Guide to Writing a Document-Based



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U.S. History



The Cotton Gin – A Great American Invention?

Guide to Writing a Document-Based

Argumentative Essay

Now that you have read all the documents and watched all of the videos on the cotton gin, it is time to begin working on your essay. This handout will walk you through the steps necessary to write an effective essay.



Overview of Essay Parts

  • Engaging Introduction & claim

  • Body Paragraphs, supported by relevant evidence from a variety of sources

  • Counter argument (last body paragraph)

  • Conclusion

Part I. Introducing Your Claim.

When writing an argumentative essay, you should identify your claim (a.k.a. thesis) in your first paragraph. This is where you will tell the reader whether or not the cotton in should be classified as a great American invention. There are three different elements that you should include in your introduction paragraph:



  1. An engaging hook

  2. Background information (characteristics of a great invention that you will address later in the essay)

  3. State your claim (thesis)

The Hook

You should strive to grab the reader’s attention with your first sentence or two. One option is to pose a puzzle that you resolve in the body of the essay. Other options include a quotation that relates to your argument, a provocative rhetorical question or a startling statement. The hook may be the hardest part to write, but don’t get hung up on it. Start work first on the body of your essay; a hook may present itself as you’re writing.

Examine the “hook” from the model introduction paragraph Imagine if that your Aunt had a new baby. You are so excited to see the baby, but chances are won’t see your new cousin for years because they live half way across the world in Vietnam. People no longer have to experience this kind of heartache thanks to computer technology.

Practice Time

Write a 1-2 sentence hook in which you engage your audience and prepare them for your argument.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Background Information

You have become an expert on the subject of the cotton gin and the characteristics of a great invention. The reader may not have the same level of expertise. You should “briefly” provide information the reader will need to comprehend your essay. You should NOT write a lengthy, detailed summary of the topic in this part of the essay (the details will be revealed in the body paragraphs). This is where you should identify the characteristics of a great invention that you will be addressing in your essay.

Examine the “background information” from the model introduction paragraph. The United States of America has produced many great inventions, but what are the characteristics that make inventions great? Great inventions should unite people, they should make life more convenient and they should make the country safer.

Practice Time

Identify some of the characteristics of a great invention that you would like to include in your essay and write down a draft of your “background information” section in the space below:
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Thesis/Claim

The thesis statement is the foundation upon which your essay is built. Your thesis statement/claim should be clear and concise. You should not include too much specific evidence in your introduction (that information belongs in your body paragraphs), but your thesis statement/claim should not be too broad either. Often students are concerned with “giving too much away” in their thesis statement/claim and they leave them too general. To compose a thesis /claim that is precise and well-developed, read it to yourself and make certain it answers the questions “so what” or “why.”

For example, the thesis/claim “Computers should not be considered a great American invention” is too broad. This broad thesis statement leaves the reader wondering “why aren’t computers a great American invention?” A more effective thesis statement/claim would be, Computers should be considered a great American invention because bring people together, they make life easier and they make our nation more secure.

Practice Time

In the space below, write down your thesis statement/claim. Be sure that your statement is clear and concise and not too broad.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Part II. Your Body Paragraphs

Your body paragraphs are where you lay out the reasons supporting your claim (i.e. the reasons that the cotton gin should or should not be classified as a great American invention). Each paragraph should be focused on a different supporting reason and each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. Each body paragraph should clearly address how the cotton gin does (or does not) exhibit a selected characteristic of a great invention. Additionally, your body paragraphs must contain supporting evidence from the sources (texts and films) that is clearly cited. Examine the two samples below:



Body Paragraph Sample A

Body Paragraph Sample B

Computers are a great American invention because they unite people. According to source #1, “Computers have opened up a realm of possibilities for us to remain in contact with our family, friends and business associates. No longer are we separated by physical or expense barriers because with a simple push or a button, click or a mouse or even dialing of a telephone which uses a computer connection, we are instantaneously connected at a more affordable cost.” Computers make it easier for people to stay in touch with each other. According to the video #2, “Roughly 87% of Americans have an email account. About 76% of Americans have a social media account of some type such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.People can stay in touch using these programs, which would unite them. According to source #7, “Computers allow businesses to become more international. Many companies now have factories in many different countries. For example, Apple computers has factories in both the United States and China.” Computers unite businesses too. They don’t just unite people.


