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Argumentative Essay

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English

American author Rita Mae Brown wrote a brochure called 'Language Exerts Hidden Power, Like a Moon on the Tides' (2014).1 One interpretation of the title could be that language choices affect persuasiveness and credibility when communicating. Likewise, effective argumentative essays use specific methods to defend a position on an issue.

Argumentative Essay Giraffe Discussion StudySmarter

An image of giraffes that appear to be in a discussion, representing an exchange of ideas, pixabay

Argumentative Essay Definition

What works better when trying to convince someone of something–using demands or reason? An argumentative essay relies on evidence and logic to prove that a viewpoint is valid or invalid or to convince an audience to take action. Statistics aren't always available to support beliefs (and that's where logic is helpful). Still, they do need to be corroborated for them to be viewed as credible.

Qualitative and Quantitative Evidence

The two types of evidence used to support a thesis (claim) in an argumentative essay are qualitative and quantitative:

  • Qualitative evidence is data that describes a group or theme. It answers "why" or "how" questions. Examples of qualitative data include photographs, diary entries, audio/video recordings, documents (ex: public records, calendars, articles), and case studies.
  • Quantitative data counts or measures the amount of something. It asks "how many," "how often," or "how much." Some examples of quantitative evidence are height, temperature, amounts of time, distance, and length.

It is natural to be confident about opinions. While researching topics, be aware of bias. Don't "cherry-pick" evidence to make an opinion look more substantial than it is, or it will be quickly discredited by someone knowledgeable on the subject.

Types of Logic and Common Logical Fallacies

When taking an exam and required to write an argumentative essay, there may not be any sources available to defend a position. Using logic to formulate an argument helps guarantee it will be understandable and reliable.

Logic uses pathways to determine "good" and "bad" reasoning by examining parts of a declarative sentence to decide whether it's true or false. A logical argument is consistent (doesn't contradict itself), sound (supports its conclusion by using valid points), and complete (provable within itself).

A declarative is a sentence that makes a statement about something.

Logical fallacies are reasoning mistakes people often make. Watch out for these logical fallacies:

  • Straw Man Fallacy: Twists an argument into an overly simplified version of itself. An example of a straw man fallacy is saying evolution isn't real because humans evolved from monkeys, and monkeys still exist.
  • Bandwagon Fallacy: Connects validity with popularity. Just because three out of four people prefer a particular soap brand doesn't mean it cleans the best.
  • Correlation Equals Causation Fallacy: Implies that because two things share a connection, one caused the other to happen. False logic would conclude that because someone wore a new shirt when they got into a car accident, the new shirt caused the accident.
  • Appeal to Authority Fallacy: This can happen when someone in a position of power makes claims about subjects outside their area of expertise. For example, if a veterinarian specializing in livestock wants to perform surgery on someone's pet boa constrictor, they should probably get a second opinion.

The terms "argumentative" and "persuasive" are often used interchangeably, but they are technically two different types of essays. Both argumentative and persuasive essays use evidence and logic to defend a position.

However, a persuasive essay also uses emotion to appeal to the audience. For example, if the topic were gun control, an argumentative essay would examine the issue and present facts to prove its claim. A persuasive essay would present facts and include how safe (or unsafe) guns make people feel.

Argumentative Essay Topics

Argumentative essays can be written about any polarized subject, meaning an issue that contains opposing ideas. Typical argumentative essay topic ideas fall into many categories, including current events, politics, history, and culture. Here are a few topic ideas:

  • Should we look at old media through the eyes of the time or era it was created?
  • Is it unethical to eat meat?
  • Should the United States have used atomic bombs on Japan?
  • Should parents limit screen time?
  • Should the United States accept more refugees from the southern border?

Argumentative Essay Thumbs up thumbs down StudySmarterAn image of thumbs up and thumbs down speech bubbles, representing polarized subjects, pixabay

Argumentative Essay Format

An effective argumentative essay is made up of five key components:

  • A claim statement that can be proven or disproven. (What are the opinions that surround this issue?)
  • Reasons that support the claim because they are supported by evidence. (What led someone to think this way?)
  • Verifiable evidence that backs the position. (What proves the claim is valid?)
  • Acknowledgement of the opposing viewpoint or counterclaim. (What does the opposite side think?)
  • Rebuttals that explain how the counterclaim is incorrect. (How is their logic faulty?)

