Academic Argumentation

Written assignments come in different sizes and shapes: assigned papers, research papers, final theses etc. They are all in the academic genre.

There are two different kinds of papers that you may be asked to write at Aarhus University: assigned papers and research papers.

Writing an academic paper means writing within the limits of a specific genre where you have to communicate academically which include using arguments to support your case. It is further important to remember that you have to write in an academic style.

When you are a new student it is a good idea to make an effort to get to know the different types of academic papers which has their own rules of thumb.

Assigned papers and research papers

As a student at Arts, you may be asked to write either assigned papers or research papers as part of your exam.

When writing assigned papers, you demonstrate that you have acquired certain academic skills. A research paper enables you to demonstrate that you are a critical researcher.

Whether you are writing an assigned paper or a research paper, it is important that you document your sources correctly.

Assigned papers

Assigned papers are mostly required from students who have recently started their university education. Here, the teacher decides what the student should write about and poses one or more questions for him or her to answer.

The student then writes a paper that demonstrates that he or she is able to produce a clear and relevant answer to the question(s) and that he or she is capable of writing in an academic manner.

Research papers

When writing research papers, you choose the topic, structure the paper and select the source material yourself. Research papers are more challenging and are therefore required from students who have a little more experience with the academic genre.

Here, the student has to define a topic and thesis statement him- or herself.

Papers of this kind are supposed to examine and explore, and in these papers the students show that they are able to bring a certain question or thesis-statement into focus, conduct research on the topic and then, through analysis and argumentation, come to a relevant conclusion.

This kind of paper enables the student to demonstrate that he or she is a critical researcher.

Types of academic papers

When setting out to write an academic paper, it is a good idea to consider what kind of paper you want to write. 5 different types may be identified at Arts.

The different types of papers all have different pros and cons, and one is not necessarily better than the other. An academic paper does not have to be based on only one of these types, and it is not uncommon that papers include elements from several of these kinds of studies.

Type of paper

Description

Monographic Study

The aim of this kind of study is to describe, analyse and explore a homogenous collection of texts, e.g. one or more texts by the same author, a TV series or a limited collection of historical source material.

Comparative Study

This type of study compares a number of texts (often two or three) and looks into similarities and differences between the texts.

Designing and Studying a Problem

This study uncovers diverging and contradictory tendencies within a field of research. This is accomplished through a methodological or theoretical analysis of one or more primary materials.

Applicative Study

Here, you apply a theory to a text. This kind of study is meant to revise a theory or to shed light on the information it is applied to.

Product-Orientated Study

This kind of study is often meant to create or develop something that can be used by someone for a specific purpose. It is often based on a question or problem defined in collaboration with an outside partner, like a company or an institution.

No matter what type of paper you are writing, it is important that you document your sources correctly

The content of this page is based on the working paper by Flemming Harrits from the Nordic Department, Aarhus University, and translated by Iris Galili.

Academic style

When writing a paper at Aarhus University, it is important to remember that you have to write in an academic style.

Style includes Source References, Quotations and Footnotes in an academic paper.

When it comes to style, the rules are not the same everywhere and teachers do not always agree on what is best. But an important thing to keep in mind is: be consistent. As long as your style of academic writing is clear and logical, the reader is much more likely to find it acceptable.

Academic style includes...

Description

...Source references

State where your information came from. When you write an academic paper, it is important to always make it clear if you are basing your analyses or statements on someone else’s work. If you copy something from a book or from the internet you always have to state where it came from.

It is considered cheating if you take credit for something that you did not come up with yourself, and this can have severe consequences for your future studies at the Aarhus University. Therefore, always make sure to include source references in your paper.

Read more about searching for and using literature and referencing.

...Quotations

By using quotes from experts or from your primary material, you can underline the points you want to make.

When you include a quotation in your paper, you should make it clear that you are using someone else’s words, and the quotation should be marked by quotation marks. If the quoted text exceeds two to three lines it should be indented.

..Footnotes

There are different ways of using footnotes in an academic paper. Some use them for source references, whereas some include source references in the main text.

If you use footnotes for source referencing, you should know that it is normal to have a lot of them. It may look a little excessive at first if you are not used to that kind of footnotes, but often you will end up with several footnotes on each page.

You can also use footnotes for comments related to your text, but be careful not to make too many of this kind of footnotes. If you did not find room for the information in your main text, maybe it should not be included at all.

The reader may find it disturbing to jump back and forth between main text and footnote-text, so only include this kind of footnotes if they are really important.

