How to Annotate in Argumentative Writing

Annotating your work will help you write a better argument.
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One of the most common essay assignments students encounter in academia is the argument essay. In order to establish whether your argument is a solid claim grounded in logic, take some time to annotate your paper. When annotating your argument, you should take notes in a systematic way to uncover details about each aspect of your paper. You can do this by analyzing the following elements of your work: strength of thesis, classical appeals, order of arguments and rebuttal -- recognizing the other side -- and placement of rhetorical strategies.

1 Strength of Thesis

Start your annotation by underlining your thesis statement. Your argument can only be as strong as your primary claim, or thesis. A thesis should be a stand-alone claim that takes a side on an arguable issue. "Stand-alone" means that if you were to state your thesis to someone, he or she would understand what your paper was about from just that statement. For this reason, try to avoid vague pronouns and references in the thesis. An arguable topic is a topic that has many shades of an argument surrounding it. You should be able to imagine ten people arguing the different sides of your thesis. If not, your thesis is probably just an opinion. In the margins of your paper, write several opposing viewpoints surrounding your thesis; this will ensure that you have an arguable topic.

2 Classical Appeals

Every argument must appeal to ethos (credibility), logos (logic) and pathos (emotion). Aristotle claimed that ethos was the most important of the three classical appeals, because if a speaker or writer had no credibility, it wouldn’t matter what he said because nobody would listen. Using different colored highlighters, outline where you have established your credibility, where you have used logic in the form of evidence, data, facts and expert quotes and where you have appealed to the emotions of your audience. You should have an equal amount of colors on the page. If you do not, you might consider adding the missing appeal. In your margins, write the effect of each appeal. Check whether the appeal serves to further your argument or whether it seem awkwardly placed.

3 Argument and Rebuttal

Knowing when and where to place your arguments and address the other side is crucial when orchestrating an effective argument. Using your pen or pencil, underline each place where you make a claim. Usually, you will find your primary and secondary claims in the topic sentences of your paragraphs. Next, circle where you recognized the other side of the argument or have argued against it. Refutation must occur in an argument to establish the author’s credibility. When you refute other arguments, you demonstrate your awareness of many sides of the topic.

4 Analyze Rhetorical Strategies

Finally, it is time to identify and evaluate your rhetorical strategies. Authors use rhetorical strategies to manipulate diction, syntax and organization in order to persuade their readers. Being able to locate and analyze the effect of such strategies is the hardest part of annotating an argument. As you annotate your paper, examine each rhetorical strategy that you chose to use. Highlight them and record the effect that they have on your argument. Check whether they serve to persuade the reader, or if they detract from the argument as a whole. In your margins, write why you chose the rhetorical strategy that you did. For example, if John F. Kennedy had not used an antimetabole when he stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," we might not have remembered his speech at all. Similarly, the rhetorical choices you make will influence the effectiveness of your argument.

Elizabeth Jamison is a published writer, composition teacher and PhD candidate specializing in rhetoric/composition. She holds a master's degree in English education from Georgia State University. With more than 15 years experience, she has been published in magazines and journals.