Qualifying the other side means parts of the opposing argument can't be dismissed entirely. In this case, list concessions that recognize their validity but focus on the areas they are incorrect. Words like "but" and "except" are commonly used in connection with concessions.

An argumentative essay will look like a typical essay and include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Follow the standard and begin the introduction with a hook, such as a shocking statistic or anecdote, to engage the reader.

The conclusion will usually reiterate the thesis, summarize the essay in response to the evidence provided, and possibly ask the audience to act on the issue's behalf. However, there are a couple of variations to experiment with.

When something is reiterated, it is repeated to emphasize it or make it more clear.

The Aristotelian Method is classic and straightforward. It uses a clear pathway of logic and reason to state its case. To use this form in an argumentative essay, the first thing to do is introduce the argument. Secondly, spell out its reasons. Next, explain and refute the opposing viewpoint, then provide proof. Finally, form a conclusion.

The Toulmin Method helps disprove an argument or discuss a complex issue. Start by stating the claim clearly and concisely. Next, use evidence to ground the reasons. After that, express the warrant, or assumption, that connects the claim to the reasons. Back the claim with a specific example.

The Rogerian Method is used when both sides have valid points, or the audience could support either side. Begin with an explanation of the issue. Next, discuss how the other side thinks, including their valid points. Then, assert the claim and proof. Summarize the argument by compromising to bring both sides together—end by offering an equalized conclusion.

While disproving the other side, avoid insults and a superior tone. All these will accomplish is making the argument look weak. In addition, avoid using absolutes such as "always" or "never" because they are rarely the case, so credibility will be lost.

 Argumentative Essay Man passionately arguing his case StudySmarter

Image of a man passionately arguing his case, pixabay

Argumentative Essay Outline

A strong thesis statement is the cornerstone to writing an effective argumentative essay. If a rational argument isn't presented, it creates a roadblock to taking the reasoning seriously. One way to organize thoughts into a coherent claim is to brainstorm. Questions to ask include:

  • How does this affect me and others?
  • Why is this important?
  • Are there any solutions to this issue?
  • What will happen if nothing (or something) is done about this?

Similar to how a math problem can be checked by solving it in reverse, the validity of reasoning can be checked by anticipating how the other side will disagree. Arguments while alone in the shower–it’s your time to shine! Go through reasons one by one and challenge them to answer "because" in a credible way.

Once everything is figured out, use the outline to play around with the argumentative essay structure. It's much less frustrating to spend some time on the organizational flow of an essay before writing than to realize halfway through constructing the essay that something should have been put in a different spot, and it saves time while proofreading, so win-win. Formulate the outline to look like this:

I. Introduction

A. Hook

B. Introduce Topic and Relate it to the Hook

C. Claim

II. Body Paragraphs (number of paragraphs included and organized to suit your needs)

A. Claim/Counterclaim/Rebuttal

B. Evidence

C. Reason/Concession

III. Conclusion

A. Summarize Main Points

B. Restate Thesis

C. Final Thought Based on Evidence Presented/Call to Action

Argumentative Essay, Blackboard, Studysmarter

It important to choose our words carefully in an argumentative essay, pixabay.

Argumentative Essay Example

The included sample argumentative essay is an abbreviated example of an asserted claim formatted into the Aristotelian Method:

A new mid-range sofa costs between $1000 and $3000.2 Most likely, a person protects their investment by applying a stain guard, but having a pet cat can pose its own threat. It's frustrating when a cat decides to start scratching on the furniture, and some people decide the best way to avoid it is to have their cats declawed. However, declawing cats is painful for them and can eventually lead to health and behavioral issues.

The reader knows what to expect from the article because the thesis claim clearly explains its stance.

While declawing cats used to seem like an easy solution for problem scratching behavior, veterinarians have become more outspoken about its negative aspects for the past decade or so. To declaw a cat, they remove a portion of the cat's bone, which is comparable to removing the tips of a person's fingers. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, it results in lasting nerve pain that can increase over time, cause infection, or interfere with their ability to walk.3 Rather than performing life-altering elective surgery on a pet, other options are available. Trimming the cat's nails and teaching it to use a scratching post will usually protect belongings from a cat's natural scratching behavior.

