The Humble Argument introduces students to the basics of argument and then how to write and improve upon their own argumentative essays. 

The following materials provide a general introduction to Humble’s approach. If this looks like it might work with your students, please request an exam copy.

About This Book

Part One: Introducing the College Essay

Chapter 1: The College Essay Is an Argument

Chapter 2: The College Essay Is a Process

  • Start Thinking for Yourself
  • Don’t Be a Knucklehead
  • How to Write the College Essay
  • The Writing Process for You

Part Two: Developing Your Argument

Chapter 3: Ask a Good Question

  • Find a Question that Matters
  • Make Sure Your Question Is a Question
  • The Key to Success: Ask a Smaller Question

Chapter 4: Consider the Evidence

  • Consider Credibility and Objectivity
  • Start with General Sources
  • Use Serious Popular Sources to Explore
  • Rely on Scholarly and Primary Sources
  • Avoid Lousy Evidence
  • Take Notes, Too

Chapter 5: Decide on the Best Answer

  • Let Your Evidence Guide This Decision
  • Formulate and Refine Your Answer
  • Find Insightful Answers

Part Three: Presenting Your Argument

Chapter 6: Plan the Body of Your Essay

  • A Brief Theory of Paragraphs
  • Use a Topic Sentence Outline
  • Organize Your Paragraphs

Chapter 7: Offer Good Evidence

  • Explain Your Answer
  • Offer Summaries to Present Your Evidence
  • Offer Detailed Evidence to Defend Your Answer
  • Give Credit to Your Sources

Chapter 8: Guide Your Readers

  • Use Topic Sentences and Transitions
  • Give Your Readers an Effective Opening
  • Give Your Readers an Effective Closing
  • Don’t Distract Your Readers

Part Four: Improving Your Argument

Chapter 9: Offer Good Reasons

  • When You Don’t Need Reasons
  • How Reasons Work
  • Test Your Reasons
  • Avoid Bad Reasons

Chapter 10: Earn Your Credibility

  • The Key to a Successful Relationship Is You Doing All the Work
  • Do Credible Work
  • Choose Your Words Carefully
  • Respect the Views of Others
  • Understand Your Readers

Chapter 11: Make Better Arguments

  • The Classical Argument
  • The Toulmin Argument
  • The Rogerian Argument

Chapter 12: The Humble Essay

  • The Humble Essay as a Process
  • The Humble Essay as a Product
  • The Actual Meaning of “Essay”

To Student Writers

Student writers, this book was written because — like it or not — you need to learn how to write college essays. The less you have to decode a bunch of English-teacher jibber jabber, the sooner you’ll get that figured out, too. It isn’t much of a book, but that’s okay. You don’t need much of a book to learn how to write an effective college essay.

You will need some sensible guidelines, however, so you’ll find those here. It’s also a good idea to find someone who’s better at writing than you are, someone who can help you apply these sensible guidelines and check your progress. A writing professor comes to mind.

The most important requirement, however, is simply that you write, and write a lot, so that you can see for yourself what it means to put these guidelines into practice. Learning to write the college essay is a lot like learning to French kiss. Reading about it will only take you so far. To learn how to actually do it, you have to actually do it, again and again. That’s the main thing.

If you’re reading this book because it’s part of a class you’re taking, I ask you to pause now and give thanks for your writing assignments. I am entirely serious. They, more than anything, will help you to put these guidelines into practice. Embrace your assignments with the blind faith that they will do you some good. Ignore any anxiety you might feel. Repress unpleasant memories. If you’re going to learn anything of lasting value in a writing class, your writing assignments will teach it to you.

Don’t be afraid of struggling, either. You’re learning new skills here, after all, and new skills do not come easily. Making mistakes will be an unavoidable and important part of the learning process. They are in fact evidence that you’re getting somewhere. So just make your mistakes, correct them, and then move on to make more sophisticated errors. It’s not that big of a deal.

When I was in second grade, I came running into the house one afternoon yelling for my mother and blubbering because I’d gotten a frowny face on a math test. We’d moved into long division without any warning, and I’d missed six out of ten problems. Mom was at an Amway meeting, as I recall, but my older sister Nadine was in the living room practicing for her interpretive dance recital. I told her about the frowny face.

“It’s just math,” she said, waving her arms to simulate the branches of a tree enlivened by a summer breeze. “Anyone can learn math.”

It’s the same story with argument and the college essay. It might feel overwhelming at first, particularly if these are new ideas for you, but it’s just argument. It’s just the college essay. You don’t need any long words or pretty diagrams or interactive websites. Just do the work that’s in front of you. You’ll get where you need to go.

Anyone can learn writing, and that includes you.

To My Colleagues

This book exists because I lack the vigor to continue translating the language of rhetoric studies into the language of my students. The ideas in this book are the basic ideas of argument, together with conventional advice for putting together a thoughtful college essay. My innovation is merely to strip from these ideas the terminology by which writing professors identify themselves as writing professors.

Colleagues, the placid countenance of the non-major must not be mistaken for comprehension. These students have merely learned that it’s best to remain quiet as we wax on about commas and syllogisms and Beowulf. By using ordinary language, this book helps those uninitiated students to grasp the ideas of argument on their own. It helps them to put those ideas to good use, too, without having to raise their trembling hands and ask us to explain, for the thousandth time, what exactly we mean by “enthymeme.”

The first part introduces the argumentative essay and sound argumentative practices by comparison to inadequate versions of the same. The second part focuses on the process of building an inductive argument, moving from question to evidence to conclusion to presentation. The third part presents guidelines for constructing a solid but not particularly fancy college essay.

In the final part of the book, I attempt to strengthen this working understanding of argument and the college essay by stepping gently in the direction of traditional terminology and rhetorical approaches. These chapters augment the inductive process from earlier chapters with deductive reasoning and more direct consideration of audience, but they are only an introduction so that others more ambitious than I might continue in that direction.

Traditional rhetoric has for several dozen centuries required no help from the likes of me. Exordium is exordium is exordium — whatever else I might call it — and I do not suggest otherwise. This translation of mine is merely the consequence of my own failure to draw students into that finer vocabulary. If you have succeeded where I have failed, I salute you. However, if you too have struggled to make traditional rhetoric useful to your students, then perhaps this book will serve as a useful addition to your classroom, a bridge over which your students might travel more easily.

Roy K. Humble
Chemeketa Community College
Salem, Oregon

Check out these selected sections from The Humble Argument. If you’re a student, learn for free! If you’re a writing professor, see if this is something that will help your students. If it seems to be so, ask for that free exam copy.

Chapter 1: The College Essay is an Argument, Introduction
The introduction to this first chapter focuses on the elements of argumentative writing.

Chapter 2: The College Essay is a Process
This chapter walks students through the process of doing thoughtful argument and not acting like knuckleheads.

Chapter 10: Earn Your Credibility
This chapter focuses on the catlike readers of formal papers and what a writer needs to do to make that relationship work.

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