be very, very, very skeptical of heavy handed particularly law enforcement as a way of changing culture.

That is a very nice description of the city we both love. And we’d be much poorer without San Francisco’s embrace of individual freedom and all the great things that it gives, which you just articulated. To me, the resolution here is taking addiction seriously as a problem.

So if you look at somebody who is using methamphetamine five times a day, you could say, well, that is really an expression of their individual freedom. I need to respect that. But if you recognize the likelihood that they are not particularly free because they are addicted, the inconsistency disappears. And so I feel personally no contradiction between saying the state should intervene with pressure — for example, mandating people into treatment. For me, that doesn’t conflict with individual freedom at all. So when I talked to somebody who said, look, you need to just let people do what they want, I say, look. I volunteer in the Tenderloin. And I carry naloxone, the overdose rescue medication, with me. If someone were in front of me in overdose and dying, should I administer naloxone even though the person can’t consent, they’re unconscious?

And I’ve never had anyone say, you’re right. You should just respect their right to die. They say, well, no, of course, you should do that, conceding the principle that there are times that the thing we can do the most to help other people is take care of them when they were not in a fit state to take care of themselves.

Is that a straw man, though? I can’t really think of people at least that I have heard arguing that somebody under the throes of heroin addiction is free and is choosing the life they live, that they’re likely to be happy with the world they now exist in.

One of the really striking things about this new rhetoric about drug policy out here is how rarely addiction is even mentioned. The fact that there’s so much focus on drug overdose, which is, of course, terrible, but that is treated as the only index and not addiction reflects a viewpoint that that’s not either an important thing or not that real a thing. Because if it were, you would note that in the heyday of wild opioid prescribing, there were fewer overdoses, but there were far more people who were addicted to those substances. And that made their lives dramatically worse.

I also see the lack of attention to addiction in the investment in harm reduction without the idea of using it as a springboard into treatment, which to me is a very novel idea that’s only become more powerful in the last couple of years where people feel like that in itself is the goal versus trying to eliminate addiction and get somebody into recovery.

So this is complicated, I think, because there’s this interaction in this period between what you might call elite and mass drug culture. In this period, you have the rise of a lot of super popular podcasters like Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss, who are very open about their psychedelic use. You have Michael Pollan’s great book on psychedelics, “How to Change Your Mind.” I do a bunch of podcasts about psychedelics. You have a book by Carl Hart, who’s a well-known drug researcher at Columbia, called “Drug Use for Grownups” where he talks openly about using heroin to relax at the end of the day. Ketamine use rises in a very public way.

And so you have this change in drug culture among elites. It becomes much more acceptable to talk about how you use drugs to improve your life that I think also makes it look hypocritical to have a punitive approach not just legally but culturally towards other kinds of drug use. Do you think there’s something to that?

Yeah. I’ve seen that very much, too. And people with a platform, they’ve got a hearing. One of the most important things to understand about Measure 110, for example, is it passed easily. It was not that controversial as people thought it would be. And that elite change, I think, was part of the dynamic.

And definitely, you could see that in psychedelics in Oregon, which, as you know, has set up an entire system to administer psychedelics as a healing force. At least that’s the theory. These are transformative medicines often, by the way, in advance of evidence. But put that aside for a minute. And that is a remarkable change.

I think the criticism you could make of people who are well off and well resourced and have a lot of social capital and have access to treatment and health care whenever they need it is that they could be overgeneralizing what it’s like to use drugs in that situation versus the situation most people find themselves in with a lot less resources and a lot fewer things to catch them if they develop a problem. Now, some would say, well, the real problem is the law, and it’s the punishment you get and all that. And that can absolutely ruin people’s lives. There’s no question to that.

But there’s also quite a few people whose lives are ruined by drugs, including cannabis. There’s some people whose lives have been ruined by psychedelics and certainly people’s lives ruined by cocaine and fentanyl and so on. You don’t think about that much maybe when you are in a really comfy, well-resourced environment. But the average person who lives in a more typical environment does think about it, does have to worry about it. And that gives them a different understanding of what drugs are, how risky they are, and what they want their government to do about them.

That all makes sense to me. But something else I would say was here was that I would have described the consensus for a very long time as drug use is bad, and policing is good. And to some degree, by the time of 110 and some other reforms we were seeing in other states, I think that there was — and you can tell me if this tracks for you — a belief that drug use is somewhere between neutral and good depending on the drug, and policing is bad.