The body paragraph includes a claim, evidence, and reason.

A valid argument can be made that some cats are stubborn and refuse to use a scratching post. However, it's a pet owner's responsibility to take the time to try to figure out what is causing a cat to act out destructively. The cat could have an undiagnosed health issue, or it could just take a bit of extra work to persuade the cat to choose the scratching post over the arm of the expensive couch. A point to consider is the possibility that the declawed cat will not want to use its litterbox because scratching the litter causes discomfort, so the pet owner could be creating an even bigger behavioral problem down the road.3

The body paragraph anticipates the opposing side's counterclaim. The author offers a rebuttal using evidence.

Indeed, a cat can't claw furniture if it doesn't have claws. However, there are multiple ways to steer a cat's inborn desire to scratch in a suitable direction. Making sure the cat has ways to keep itself occupied to prevent boredom and using a pheromonal diffuser to lower its stress level could deter the cat from scratching things it shouldn't. The alternative is to commit to caring for a cat with long-term nerve pain and potentially worse behavioral difficulties.

The conclusion offers solutions and restates the thesis claim as a consequence.

What words were used in the sample argumentative essay to avoid using certainties that could weaken the author's credibility? Are there any logical fallacies?

Argumentative - Key takeaways

  • Unlike a persuasive essay that uses emotion to sway its audience, an argumentative essay uses logic and reason to state its case.

  • Evidence used to support your opinion in an argumentative essay can be grouped as qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative evidence answers "why" and "how" and includes photographs, calendars, and public records. Quantitative data measures things like "how much," "how many," or "how often," and some examples are amounts of time, distance, and temperature.

  • A logical argument is consistent and uses valid points.

  • Reasoning mistakes that people often make are called logical fallacies. Keep an eye out for them while you do your research and write your argumentative essay.

  • Effective argumentative essays contain five key components: a claim, reasons, evidence, a counterclaim, and a rebuttal.

  • Ask yourself questions and challenge your beliefs to construct a compelling argument.

1Brown, Rita Mae. 'Language Exerts Hidden Power, Like a Moon on the Tides.' Virginia Arts of the Book Center. 2014

2Benedetti, Ginevra. "How Much Should I Spend on a Sofa? Price Up the Perfect Sofa to Last You a Lifetime." homesandgardens.com. 2021

3American Association of Feline Practitioners. "2017 Declawing Statement." catvets.com. 2017

Frequently Asked Questions about Argumentative Essay

An argumentative essay relies on evidence and logic to prove that a viewpoint is valid or invalid or to convince an audience to take action.  

The five parts of an argumentative essay are its claim, reasons, evidence, counterclaim, and rebuttal.

An example of an argumentative essay is "The Pleasure Principle" by Phillip Larkin

An argumentative essay can be written about any polarized subject, such as:

  • Should we look at old media through the eyes of when it was created?
  • Is it unethical to eat meat?
  • Should the United States have used atomic bombs on Japan?
  • Should parents limit screen time?
  • Should the United States accept more refugees from the southern border?

An argumentative essay can be structured into three formats:

  • Aristotelian
  • Toulmin
  • Rogerian

Final Argumentative Essay Quiz

Question

According to Aristotle, what are the three possible ways to present an argument?

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Answer

  • Logos
  • Ethos
  • Pathos

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Question

Which other type of argument would be most closely related to logos?

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Answer

Toulmin

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Question

Which of the following is not a necessary component of a good argument?

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Answer

There is only one possible answer or solution

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Question

How many steps are there in the basic structure of an argument?

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Answer

5

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Question

How is the Rogerian method of argument different from the others?

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Answer

The Rogerian method of argument does not try to convince the audience of their stance, and instead looks for common ground.

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Question

What is the foundation of the argument when writing an essay?

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Answer

Thesis statement

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Question

Of the following, which is not a recommended strategy for removing bias from an argument?

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Answer

Only talk about unimportant things

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Question

What is required to find support for an argument?

