Chapter 6-4: Summarizing the Structure of a Typical English CEGEP Argumentative Essay

Writing > Persuasive Papers > CEGEP Argumentative Essay

The Waterfall Essay Format

What follows below is a summary of the "waterfall essay format" that is taught by some college teachers as one method of structuring argumentative / persuasive essays.

Introductory paragraph

    • Lead-in sentence (also known as the “hook” or the “grabber”) - the writer uses a question, quotation, definition, anecdote, facts, or a surprising or controversial impact statement that engages the reader’s attention.

    • Warm-up sentences (also known as the “focus”) - between the lead-in sentence and the thesis statement, the writer provides any of the following: general or historical background information, an interesting anecdote, some motivation to read further, a declaration of why the general issue that will be discussed is important or why people are debating it and unable to arrive at a general consensus, a vivid description, a clarification of the definition of little-known or difficult vocabulary that is at the core of the paper, context-setting phrases, or a contrasting position that is opposite of the one about to be developed. Furthermore, the warm-up sets context for the overall essay topic, and it is relevant to the thesis statement. The final warm-up sentence flows smoothly into the thesis statement without "jarring" readers.

    • Thesis statement - this arguable statement expresses the main point of the essay and controls the direction of the body paragraphs. An arguable polemic statement is one where between 30% to 70% of people would be inclined to disagree with the statement. It clearly and succinctly expresses a thesis statement that may also provide brief justification of the statement (these are generally the topic sentences, summarized). The thesis statement “stands on its own”; that is, it is still intelligible if it is read outside of the context of the introductory paragraph. It is never phrased as a queston and it is worded strongly as if it were fact (even though it is arguable).

Presuppositions paragraph (rare and optional)

    • Because you are writing such a short paper, you may wish to list out any presuppositions that are required in order to negate reader objections to key points in your argument.

    • Something you or someone else posits to be true; you need it to exist, to be accepted in order to make an argument. For example, the author may know that readers might question the way a certain experiment cited in the paper was performed but, for the purposes of the paper the results will be considered legitimate. Another example, the author may wish to alert readers to the fact that he or she is aware that the scope of the paper is limited to one very specific aspect or facet.

    • Presuppositions may be, and usually are, taken for granted

    • They can be:

      • Moral: right/wrong according to religious or spiritual values

      • Ethical: right/wrong according to secular values

      • Epistemological: true/false according to a theory of knowledge

      • Factual: true/false according to facts

Body paragraph #1

    • Topic sentence (connects directly with the thesis statement)

      • Supporting idea 1 (supporting ideas are comprised of three steps, detailed immediately below)

        • Step 1: statement or “mini-claim”

        • Step 2: substantiation of the claim. This is where the writer makes a connection with the claim by providing some form of tangible “proof”. In the case of a literary analysis paper, the connection often comes in the form of a quote from the text being analyzed or a summary of action that takes place within the text. It can also be a quote or summary of something that takes place outside of the confines of the text. For example, another researcher-analyst (such as someone that has written a paper) that has previously commented on the text that is under discussion. The connection between the substantiated evidence and the claim must be clear but, as of yet, is unexplained—that occurs in the next step. In the case of an argumentative / persuasive paper, the proof often comes in the form of a quotation or citation from a credible and reliable external source or it could be concrete evidence, reliable statistics, or relevant results stemming from an interview, survey, or research.

        • Step 3: synthesis / discussion / analysis of the supporting idea. The purpose of this step is to make perfectly clear to readers how steps 1 and 2 fit together in an understandable way. Readers may not agree with the writer’s point of view, but they should at least be able to agree that they see how someone could logically arrive at that point of view by the time they’ve finished reading step 3. This final step is accomplished through a discussion within and between various contexts such as between the text and personal knowledge and experience, generally accepted knowledge and facts, other texts, evidence, pure and specific facts, anecdotes, examples, quotes, analogies, analyses, connections (taken from general knowledge, personal experience, clever metaphors or illustrations, sensory descriptions, quotes from within or without the media) and the world outside school (academia). The writer “guides” the reader through their argument every step of the way.

      • Supporting idea 2 (3, etc…)

        • Step 1 (must start with a transition word or phrase to signal to readers or listeners that the author is moving on to their next point)

        • Step 2

        • Step 3

Body paragraph 2

    • Topic sentence (must start with a transition word or phrase to signal to readers or listeners that the author is moving on to their next major point)

      • Supporting idea 1

      • Supporting idea 2 (3, etc…)


    • the writer “wraps up” the essay neatly and with phrases that remind the reader of the essay’s key points. The concluding paragraph re-emphasizes the main idea (thesis) and restates the main points of the essay. It brings the essay to a satisfactory close.

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