Yeah. There’s no way to separate what happened in Oregon from the murder of George Floyd and from Black Lives Matter. I mean, the protests against police were as intense in Oregon as anywhere they were in the United States and indeed throughout the region and a lot of concern — and it’s got to be said — a lot of justifiable concern about racism and policing. And a huge portion of that was focused on drug enforcement. And that flip was clearly part of why the bill passed.

In terms of drug use, I think there’s a split. I mean, so there are people who accept it’s a health matter. So let’s move to that part of the population, some of whom will say, it’s not a good idea, but we should add health services, and I certainly wouldn’t punish anybody for it, to people would say, no, it is good. In fact, it is actively good. Drug use is good. Drug use should be accepted and maybe even promoted or celebrated. And the debate has been, I think, between those two strands, whereas in the ‘80s, it was more between “drugs are bad — period” and “they should be legal even if they’re good or bad.”

You’ve written about billboards that I used to see and always thought were somewhat strange around fentanyl use and showing happy people — and these were in San Francisco — showing happy people and suggesting if you’re going to use this stuff, use it with friends. Use it around others. Make sure you’re not doing it alone.

One way of looking at them was as a destigmatization of this. It’s totally fine. Just be safe. And another way of looking at it was a total last gasp, but we don’t know what to do. We’re going to try this approach to everything else is failing. Maybe if we completely turn around our approach and just try to change the social dynamics in which people use, that might have an effect on the margin.

So several things there you’re saying, I think they’re important. One is, absolutely. In the face of all this death and all this suffering, we’re all desperate for solutions. And I think it is good that we are thinking in very fundamental ways about what the solutions are. That should be the case when you have this much suffering.

I think it is not irrelevant that these changes have unfolded during a pandemic where, let’s face it, we all went a little crazy. It was very stressful. It was emotional. Many policy debates took on a very personal cast. And we did rock between different extremes in our politics.

With the billboards — and just to describe these billboards, what to me is interesting about them is that the public health department signed off on these. And if they had been promoting beer, they would’ve been outraged by them because they would’ve said, well, you’re making it look like this is something young, attractive, successful people do. And it’s a lot of fun. And you’re understanding all the risk. And you’re going to be tempting kids. You’re basically giving people really bad information. But it wasn’t alcohol. It was fentanyl.

And so I guess they felt it was reasonable on the idea that this will destigmatize. And then people will be comfortable talking about it and using fentanyl together. And they would show people in the apartment having a nice party. Then they could take care of each other in the event of an overdose. It would be a social event, and then you could be there. To me, it’s an extraordinary chain of reasoning. But that’s where San Francisco got in 2021.

I lived in San Francisco during this period. It also had a highly liberalizing attitude on drugs. It had significant open air drug markets, particularly in the Tenderloin.

But what I always saw as the core thing that was infuriating people because I lived in places like D.C. that had a much higher murder rate but where crime was much less of an angry political issue was a feeling that the government was tolerating disorder, that it wasn’t fighting it and failing or fighting it and failing to triumph over what’s a very hard problem, but that the government was allowing it, that they were allowing these open air drug markets, that they were allowing people to shoot up on the street, and that it turned out the politics of permitting disorder were really, really, really bad.

Yes, they are. And I volunteer in the Tenderloin. So I’ve spent a lot of time in those neighborhoods and definitely pick up that sense. And, say, for a number of people would express it in an even harsher way, which is the government is tolerating it where I live in a way they would never tolerate it in a wealthier neighborhood. That could be coupled also with a sense of some of those people in the wealthier neighborhoods say this should be tolerated, but they’re not having to tolerate it. I am. And that generates understandable anger.

And this has had an interesting racial dimension in my observation of it is that a lot of this tolerance has been pushed in the name of racial justice often by white college educated progressives but is unpopular with many, many people of color who live in low income neighborhoods because they’re paying the cost of it while it’s being advocated for for people who they don’t even know who live in neighborhoods that don’t have these kinds of problems.

I was reading recently a lawsuit filed by residents of the Tenderloin against San Francisco. And it was saying in a way that is illegal and unconstitutional, it was alleging that San Francisco — and everybody knows this to be true — was not enforcing laws in the Tenderloin the way it was in other parts of the city, that it had settled on a containment strategy in the Tenderloin. And the Tenderloin is really rough for people who have not walked around there. I mean, the disorder, the despair, the difficulty’s incredibly visible. And one of the things that was noted in the lawsuit was that the Tenderloin has a much higher ratio of children than most parts of San Francisco. It has a lot of immigrant families, a lot of poor families. And so this is being tolerated where really a lot of kids were.

