Tropic of Rhetoric

Language and Literature at Seminole State College

Professor Kelli McBride

The Problem-Solution Argument







ENG 1113

ENG 1213

-Text Analysis

-Logical Fallacies

-Finding Truth



ENG/HUM 2543

ENG/HUM 2413

ENG/HUM 2433

Supplemental Readings

Copyright Kelli McBride 2003-2011

Graphics designed by Kelli McBride and are for her exclusive use.

Handouts for college classes maybe used as per fair use practice.  All other documents on this site written by Ms. McBride are copyright protected.  Please email her for rights to use.










Goals and Objectives

  • Developing a research paper topic

  • Conducting research

  • Learning the problem-solving argument structure



  • Problem-Solving Essay handout

  • How to Research

  • Chapters 52 and 53 in the LB Brief handbook


  • Follows MLA style for formatting papers and documenting sources


  • Is 4 pages long (1200 words minimum) - using Times New Roman 12-point font, double spaced, with 1 inch margins all around.


  • Addresses an appropriate problem-solving topic


  • Uses a minimum of 5 academically credible sources (Encyclopedias are not acceptable sources for this paper, that includes Wikipedia and other similar web-based encyclopedias. Use Ebsco host from the college's library site or on campus to find credible articles, or use objective sources available online, like articles from Time, CNN, US News and World Report, etc. Blogs are usually not considered credible.) You could use another topic from the Pro/Con website as long as it fits into the overall assignment requirements).


  • Incorporates those sources in significant ways to provide meaningful support for the claim - avoids trivial information that has little to do with proving the argument.


  • Submitted by July 25 at 11:55 pm in Cruiser under the Essay 4 Assignment area.


The Problem-solving argument is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. Many times in our personal and professional lives, we face problems and have to figure out a way to solve them. For this assignment, you are to choose a problem facing a group that you belong to. This can be a formal group, such as the Chamber of Commerce, or it can be a more informal group, such as your neighborhood or church. The line dividing the two is mostly that a formal group requires membership and has an organization structure with set rules and guidelines. An informal group is more free flowing and membership is often a matter of proximity or circumstance rather than a deliberate seeking out of others to join. Still, even in these settings there can be more formal aspects. For example, I can attend the Parent Teachers Association meetings and be concerned about problems facing parents or teachers. That would be informal. But if I sit on the board of the PTA, then I have a more formal membership since I would be governed by a host of laws and rules concerning my behavior, and my actions would have a different impact on the group since I would be an official, rather than merely be someone who attends.


Your audience for this essay will be the group itself, but even though you are a member, you will still use 3rd person to speak in order to maintain an objective tone and keep from making this too personal.


When writing the paper, you must include specific components of the problem-solving essay. On p. 117 of the handbook, you will see an outline of the problem-solution scheme. You will have the following sections:

  1. Introduction: identify the group, problem, and key background information your audience needs to understand the problem facing the group. This might include a brief explanation of how the group came to have the problem. The content of this background section will depend on your audience and how much you believe they already know about the problem. You will end with a thesis that makes a claim about how to solve the problem. This should also include the problem itself. For example: Considering serious concerns about childhood obesity, the Girl Scouts should begin offering more healthy options rather than its cookies or else face undermining its stated mission and goals. For this topic, I would need to preface this thesis by first introducing the childhood obesity problem facing America (because it’s the broader issue here) and then narrow my focus to one group facing an ethical dilemma caused by this problem - that would be the Girl Scouts. I would explain what Girl Scout cookies are, and cite its mission statement and anything in its goals that would support healthy life styles.


  2. Body Section 1: The problem. For this section, which can include multiple paragraphs because for each point I make that proves there is a problem, I would need a topic sentence. In these paragraphs, I would more fully explain the problem. I would first establish the highly successful nature of the Girl Scout cookie fundraising, offering statistics and facts about how much money this raises for the Girl Scouts (so they can’t just quite doing it), but also citing nutritional data that shows how unhealthy these cookies are. I would also try and find stats about kids eating Girl Scout cookies. This is the section that provides proof that there is indeed a problem that needs solving.


  3. Body Section 2: The solution or solutions: In this section, also multiple paragraphs possibly, I would provide my solution to this problem. I would cite evidence that supports the feasibility of my solution.


  4. Body Section 3: The counterargument: Here I would point out at least 1 or 2 other possible solutions and then show how they are not as feasible as the one I have supported. Note, though, that I might be able to thread in these other scenarios in section 2. If these solutions are not very complicated and easily dismissed, I might be able to address them as part of my justification for my proposed solution. This is an area of counterargument that is flexible and determined by context of the specific essay being written. Bottom line: you need to mention some other credible solutions and discredit them somehow. Dr. Jai Hee Cho, a writing professor at Cal State Fullerton, reminds us that:


    Discussing the possible solutions should consist of examining the pros and cons of each, including your own. Be sure to address any concerns that your readers may have about your suggested solution. It is unlikely that you will be able to utterly refute and entirely disdain any one of the alternate solutions because all of them will be believable and workable. In order to clearly pass this essay, your thesis must state that even though all the solutions may be helpful or plausible, your solution is definitely better than others by showing the superior quality of your solution. Your solution would possibly solve the problem more efficiently, more thoroughly, less expensively or with less risk.


