How Writing an Argument is Like Telling Good Gossip

The argument essay is one that English teachers and professors all dread. This essay is often the toughest to teach and the driest to grade. Every semester we look at that stack of arguments and think out ways to get them graded without actually reading them all. So, far no one has figured out how to grade without reading the essays. However, I have found a way to make the essays much more interesting than they were before — by structuring the argument like good gossip.

Why Gossip?

Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

The same holds for academic essays that kids learn starting in high school. The reader — the teacher in most cases — must be able to stay awake, stay invested in the writing in order to consider it good. You have to hold their attention. The best way is with tension. Tension pulls the reader in and keeps them looking for the next part — and then, the resolution. Humans want to know what happens next. We love gossip because it is a story that satisfies that tension.

Thus, structuring the argument like gossip is a way to improve the essays we grade and read. For students, writing an argument like gossip is a way to better understand how the argument works. It also gives off an air of confidence in the writing that teachers will appreciate with higher grades.

How It Works

1. The Context and Claim.

In writing, this section is where we define a term or concept in great detail, or we lay out the background or history needed to understand the argument. For example, my argument that Indiana should make stricter mask orders needs context. I need to talk about the background on masks and masks orders. I also need to include a little on COVID-19, the pandemic, and lockdown rules. The audience needs this background in order to understand the next parts of my argument. I don’t want to start off confused. I make sure to tie this to the claim I am making (my thesis about Indiana needing stricter masking).

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2. The Evidence/Support for the Claim

In my argument paper, I would add another piece of evidence like stats for states with strict mask orders versus states without them. Maybe I would also add a map of the spread of the first wave of the COVID-19 virus. This I would compare Indiana, with its not-so-strict policy — with those of other states with strict policies. Compare the contraction rates and morbidity as well..

3. The Counter Claim

Nanny Maw’s companion breaks in to make sure she got her facts straight. The companion always thought Kathy was suspect. This is where the gossip listener usually injects disbelief and an indication that the speaker, Nanny Maw, hasn’t given enough details to make this gossip work yet.

In my argument paper, I must tell reveal what the opposition says. Why won’t it work? Why is it deemed false? What is the other side saying about my topic? Here, I would talk about how the sitting president and the GOP politicized the health movement. I’d talk about their views and why the Republican party attached politics to masking wearing.

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4. The Big Unrefutable Evidence

Nanny Maw and her companion then bring in Kathy’s cat hoarding tendencies as further proof that she is a cheater. (Leaning on the Southern stereotype that a woman who does not clean and hoards animals is of questionable moral character.) This is the “icing on the cake,” the piece of evidence that seals Kathy as a cheater. Laughter ensues.

In the argument paper, this part is reserved for the best evidence we have. It’s that quote or stat or story that will bring the whole argument to a close. It’s the information that will make it impossible for our opponents to dispute our claim. This is the stuff that makes our claim rock solid.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash


Jonita Davis is a writer, film critic, and professor. She’s a member of NABJ, AAFCA, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, and an adjunct professor.

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