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Answer

Research on the subject

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Question

Which step to the basic argument structure is missing?

  • Introduction
  • Narration
  • Confirmation
  • Summation

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Answer

Refutation

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Question

Which method of argument is best used to show the facts of an argument?

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Answer

Toulmin

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Question

In a Toulmin-style argument, what is necessary to support the claim?

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Answer

Grounds (or evidence)

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Question

Which component of an Artistotelian argument appeals to the emotions of the audience?

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Answer

Pathos

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Question

What is the definition of an argument?

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Answer

An argument is a reason for either supporting or challenging a topic under discussion.

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What is missing if an argument is based solely on someone's opinion?

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Answer

Evidence

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Question

What is the goal of the Rogerian method of argument?

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To find common ground, or consensus on the subject

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Question

What is an emotional argument?

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Answer

An emotional argument is a means by which an audience might be persuaded of a particular argument by appealing to commonly held emotions.

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How could you avoid an emotional argument?

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Answer

Avoid emotional arguments by focusing on evidence and concrete details of the argument.

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Question

Which is an example of a negative emotion?

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Answer

Resentment

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Which of the following is most closely related to emotional arguments?

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Answer

Pathos

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Question

True or false, it is possible to use a combination of ethos, logos and pathos in one single argument.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a cognitive faculty?

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Answer

Passion

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Question

What does an emotional argument add to an argumentative essay?

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Answer

It makes the topic feel more personal to the audience

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Why might you want to avoid emotional arguments?

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Answer

Avoid emotional appeals in instances where the audience might have extremely opposing views and/ or emotional exhaustion

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Question

What are the two things to  do/ consider before crafting your emotional argument?

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Answer

  • Identify your intended audience
  • Understand commonly held emotions on the topic

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Question

Which emotional appeal technique uses words and phrases that appeal to the five senses of your audience?

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Answer

Vivid details and imagery

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What should you do if you cannot identify an opportunity for an emotional argument in your essay?

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Prewriting exercises

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Which prewriting exercise involves mapping out your argument, either with word trees or word association?

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Answer

Brainstorming

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Which philosopher outlined the three methods of persuasion?

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Answer

Aristotle

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Finish the sentence: Emotional arguments are an effective tool for writing ________ essays.

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Answer

Argumentative

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Question

Which of the following focuses most on the reader?

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Answer

Pathos

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Question

What is an ethical argument?

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Answer

An argument based on ethics that evaluates whether an idea is morally right or wrong

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What are ethics?

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Answer

Moral principles that guide a person's behavior and beliefs

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What are ethical principles?

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Answer

Rules which govern behavior and decision-making

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What are two types of ethical arguments?

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Answer

Ethical arguments based on principles and ethical arguments based on consequences

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Which of the following is NOT an ethical argument based on principles?

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Answer

Physician-assisted suicide is right because it leads to the following positive consequences: individuals have more control over end-of-life decisions and physicians can provide care better aligned with the patient’s quality of life.

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Question

Which of the following is an argument based on principles?

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Answer

Physician-assisted suicide is wrong because it violates Kant’s moral theory about human life.

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Which of the following is NOT used to make ethical arguments from principles?

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Answer

Evaluating consequences

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What is the correct reason why an ethical argument based on consequences or an ethical argument based on principles would be effective for a diverse audience?

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An ethical argument based on consequences will not alienate audience members who have different moral beliefs.

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What is the correct reason why an ethical argument based on consequences or an ethical argument based on principles would be effective for a similar audience?

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An ethical argument based on principles will appeal to audience members who share similar moral beliefs.

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Which of the following statements is NOT written as an ethical argument?  

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Answer

Public health officials should study the effects of gun control regulations to gain data on how these regulations impact public health.

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a rhetorical appeal?

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Answer

Bathos

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Question

Which rhetorical appeal best supports an ethical argument based on consequences?

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Answer

Logos

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Question

Which appeal best helps the audience understand an emotional reason why to support an ethical argument?  

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Answer

Pathos

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Question

What is the meaning of the Greek word “ethos”?

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Answer

Character

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a way to appear credible to your audience?

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Answer

Be passionate in making your argument.

Show question

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