And the argument was that this was not allowed where richer people lived in San Francisco, and it was where these poorer people lived. And even knowing that, it was striking to see it laid out and to see these experiences of people who were living amidst it laid out and their fury that containment was being done on their backs.

Why are there hundreds of dealers standing on street corners in the Tenderloin and in the south of Market? They are not there to service the neighborhood. Because if you live in a neighborhood and your dealer lives in the neighborhood, your dealer doesn’t have to stand on a corner. You know each other. You can text. You can just stop by and make your transactions.

Open air markets are there to service strangers. They’re so that buyers and sellers can find each other really fast. And in an open air market, it’s serving people who don’t live in the neighborhood. There’s no reason there’d be that many dealers. The Tenderloin doesn’t need that many dealers to pay for its own drug use.

So it’s a legitimate gripe if you live in a neighborhood and you’re trying to raise a family in a neighborhood that is taken over by an open air market to say, we’re taking all the harms of all the drug use of the other neighborhoods where they don’t allow open air dealing. But people know they can just drive from there to here pick up their drugs and then go off about their way. And that’s unfair. And so I sympathize with the residents of the Tenderloin who are raising that very legitimate gripe about not getting equal protection under the law.

One question I’ve had about all this is how much of it is a set of policies that might’ve worked or certainly worked better than they did, but fentanyl rolled a grenade underneath this? I mean, a lot of this thinking was happening years before fentanyl just completely invaded America.

The emergence and dominance of powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl among the opioids or super strong methamphetamine that is now a larger share of the market than cocaine has, I think, undermined basic assumptions about drug policy across the world. When a kind of person who might come into, say, a methadone clinic addicted to heroin, their heroin use might be once a day or maybe twice a day, including people who were holding jobs, people who still were in touch with their families. Not that life was going well, but there was some level of manageability. We now have people with fentanyl using 10, 20, 30 times a day. Their entire existence is — because fentanyl has a very short cycle of action.

So you wake up. You’re in withdrawal. Withdrawal is incredibly unpleasant. You may smoke fentanyl, smoke, smoke, smoke. Maybe it takes 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Your withdrawal finally stops. You smoke some more till you get high. You fall asleep. You wake up, and you’re in withdrawal. And you’re just really stuck like that.

And I see people like that. I mean, I’m very optimistic about the potential of recovery for addiction. Those are what I’ve seen. And those are also my values. I try to approach everybody that way.

And I also sometimes am frightened that it’s just much, much harder to help people in this state when their life is that consumed by drugs even relative to how consumed their lives were by drugs like heroin and OxyContin. It’s really pretty frightening. And we are getting it first. The United States and Canada too are being exposed to these drugs.

It’s interesting to note in Europe, they’re just starting to get these drugs. And whether they’ll keep with their same policy mix is a really interesting question. It isn’t entirely sure. I have a colleague who says fentanyl is like an antibiotic resistant infection. The stuff we always done that used to work doesn’t work anymore. And that’s terrifying.

How good now is our best gold standard addiction treatment?

So this varies a lot by drug. I’m going to start with the bad news first, which is the stimulants. So the biggest disappointment of my career is about cocaine and methamphetamine. I started my career in the late 1980s. And the care that people got for those drugs then is almost the same as what they get now. There’s been very little progress.

Billions have been spent. Brilliant people have tried to develop, for example, pharmacological treatments for them. Nothing has panned out yet. Most of the behavioral treatments don’t work. We have one thing that seems to work, which is contingency management, a particular way of structuring and giving rewards to help people make changes in their behavior. But we’ve had that for a very long time. So the news there is kind of disappointing.

For alcohol, funnily enough, one of the best things we have has been around forever, which is Alcoholics Anonymous. And for a long time, people in my field looked down on it as too folky and not medical enough. And yet there’s now tremendous evidence that myself and some colleagues assembled in what’s called a Cochrane Collaboration showing that does work, that people do, in fact, as well or better in Alcoholics Anonymous as they do coming to see people like myself.

There’s also some medications available. Acamprosate is one. Naltrexone is another. Some people benefit from those.