More information

  • Study Skills For International Students (pdf). A leaflet made by The Educational Centre of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen.
  • APA Formatting and Style Guide. Remember that the norms about style may be different at your department so always check with your teacher before deciding to use a specific style guide.
  • MLA Formatting and Style Guide also presents you with more information about style. Remember that the norms about style may be different at your department so always check with your teacher before deciding to use a specific style guide.

Some of the information on style is based on Study Skills For International Students (pdf), a leaflet produced by The Educational Centre of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

Argumentation

When communicating academically, it is important to use arguments to support your case.

Your academic assignment can be seen as a single overall argument. There are sections with argumentation in different parts of your assignment. 

Different parts of your argumentation appear in different places of your assignment:

Where in the assignment?

How to argue

The introduction

The introduction refers to your claim in the form of a hypothesis or a research question. Here you can briefly present and justify your choices of reasoning and proof.

The main section

Present the reasoning behind the claim. Proof, counter-argumentation, and support are presented and discussed, either as one or in an on-going manner.

The conclusion

State your claim here alongside with appropriate reliability factors and related to reasoning, proof, support, and counter-argumentation.

Using language as a support

You can support your argumentation linguistically by using appropriate words. These include words and expressions such as: because, therefore, exactly, in order to, due to, as such, in this sense, by virtue of, considering, since, not least, it follows that, consequently, on the other hand.

Toulmin's Model of argumentation

Toulmin’s model of argumentation can help you structure your argumentation and build solid arguments.

You can also use the model to structure your assignment as an overall argument. This way, you make sure that you produce a coherent assignment that makes its point.

Try applying Toulmin's Model to your assignment with the interactive exercise:

Exercise

The interactive exercise opens in a new window. You answer six questions, and at the end you can save your text. In this interactive exercise you can apply Toulmin’s model to your own assignment. The aim of this is to ensure that your assignment has focus and coherence.

Before doing the exercise

The exercise requires that you have decided on a topic and have considered possible points to be raised (which are referred to as ’Claims’ in the model). For inspiration on how to find a topic, see the page about written assignment and the content about generating Ideas.

General advice about the final thesis

Control the length of your final thesis, consider handing in a Trial Chapter to you supervisor and be sure to proof-read your thesis summary.

Stop at 70 pages

Before starting, most students think they will not be able to produce the minimum 60 pages, but most finish feeling they could all too easily have written more than 80 pages.

Try not to go beyond 70 pages, but prove your ability to select, control and present material and arguments according to requirements. These are competences future employers may well appreciate too.

Trial Chapter

You can normally hand in 15-odd pages to your supervisor for detailed critique and comments - the so-called ‘Trial Chapter’. You decide what section you think you’d benefit most from having closely examined.

If your supervisor agrees, you might hand in several smaller sections, as and when you need feedback most, rather than one long finished chapter (too?) late in the process. Read more about supervision on the page about Exams.

Appearances matter

Don’t underestimate the importance of first appearances: This means that the visual, and to you perhaps superficial, appearance must also be considered before handing in.

Make sure you pay attention to typography, spelling etc. and to the guidelines set out for referencing formalia in the Department Style Guide.

Often, the summary is the last thing you do, but the first thing examiners read, so proof-read it as carefully as you do the rest of your thesis.

 Read a more detailed pdf version of Inger H. Dalsgaard’s Advice about the Final Thesis.

Choose a topic with appeal

When you choose a topic, consider that this will keep you busy, full-time, for half a year. The topic should have enough appeal for you to keep you going for several months.

Don't worry about whether the topic will be too wide or too narrow - the advisor will let you know. My experience is that students typically suggest topics that are "too much" for 6 months - again, it's the advisor's job to (help you) cut it down to a manageable size.

This advice was given by Ocke-Schwen Bohn, Professor at the Department of Aesthetics and Communication - English, Aarhus University.

The content of this page was written by Inger H. Dalsgaard, Department of Aesthetics and Communication - English, Arts, Aarhus University.


Useful links:

Websites about academic skills:

  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Find information on how to research and write with correct grammar and style. Includes detailed style guides for different referencing systems.

  • How-To-Study An American site for lower level students from elementary school to college with easy to understand tips in both English and Spanish.

  • Study Guides and Strategies. Besides information about reading, writing, researching, studying and managing projects, this American site has tips for memorizing and concentrating.

Literature about academic skills:


The content of this page was edited by the editorial team at Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media.