Better IB Essays: The Importance of Solid Argumentation

Two students writing an IB essay

When you hear the word “argument”, you might tend to think of an aggressive shouting match, just to get your point across to somebody – the Latin root of the word actually translates as “to enlighten, make bright”. Argumentation, therefore, is much more than merely getting your point across. And, it’s central to writing all IB Essays.

Effective argumentation is useful in every IB assignment. In the Language A HL Essay, for example, you provide evidence to back up your point – yes, that’s right: The PEAL paragraph structure we’re all so familiar with is a basic form of argumentation! It’s also imperative in the Extended Essay, TOK Essay (and Exhibition!), as well as most subject IAs.

So, in order to truly understand how it is we’re getting those important communication marks, let’s take a look at some of the best strategies.

Remain critical of your own argumentation

A good way to tell whether you have a solid argument on your hands is to consider what somebody would say if they were trying to disprove your argument. Which holes could you pick in the logic? It’s important to stay as objective as possible when writing, and really try your hardest to be self-critical. If you honestly can’t find any fallacies (flaws in the logic), you’re probably in a good place.

To find out more about all kinds of logical fallacies, be sure to take a look at this website!

Evaluate your evidence realistically

Behind every good argument is good evidence. You can’t put “My Mum told me” as a source – you need facts and data. Here, again, it’s important to stay critical of your evidence. Is there any potential bias present? Is the source up-to-date? Does the author have expertise in the subject? 

If this is all sounding a bit TOK-ish to you, then you’d be correct! Argumentation is effectively what TOK is all about. If there’s any reason to find TOK interesting or useful, this is it, and it’s a skill which will help endlessly in later life.

It’s okay if your evidence isn’t perfect, so long as you make it clear to the examiner that you’re taking this in to account. An out-of-date source is still potentially useful if it correlates with more modern sources. It’s best not to try to hide weaknesses in your evidence during an IA in a science subject. Instead, show the examiner you are being critical and objective by discussing it. After all, this is what the discussion and evaluation marks are for!

Strip your essay to the bare bones

The basic points in a logical argument are known as premises. Here’s an example:

  • Premise 1: Hugo is a dog.
  • Premise 2: Dogs have four legs.
  • Conclusion: Hugo has four legs.

It might seem at first look that this argument flows nicely to the conclusion. Premises 1 and 2 are both technically true, but is there a weakness you can find? If you’re thinking premise 2, then that’s correct: Dogs don’t necessarily always have four legs. Just as I’ve found the “bare bones” of an argument here, you should try to do the same. If you take away all the extra words, what is the simplest way to state your argument?

Lay it out as I have done above, with all your premises, and the conclusion it leads to, and it should make it much easier to see any weaknesses in your argument, and then try to fix them.

Get a second pair of eyes

On of the best things to do for succeeding with IB essays is to get a second pair of eyes. Even though the perfect person to do this would be a Lanterna tutor, your classmates are also in a great position to do so! Even if your peers aren’t experts in the subject, they’ll be able to help you dissect your argument. Ask them if they find your argument convincing – why, or why not? Do they think your conclusion flows logically from your premises?

Having classmates look at your work is especially useful considering that (in most cases) your teacher can only take a look at your work once!

If you’d like a bit of extra help developing your IB essay writing and argumentation skills, then consider taking some sessions from Lanterna’s team of expert tutors, all of whom achieved great results on the IB! If you’d like to find out more, click here!

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