On the opioids, we have multiple approved FDA medications. Methadone has been around a very long time. It’s a substitute medication. It is effective for many people. Buprenorphine is another substitute medication, slightly different pharmacologically, but also effective for a great many people. And we have naltrexone, which is it works differently. It’s a blocking agent. And there are people who do very well on that.

So those things are all good. That’s considered the front line. You offer people medication first. And people also can benefit from other kinds of things — therapies and from residential care. And if somebody is out on the street with an addiction, it’s not believable that they are going to check in once a week for an hour with a therapist because their lives aren’t that organized. They usually need a safe substance free environment in which to stay. And those are often in short supply. So we sometimes don’t have success there not because we don’t know what to do, but because we haven’t allocated the resources to do it.

But how good are any of these? I mean, let’s zoom in on alcohol for a minute. I’ve known a lot of people — people I’ve loved — who have had very severe alcohol addictions. And you can’t be near that and not realize how differently different drugs act on different people. If I am drinking, just at some point, my body is like, that’s good. We’re done.

And there are people I know who they have burnt their life down around them. And they’ve been in and out of residential treatment. They’ve gone to A.A. Some people recover. Often they really don’t. How likely is it if you go into A.A. or some of these other things that you’ll recover?

People who seek for alcohol treatment or Alcoholics Anonymous can fall into three bins. If you look at them about 6 or 12 months later, somewhere between 40 percent, 50 percent are dramatically better off. Their lives are dramatically better. And that could be the completely abstinent, or they’re much more abstinent, but their lives are dramatically better.

Then there’s another group of people who seem to be somewhat better. That might be 20 percent, 25 percent. They’re still having significant problems. But maybe they make some things like, at least I’m not drinking and driving at the same time, or at least my spouse and I are making some progress in our marital communication. And then the remaining people unfortunately look exactly the same as the day they came into treatment. They either made no progress, or they made some slight progress and then relapsed.

The perception that we have of it tends to be driven by that last group. That’s because when people get better, they disappear into the woodwork. So when I worked in the White House, I used to think when I walked by somebody getting out of the metro who’s actively using drugs or alcohol, I’m very aware. That’s so visible to me.

And yet I know every day people walk by me in suits or in recovery, and I don’t notice them at all. Just looks like another Washington lawyer or civil servant or politician. So the cognitive effects of people who are doing the worst or the most vivid give us, I think, a more despairing view than we ought to have.

How much is the risk of developing an addiction genetic?

Genes affect us a lot. Studies across addictions show a genetic contribution. It varies by the substance, but at least 30 percent, sometimes even 50 percent. How much control people have just in general — some people are more impulsive than others, have a harder time thinking about the future than others from their first day on this Earth. And that will increase your risk for addiction.

If you’re very, very risk averse person who thinks a lot about the future, drug use looks differently to you than if you’re someone who wants to feel good today and is a happy go lucky person. Some of why we get addicted has to do with things that nobody can really control. And those can be things like liking. Even for the first time we use them, we like drugs differently.

When my boys were little, they were in the backyard, and they were climbing a tree. And I said, ah, that’s not how to climb a tree. I’ll show you how to climb a tree. So when I got to the emergency room, I said, this bone is broken. And I know it because I can see the way it’s knocked off my wrist.

And they nicely patched it for me. And they sent me home with Vicodin, the opioid Vicodin, bottle of 30, and said, it’s going to hurt. So you’re going to want to take these.

I take one. And I feel terrible. Stomach all feels bound up. I feel just really groggy. I don’t like this. For me, it was very easy to say pain is better than taking even one more of these pills. Meanwhile, I’ve treated people who say, the first time I had an opioid, it was like a hole that had been in my heart my whole life filled up for the first time.

Now, both those experiences are real. You cannot attribute them to, well, Keith must be a real solid and moral person, and that’s an immoral person, or Keith must have made good choices, and that person made bad choices, because we had no learning history at all. It was just the kismet of genetics that drugs feel differently to different people from the very first time, not just learning history.

And so I find it very easy to be sympathetic to someone who’s addicted to opioids because I think the reason I’m not going to do that is not because I’m a better person. It’s because they just don’t feel good to me. And to you, they felt fantastic. And so you were willing to keep on using them.

It’s not just that I find it easy to be sympathetic. But I find it hard to know how to think about it because, to be blunt, I’ve had very positive personal experiences with certain drugs. And at the same time, I’m somebody who is extremely nonaddictive in this area of my life. I have never wanted more puffs on a cigarette than I had. I’ve never smoked a cigarette and been like, I need another one. Obviously, other people I knew when I was in college, that was not how that went for them.

