How to Write an Argumentative Essay in Public Administration: All You Need to Know

Writing guide
Posted on April 23, 2020

An argumentative essay is, clearly enough, an essay whose main goal is to make an argument in favor or against a certain presupposition. You are supposed to choose a stance on the subject matter, provide trustworthy and relevant evidence in support of your point of view and deal with potential objections. The more persuasive the essay is, the better.

Argumentative essays are one of the most common academic assignments – both high school teachers and college professors like to assign them to teach their students how to express their thoughts, find and use viable evidence in support of their views and build logical arguments. Public administration is no exception – if you study this discipline, you are expected to not just understand how things work, but also how to prove your points and persuade the audience your opinions are valid. If, for example, you propose a new policy or a reform of an old one, you will have to be convincing to get your message through – and it is exactly what writing argumentative essays teaches you.

As public administration is a discipline that is heavily concerned with practical matters, it may be difficult to write efficient essays on this subject in an academic environment; this guide aims to help you overcome this obstacle and teach you the main factors of success in this sort of work.

Pre-Writing Stage

Choose a Suitable Topic

Writing an argumentative essay on public administration means getting deep into information usually on a pretty narrow field and spending a lot of time gathering and processing information on it. Choosing the right topic right off the bat can make the entire much easier and more enjoyable.

  • Choose a topic you are invested in. In your current course, did you encounter any topic or potential area of research you were personally interested in? If yes, now may be the right time to dive into it;
  • Decide if it is broad or narrow. Choose a topic that is too narrow, and you will have trouble finding relevant sources. Choose to topic that is too broad, and it will be impossible to cover it in a short work like an essay. Try modifying it to better fit both the task and your capabilities;
  • Formulate your argument. What will you try to prove? The point you choose should be arguable – that is, you should have enough evidence to support it, but it should not be self-evident;
  • If you have problems, do not hesitate to ask your instructor for help. He/she will usually be ready to assist you in clarifying your research question.

You should aim for a topic you are comfortable with and which is neither too broad or too narrow. Something like this:

  • Argument for Limiting the Role of Bureaucracy in Public Administration;
  • Quality Public Management: How It Can Be Developed;
  • Why Big Government Does not Work;
  • How the Great Depression Influenced the Development of Public Administration in the United States;
  • The Role of Scientific Management in the Establishment of Modern Public Administration.

Gather the Sources of Information

Public administration essays heavily rely on combination of primary and secondary sources, so make sure you use both in a balanced manner. Primary sources are things like reports, policy documents, official studies and surveys and other documents that deal directly with the issues of public administration and its policies. Secondary sources are articles in academic journals, books and other publications that study, research and interpret the data of primary sources. The former provide raw information for you to analyze. The latter show that your argument is connected to the existing body of research in this area and that you do not build it on nothing but your conjectures.

Some places where you can find pertinent information on the discipline are:

  • ASPA (American Association for Public Administration) – many samples of journals and newsletters related to public administration;
  • NAPA (National Academy of Public Administration) – you can search for and read reports and studies by the organization on the site;
  • Pew Research Center – verified facts on trends and issues related to public administration in the US and across the globe;
  • Online academic databases like Google Scholar and EBSCO – peer-reviewed papers on many disciplines, including public administration.

Evaluate the Quality of Each Source

The fact that somebody wrote something does not automatically make it true, especially if you found the source in question on the Internet. Before you use a source in your essay, check if it can be trusted. Most commonly such checks are expressed as AAOCC:

  • Authority – who is the author? Does he/she have the necessary qualifications? Did he/she publish other works on the same or similar topics? Is he/she often cited by other specialists on the discipline (check the author’s h-index)?
  • Accuracy – is the information in the source specific? Is it verifiable? What sources of information does it use, and are they trustworthy? Does the article come from a peer-reviewed journal?
  • Objectivity – is the author objective? Does he/she profess any views or positions that may influence his/her judgment? Does he/she show any kind of bias in this or other works? Is he/she affiliated to an organization that may be invested in an agenda related to the topic of the publication? Does he/she acknowledge other points of view?
  • Currency – when was the text published? Is information provided in it up to date? Were any significant research works on the same topic published since then?
  • Coverage – does the publication sufficiently cover the topic it is dedicated to?