  5. Conclusion: Wrap up the argument by reminding us what the claim is you are making, what’s at stake by not acting, and why people should care to act, even if it means changing a tradition as loved and longstanding as Girl Scout cookies.


  6. Works cited page: End with the page that lists all sources used in your paper, a minimum of 5. Be sure you double check that all sources on your works cited page are properly documented in your paper, and also be sure that all sources you refer to in your essay are listed on the works cited page. Follow MLA rules.


This essay should be 3-4 pages long and researched using at least 5 academically credible sources (you could use another topic from the Pro/Con website as long as it fits into the overall assignment requirements).  Chapter 52 in our handbook is about “Finding Sources” (starting on p. 382), and Chapter 53 (starting on p. 399), provides guidance on using sources, both print and web. Please review these guidelines when choosing the sources you will use to support your argument. Much of this info has been condensed in my “How to Research” handout, available in the Shared Files section of Cruiser under the file name 1213_researching.htm. The handbook will provide more detail and examples than my handout, but my handout covers other issues, such as how to develop a research topic. For this assignment, tt may be helpful to choose a topic that affects a smaller group because proposing a solution will be more feasible.



Some tips on writing an effective proposing a solution essay: (From The Concise Guide to Writing by Axelrod and Cooper, 1993, St. Martin's Press)


  • Define your problem well. A proposal is written to offer a solution to a problem. Before presenting the solution, a proposal writer must be sure that readers know what the problem is. The writer may also have to establish that the problem indeed exists and is serious enough to need solving.  Sometimes a writer can assume that readers will recognize the problem.  At other times readers may not be aware of the problem.


  • Propose a feasible solution. Once the problem is established, the writer must present and argue for a particular solution.  Be sure that your topic is narrow and that your solutions are reasonable.


  • Make a convincing argument. The main purpose of a proposal is to convince readers that the writer's solution is the best way of solving the problem. Proposals argue for their solutions by trying to demonstrate:

    that the proposed solution will solve the problem

    that it is a feasible way of solving the problem

    that it stands up against anticipated objections or reservations

    that it is better than other ways of solving the problem


  • Use a reasonable tone. Regardless of the proposal or the argument made on its behalf, problem-solution writers must adopt a reasonable tone.  The objective is to advance an argument without "having" an argument.  The aim is to bridge any gap that may exist between writer and readers, not widen it. Writers can build such a bridge of shared concerns by showing respect for their readers and treating their concerns seriously.  They discuss anticipated objections and reservations as an attempt to lay to rest any doubts readers may have.  They consider alternative solutions as a way of showing they have explored every possibility in order to find the best possible solution. Most important, they do not attack those raising objections or offering other solutions by questioning their intelligence or goodwill.


The following suggestions are from Professor Lucette Wood's ENG 123 Paperless Classroom site:

  • Start by selecting a topic you can emotionally and intellectually manage , one for which you are willing to accept “both sides of the story.” Avoid writing about very broad, highly controversial topics, such as abortion, gun control, or the Darwin/Creation argument. The counter-arguments (your opponent’s view) are extensive and well-developed; incorporating them in your essay would involve a great deal of time. Consider avoiding topics that are so ‘near and dear’ that an open, unbiased position would be difficult for you to maintain. However, choose a topic that you care enough about to explore in this assignment, something you have a stake in.


  • Select topics that can be proved by empirical facts or by opinions established by such facts. Avoid writing about religious or philosophical topics or issues. They are not only too broad as topics, but there is no way to prove them using statistics or expert opinions or based on empirical or standard research methodology. However, prayer in the school is a complex issue that can be developed with much thought and research. You will have to read, interpret, and paraphrase sections of the Constitution dealing with the complex problem of separation of church and state. Kelli: Note here that the emphasis would be on presenting an argument based on the LOGOS of the Constitution, which is based in law and fact, not the ETHOS/PATHOS of a religious text that is based on faith and more personal, biased rules that do not govern all people in public schools.


  • Limit your scope . Since you are obligated to prove the worthiness of your thesis (position), the broader your position, the more you have to prove. For example, if you claim there should be no gun or firearm regulation, you must attempt to justify that any number and any type of firearm can be owned by anyone, even psychotic killers.


  • Consider the problem of topic ‘burn out.’ Avoid writing about over-used topics, such as gun control, abortion, or legalizing marijuana.




























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