There is something here where, on the one hand, I worry that a fair amount of the discourse around drugs comes from people for whom maybe it actually is positive for them. There are people who have real positive relationships with different kinds of substances both legal and illegal. Adderall can be amazing for somebody with A.D.H.D., and it can be very destructive for somebody who ends up using it recreationally. I mean, you were talking about methamphetamines. And it’s not all that different.

And it becomes, I think, almost philosophically hard to know how to think about these substances that really can range. How to think about something where for some people it can be a very good part of their life, either pleasurable or even very profound. For other people, it can be a complete disaster that will actually ruin their life. And who are you making policy for and how feels like something that this conversation gets caught on a lot.

I agree, yeah, because drugs aren’t good, and drugs aren’t bad. They are good and bad. And sometimes I envy colleagues who work in areas like cholera prevention. If there’s a cholera outbreak, and you get rid of it, you’re a hero. Everybody loves you. Nobody says, but I was having a party. I need a little cholera. Can’t you keep a little cholera for special occasions? It’s like, no, everyone just hates cholera. Drugs are absolutely not like that. People have great experiences with drugs. I drink wine, by the way. That’s a drug. Or ethanol is a drug.

So we can’t resolve it that simply. And so we have to get into these questions of, well, when is it good? And when is it bad? And for whom is it good? And for whom is it bad?

And then there’s a question that is to me a philosophical question, in fact, religions grapple with, which is should I give something up for the benefit of others? Perhaps I can use fentanyl freely and enjoy it. But should I still say it shouldn’t be in recreational market because I’m aware enough of my fellow people would find it life ruining? And so the moral thing is for me to give it up so the sense that all of us can live together in a spirit of common humanity. And there’s always going to be tougher discussions, things that are good and bad versus things that are just clearly good, and we should just embrace them, and clearly bad and just reject them.

I wonder about this with the rollout of legal cannabis across a lot of the country. So this is something that I occasionally take. I’ll sometimes have a 5 milligram edible to help me sleep or to relax at the end of the night. It isn’t something I want all that often. And when I go into these stores, and I look in them, and I see the way they’re popping up in New York the way they popped up in California, it’s pretty clear this market is not catering to me.

And I think a lot about something that, as you mentioned, our mutual late friend Mark Kleiman, who was one of the great drug researchers and crime researchers, used to say to me, which is that alcohol companies do not make their money on people who drink a beer or two a week. They make their money on people who drink a case. And when I go into these stores, what I see are the rise of super high potency products that I wouldn’t touch. And clearly the money is being made given how many of the stores there are on people taking a lot more than I am a lot more often. When you look at what is going on with legal cannabis, how do you feel about it?

So start at the question of should we ever throw people in a cell for cannabis? Oh, so that was a terrible idea. So let’s take that off the table and just say if we’re going to have a legal industry, have we regulated it well? And I think it’s absolutely clear we have not.

And this is something we’re generally I’d say bad at relative to other countries of constraining profit when the profit damages public health. And so we have an industry with hardly any constraints on their products, not a very good record with even labeling their products accurately, very poor enforcement of even keeping the legal regime in place. And the pot shops in New York are a good example of that. A huge number of them are unlicensed and just doing whatever they want. And they’re being allowed to do that.

So I think we’ve done a really bad job with cannabis and in part driven by this phenomenon of not being willing to admit that cannabis isn’t good or bad, but it is both. And so when Mark Kleiman and I worked with Washington state, who was one of the first states to legalize, and we said, you still need to have some enforcement to make a licensing system work, I remember people literally either laughing or getting angry at us saying, the war on drugs is over. No more enforcement ever.

It’s like, actually, no. Why would you have a license and do the right thing and not hire minors? And why would you be sure to card? And why would you sell clean and safe products when you do that because you get a market advantage in a licensed market? And so if we just allow anybody to do anything, well, then there’s really no point in getting licensed, no point in paying your taxes, no point in being a good citizen, no point in not in hawking dangerous products.

And that’s the situation that we have. And we’re going to be really sorry for it. The distribution of consumption is also really important to think about. It’s not quite half, but it’s certainly a plurality of cannabis users today are using it every single day, usually a high strength product.

Wow, really? Almost half?

Yeah. I’d say about 40 percent are daily or near daily users. And so that’s where the money is if you’re running an industry. And so you want to produce cheap high-strength product that that population will use and use and use and use. And I just think we’re really going to regret that.