Write an Outline

In an outline you plan out your essay, jotting down what, where and how you are going to say. Different writers outline differently: some manage with a couple of words for each paragraphs, others write elaborate plans including links to quotations, transition words and more. Choose what works for you – there is no single right way to do it. Most argumentative essays follow this structure:

  • Introduction:
    • Hook (the first sentence that attempts to attract the reader’s attention);
    • Background information (the basic data the reader will need to follow your argument);
    • Thesis statement (the main idea of your essay, the argument you intend to prove);
  • Body paragraphs, each consisting of:
    • Topic sentence (sort of a thesis statement for an individual paragraph – a sentence that introduces what will be covered in the paragraph);
    • Evidence (proofs of your point – quotations, statistics etc.);
    • Counterarguments (here you address the objections you anticipate);
  • Conclusion – here you sum up what you said so far, point out why your argument works, how it is superior to other points of view, what further research suggests itself.

Writing Stage

Do not Use the First Person

As in most other academic disciplines, public administration papers should avoid using first person singular. In this case, it is even more important, because public sector emphasizes its impersonality: public administration employees do not exist as “I”, as individuals, but only as the representatives of the state. Practicing this approach in academic papers related to the discipline is good taste.

Be Concise

Economic, laconic writing is one of the mainstays of academic works related to public administration. You will often write for audiences that have only the most basic understanding of the topic in question – it is your job to achieve maximum clarity. Avoid superfluous words, do not use overly complex sentence structures, try to make your points as clear and straightforward as possible.

Carefully Cite Your Work

Most colleges have strict policies against plagiarism – even if you forget to use the quotation marks by accident, you can be accused of doing it intentionally, so make sure you meticulously check all your citations and attribute all of them to the relevant authors. The style of quotations may differ – check the instructions you received carefully, as the differences in styles can be quite dramatic, and rearranging your writing later on can be very painful.

When citing and paraphrasing, make it clear when you express the author’s view and when you express your own thoughts. It is particularly important when your essay is heavily intertwined with any specific text.

Address Potential Objections

This is especially important if you yourself examine a work by another author and look for possible weaknesses. You should be ready for your readers to do the same with your own paper – so analyze your work carefully and respond to at least the most obvious counterarguments to your claims in the body of the essay (either immediately after you make these claims or in a separate section dedicated to this purpose). This will show the readers that you are aware of different sides of the argument and will go a long way towards convincing them in the viability of your suggestions.

Always Back Your Claims up with Evidence

The main purpose of an argumentative essay is to show that you are able to not just take a stance on a matter, but also formulate an argument and support it with evidence. Therefore, in your body paragraphs you should do more than make statements – you should prove that everything you say is either correct or represents a viable point of view. What kind of evidence you need in each particular case can differ. For example, if you argue that big government is inefficient and counterproductive, you can provide specific examples that make it obvious, probably contrasting them against the arrangements in bureaucracy-light nations. If you argue that a particular position is weak, you can point out internal contradictions or objectionable consequences of holding the position, and so on.

Post-writing Tips

Set Your Writing Aside

The more time you spend resting from it, the more objective you will be when it comes to self-evaluation.

Get a Second (Third, Fourth…) Opinion

You already know what you are trying to say in your essay, which means that you cannot easily judge what is clear/unclear, logical/illogical, and comprehensible/incomprehensible in your writing. Ask an independent reader to evaluate what you wrote and discuss his/her impressions. By going over the contents of your essay, you will better understand how you can improve your wording.

Write a Reverse Outline

Before you wrote an outline to know how to proceed with the writing of your essay. Now your job is to write one that will help you analyze what you wrote and edit it. Point out the main ideas in each paragraph and evaluate how important each of them is in moving your argument forward. Do they follow the pattern you supposed they would follow? If their relative importance turned out to be different from what you envisioned beforehand, consider rearranging your essay accordingly.

Read the Essay Aloud

When we write, we often lose sight of how the current sentence, paragraph and entire essay read and sound as a whole. To us this wording is completely natural, but the reader will perceive it differently, and can easily stumble upon an awkward expression. When you read your text aloud, you will notice most potential problems by ear and will be able to correct them.

Make Sure You Need Every Word You Use

Do all your words move the argument forward? Do you say anything to bloat your word count? Tight, laconic, sharp sentences always trump wordy, loose and dull ones. Reread the essay carefully and cut everything you can do away with without missing much. This is a good reason to go a little over your word limit in the first draft – you will have to cut things anyway.

Public administration is a tough discipline to write about – you should not just be able to research your sources and formulate your argument, but also navigate multiple legal and official documents and regulations. Follow the tips listed here, and this task will get much more manageable!

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