Computers are a great American invention because they unite people. According to source #1, No longer are we separated by physical or expense barriers because with a simple push or a button, we are instantaneously connected at a more affordable cost.” Before the invention of computers, people had to rely on written letters or telephone calls to stay in touch with each other. Not only was this inconvenient, but it was also expensive due to the cost of postage and long distance phone rates. People do not have to wait days or weeks to receive a letter from their loved ones who live in other countries or states. They can communicate with them instantly thanks to computers. This prevents people from growing apart and keeps people united. According to video #2, “over ¾ of Americans use social media like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.” Thanks to social media, families who are separated by distance can still communicate, face to face, everyday. Even if your baby cousin lives in Vietnam, you could still watch him take his first steps thanks to video uploaded to Vine or Instagram. According to source #7, “Computers allow businesses to become more international. Computers do not just unite families, but they also unite the business world. If a company, like Apple has workers in both China and the U.S.A. Those countries could be united through their workforce.


Reflections…

  1. Describe how these two body paragraphs differ. ____________________________________________

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  1. Identify which of the two body paragraphs is stronger. ______________________________________



  1. Explain why you think the paragraph you selected is stronger. ________________________________

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Part III. The Counter-Argument

An important element of argumentative writing is the counter-argument. Writing a strong counter-argument can be a very effective way of persuading others to agree with your side of a given argument. In a counter argument, you begin by recognizing a supporting reason from the opposing view point. You then explain why that supporting argument is flawed. Look at the following example of a counter argument.



How to Write a Counter-Argument
Imagine that you are debating another student about the following topic:
Topic: Are Computers a Great American Invention?
Your position is that computers should be classified as a great American invention and your opponent believes that computers should NOT be classified as a great American invention.
The first step in forming a counter-argument is to examine why your opponent believes that computers should not be classified as a great American invention.



  • Another reason that your opponent thinks computers should not be classified as a great American invention because computers make people less healthy.

Examine the opposing argument and highlight the key term in the argument.


After you have identified the key term(s) your opponent’s supporting arguments, you need to think about how you can prove their supporting arguments are false. You must focus your argument on the key words you highlights (less healthy). Look at the example below:
One reason that your opponent thinks computers should not be classified as a great American invention because computers make people less healthy.


Computers can also make people healthier. For example, doctors use computers to diagnosis their patients’ illnesses more quickly. Many smart phones and smart watches use computer technology to keep people healthy. For example, they make people aware of how many steps they take each day and/or they help people keep track of the number of calories they are consuming each day. If used properly, computers are actually helping to keep people in better shape, which makes people healthier.


Once you have examined the opposing point of view and proven that their supporting arguments are flawed, it is time to formally write your counter-argument. Follow these simple steps for writing a formal counter-argument:

  1. Begin by stating your opponent’s point of view and one of their supporting arguments.

Some people think that computers should not be classified as a great American invention because computers make people less healthy.

  1. Explain why you believe that the supporting argument is flawed. Examine the model counter-argument below.

Some might argue that the computer should not be classified as a great American invention because computers have a negative effect on people’s health. Computers do not make people unhealthy, in fact, computers can make people healthier. According to Leigh Goessl’s article How Computers Benefit Society, “computers have enhanced modern medicine.” Doctors use computer technology to conduct tests on patients so that they can diagnosis them more quickly. Once a doctor knows what is causing a person to be sick, they can help their patients get well faster. Additionally, the article from New York Times UpFront, states that computer apps on smart phones and smart watches help people monitor their health more closely. People can use the computer technology in their phone/watches to plan and keep track of their exercise schedule. Apps can also help people monitor their diet so that they eat a more well-rounded diet. Computers should be classified as a great invention because they make people healthier.

Practice Time




  1. I think that the cotton gin _____________ (should or should not) be classified as a great American invention.


Select an opposing argument and write it down in the space below:


  1. Some people think that the cotton gin ______________ (should or should not) be classified as a great American invention because: _____________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________
Highlight 1-2 key terms from your opponent’s argument. Your counter-argument should be focused on those key terms.
Brainstorm some ways that you can prove the statement above is flawed (centered on the key term/s you circled above).



  1. This argument is flawed because: _______________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



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