My friends over at “Search Engine,” which is a great podcast, just did this two part series on the New York cannabis market. And I had not really understood that while New York is now completely full of what appeared to me to be legal cannabis stores, virtually none of them are legal cannabis stores. There’s a very small number of legal ones and then a huge number of illegal ones.

And you might say, well, how are there all these illegal stores? And the answer is that nobody wants to send the police to bust people for cannabis. And so much of the theory of legalization as I understood it for years was that we will legalize and then be able to regulate the market. But if what we’ve done is legalized, but we’re not willing to use law enforcement, and so we cannot regulate the market, that’s actually a dramatically different policy equilibrium than I feel like I was promised.

Yeah, the experience you’re having — I think people have had across a lot of drug policy — is expecting one thing and then getting another and underestimating the ideological commitments of the people who designed it. So there are people who say, we’re going to have this legal market, and we’ll get rid of the illegal sellers and all that. But that isn’t what necessarily they wanted. They just thought, look, this should not be restricted at all. And you should just be able to deal with it and sell it and have a classic Libertarian understanding of it as opposed to a more progressive understanding of what we expect from industries. And this problem is replicated all over the country.

There’s also something that’s happened in policing, which is there’s always more to do for police than they have to do. So they’re not super interested in getting involved. Even with some of the massive problems we have, for example, here in California, we have huge illicit groves, some of them staffed by people who have literally been human trafficked. But it hasn’t really risen up as an enforcement priority because, cannabis, we don’t do that anymore.

You said this about cannabis, and I found it really striking. Quote, “The newly legal industry looks a lot like the tobacco industry — an under-regulated, under-taxed, politically connected, white dominated corporate entity that generates its profits mainly by addicting lower income people to a drug. 85 percent of Colorado’s cannabis, for example, is consumed by people who did not graduate from college.” Can you say a bit more about that socioeconomic breakdown?

Yeah. So I think that in middle upper class society, that figure’s really shocking. And the idea is, oh, cannabis user is, oh, someone like you, someone who has a good job, went to college, and maybe uses occasionally. No. I say if you want to think of the typical user, think of somebody who works in a gas station who gets high on all their breaks. That’s much more the sociodemographic breakdown of it.

And by the way, that’s what you see with tobacco as well. In my professional middle class life, it is so rare for me to see somebody smoking a cigarette. But if you go into a poor neighborhood, there’s still a lot of people who smoke cigarettes.

And so we’ve won the war on smoking I guess, middle class and well off. But it’s far less the case as you move into people who have much more challenging lives. And this comes back to the point that you raised and I think is really important one is that since that professional class makes the policies, it’s really important for them to remember that their lives are different than the people whose lives will be most profoundly affected by those policies.

One thing that a lot of drugs, cannabis being one of them, do is allow you to escape from a life that doesn’t feel good to you. If I had a job that bored the hell out of me, it might be more appealing to use something like cannabis more often. I really like my job. And I definitely cannot do it high, so I don’t. But there’s both a question of how does this affect you as a person but also how much might you want it, need it, need the escape?

I think this gets down to one of the most important questions to ask, which is, why don’t more people use drugs? People say, why does anybody use drugs? And it’s like, well, do you ask me why anybody has sex? That’s a really strange question. It feels good. We don’t need an explanation why people use them.

It’s actually far more interesting to think, why aren’t we all using them? Why aren’t you and I using drugs right now? And big reasons why are, well, we have other rewards in our lives. And we have a lot of other stuff that we want to do that is rewarding.

So in the absence of those things, the why not question, the answer seems to be, well, I can’t think of a reason why not. I might as well. Well, you won’t live as long. Well, I don’t expect to live that long. You won’t do well in your brilliant career. I don’t have a brilliant career. You won’t enjoy your fabulous house. I don’t have a fabulous house.

And that’s a reason I think it’s easy or it should be easy to have some sympathy. We all don’t have the same set of rewards to choose from. Rewards any neuroscientists would tell you are judged relative to each other. We don’t just make judgments over good, bad, but we do a lot of this is better than that. So as you pull rewards out of an environment, yeah, drugs become relatively more appealing.

It feels to me across this conversation that we’re talking about two eras that didn’t really work. I think a lot of people are worried about just a pendulum swinging between extremes. I’m curious if to you there is a synthesis out there either in a place or in a theory that feels like it balances these different realities, that people will use drugs? They are good for some people and terrible for others, that we don’t want to be throwing adults constantly into jail because they did something with their own bodies. We don’t want tons of people to get addicted because we decided not to throw anybody in jail. Is there something that feels to you like it strikes a balance here?

So years ago, when I worked for President Obama, we cited Washington’s example because they had taken a couple of hundred million dollars, spent it on mental health and substance use treatment, and showed within 12 months they’d actually made all their money back because of less crime, because of less disability, because of less trips to the emergency room. And importantly, they had gathered data to show that. And that was one of the things we used when the Affordable Care Act was being done to explain why covering substance use in that package would be a good deal for the taxpayer in addition to, of course, being a good deal to any person who had that problem.

There’s also certain issues where people with very different views and feelings about drugs can agree. So I’ve been working with a lot of people around the country on building Medicaid into the correctional system starting in California. It was pushed by a fabulous assembly member named Marie Waldron. We turn Medicaid on before people leave. And that gets them typically on some type of medication. And that can pull people together because it makes it far less likely for them to die of an overdose or to have other health problems. And it also makes them much less likely to commit crimes. And so you can get people like, well, I’m not very sympathetic. I don’t want to spend money on the health of some drug user. But if it makes them less likely to commit more crime, I like that. And other people say, well, this is a health matter. It’s like, well, then they like it too.

And that approach, which now multiple states have been approved for and the Biden administration C.M.S. has said, you can all have this Medicaid waiver — I don’t know the current number. I think it’s about 14 or 15 other states are applying. And as an example of something where you don’t necessarily have to resolve all the disagreements, but you can find a policy that maximizes multiple outcomes that a broad section of people care about.

Something I’ve seen you talk about and write about is this idea that the way that policing should work here is it should be very, very predictable, very certain you will get picked up, and very modest. It’s sort of almost like it operates as a constant annoyance. You end up in jail for 24 hours and are let loose. And there was some evidence that definitely did decrease repeat offending not among everybody but among enough people to really matter in the study. Do you still think that’s a good idea?

Absolutely. It’s a good principle for enforcement and for deterrence to have it be predictable, responsive, and fair. There’s been a lot of success with drink driving and alcohol through the program 24/7 Sobriety, which started in South Dakota and has now spread to about 15, 20 states and is also now in other countries.

It’s all across England, all across Wales where I was just last week actually working on that, which is a model whereby people are sentenced after their second, third, fourth, fifth alcohol related arrest to not be allowed to drink. They aren’t sent to jail. They aren’t fine. Their cars aren’t taken away. But their alcohol use is monitored literally every single day with swift and certain but modest consequences if they drink.

And that program has reduced incarceration. It has reduced crime. It has reduced domestic violence. And it strikes a good balance between using the criminal justice system to protect and put some constraints on people but not in a way that ends up being carceral.

And the place where we can really make a huge impact on that in the United States is the million people we’re already supervising on probation and parole who have substance use problems. And we need to roll those out more broadly. For example, Oregon’s new policy mix if implemented properly, which will be a challenge, I think it would be a very good one. They do put pressure on people to seek treatment. But they say literally, no one is going to be put into a prison in Oregon simply because they used a drug. And now they’re building up the other part you got to have, which is have to have the health system and the services that keep people alive while they use and then help them get into recovery. That, I think, is a very appealing mix of things.

We have a really hard time, I think, in the U.S. and lots of policy issues of realizing that it’s not a series of on/off switches. It’s a series of dials. And you can adjust things and find sensible, nuanced approaches that are more effective than what fits on a bumper sticker.

And I feel like that’s what my job is. And people like me who do not have to take the great risk to stand up and people and say, please vote for me. And then that means I have to explain something simply. It can’t be any other way but are next to it and are very fortunate to have the time to sift through evidence in a calm environment before they venture out with some suggestions about what we might do better.

I think that’s a good place to end. So then as a final question, what are three books you would recommend to the audience?

So there’s so many good books written about in this area. It’s hard to pick. So I decided to prioritize personal relationship starting with your late friend of mine Mark Kleiman, who wrote a book called “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know,” coauthored with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken.

And it is exactly what the title promises. It’s accessible. It’s something you can dip into and out of and answer any question you want. And I also point to it as just a model of how academics in any area can write in such a fashion that a broad audience can engage their work and learn from it.

The second book I would suggest, again, from a friend who’s someone I’ve known since she was a psychiatric resident and I was an assistant professor. And that’s Dr. Anna Lembke here at Stanford. And the book is called “Dopamine Nation,” which was a deserved bestseller around the world.

But that gives you much more of the human experience describing, what is it like to be addicted, to not be able to stop doing something even though you know it’s destructive? How does it feel? How do you try to overcome it? And what is going on in that person neurologically that makes it so hard? And then the book also talks about just the seeking of reward in a reward saturated society and how we all are chasing all these things, whether it’s on our cell phones or with drugs and so on.

And then the last one — maybe a more eccentric choice, but it’s such a good book — is by Thomas De Quincey. And it’s called “Confessions of an English Opium Eater.” So De Quincey was a hangers on of the romantic poet set about 200 years ago in England. And he wrote at the time a very scandalous account. But, of course, also scandalous things in Britain are often very popular things.

So it became a bestseller about his experience of long time opium use. And he talks about the pains of opium and the pleasures of opium and a bit about how it affects social relationships, how it affects human psychology. And what I like about is, first off, it has a wonderfully florid over the top poetic style. And the other thing is almost everything you and I have talked about today is touched on in that book. And that shows that while we do learn things and we go forward with science, with policy, it is also true that the human relationship with drugs has had the same benefits and challenges in it for time immemorial. And so that’s a reminder of that when you read a book written that long ago and can resonate with so much of what’s going on today.

Keith Humphreys, thank you very much.

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Annie Galvin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Kate Sinclair and Mary Marge Locker. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon.

The show’s production team also includes Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

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Drug policy feels very unsettled right now. The war on drugs was a failure. But so far, the war on the war on drugs hasn’t entirely been a success, either.

Take Oregon. In 2020, it became the first state in the nation to decriminalize hard drugs. It was a paradigm shift — treating drug-users as patients rather than criminals — and advocates hoped it would be a model for the nation. But then there was a surge in overdoses and public backlash over open-air drug use. And last month, Oregon’s governor signed a law restoring criminal penalties for drug possession, ending that short-lived experiment.

Other states and cities have also tipped toward backlash. And there are a lot of concerns about how cannabis legalization and commercialization is working out around the country. So what did the supporters of these measures fail to foresee? And where do we go from here?

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App , Apple , Spotify , Amazon Music , YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts .]

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University who specializes in addiction and its treatment. He also served as a senior policy adviser in the Obama administration. I asked him to walk me through why Oregon’s policy didn’t work out; what policymakers sometimes misunderstand about addiction; the gap between “elite” drug cultures and how drugs are actually consumed by most people; and what better drug policies might look like.

You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App , Apple , Spotify , Google or wherever you get your podcasts . View a list of book recommendations from our guests here .

(A full transcript of this episode is available here .)

A portrait of Keith Humphreys

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Annie Galvin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Kate Sinclair and Mary Marge Locker. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld, with additional mixing by Aman Sahota and Efim Shapiro. Our senior editor is Claire Gordon. The show’s production team also includes Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .


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    Hey there! The length of an argumentative essay can vary depending on the requirements set by your teacher or the complexity of the topic. In general, a typical high school argumentative essay might be around 3-5 pages (double-spaced), or roughly 800-1,500 words. However, in college, it could go up to 6-10 pages or even more, depending on your assignment.

  16. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    Strategies for Essay Writing Table of Contents Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt . . . . . 2-4 ... Verbs like analyze, compare, discuss, explain, make an argument, propose a solution, trace, or research can help you understand what you're being asked to do with an assignment. Unless the instructor has specified otherwise, most of your ...

  17. How Long Should an Argumentative Essay Be? (Quick Answer)

    Argumentative essays that have more than 5 paragraphs tend to be longer, which means more pages regardless of the type of spacing used. For example, if you decide to make your essay as long as 10 to 15 paragraphs, you'll end up with at least 6 to 8 pages give or take. You get the idea.

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    2. Pick one side of the argument, but acknowledge the other side. When you write the essay, it's best if you pick one side of the debate and stick with it for the entire essay. All your evidence should be in support of that one side. However, in your introductory paragraph, as you introduce the debate, be sure to mention any merit the ...

  19. How long does it take you on average to write an essay? : r/UniUK

    However, for a fairly theory heavy 2500 word one id probably do it (inc. research) in 3-5 days, or 2-3 if I push. The main problem with those isn't the research itself but making it all into a coherent argument. For a science or light theory one it's 2-3 days max.

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