How to Put Your Argument in a Context

If you look at the ACT website and the guidelines for the ACT Writing score, you’ll notice this mysterious phrase:

“The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer some context for discussion.”

 You’ll see this word “context” in descriptions for writing scores 3-6.  Obviously, ACT believes it to be very important that your essay have some kind of context in it. But what exactly is context in an essay?

The context of your argument is the broader realm of related issues that this essay’s particular issue can be categorized within.  What this means in simpler terms is to simply define what sort of area of topics can the ACT essay prompt’s question fit into.

To help this make more sense, here’s a pretty wide-ranging set of contexts for you.  Contexts can be:

  • Cultural
  • Academic
  • Historical
  • Political
  • Gender
  • Health & Safety
  • Generational
  • Religious
  • Moral
  • Legal
  • Social
  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Medical
  • Self-expression

Think of these as “categories” that your particular ACT essay prompt could fit into.  When you look at a prompt, you’ll notice that your topic can probably fit into several of the context categories listed above.  It’s important that you identify what kind of context you’re issue deals with, because this helps to put your ideas into a larger, more sophisticated framework.


Take a look at the following ACT Writing sample prompt and the potential contexts that follow:




The school board is considering purchasing iPads for every student and teacher at the school.  While there are many supporters of using technology in the classroom who believe that such a purchase will improve student learning, there are many others who think that iPads will prove to be a distraction that may ultimately harm the education process.  In your opinion, should a school spend money to provide students and teachers with iPads? 


Possible contexts:

  • Academic = This is an academic issue because it relates to the possibility of harming or improving student learning.
  • Generational = This is a generational issue because many older parents, teachers, and community members may automatically mistrust newer uses of technology.
  • Social = This is a social issue because it relates to student behavior and personal discipline to use technology to improve rather than to distract themselves.
  • Economic = This is an economic issue because it is expensive to purchase so many iPads when a positive outcome of the purchase is not guaranteed.


Do you see how there are multiple contexts, or categories, that this prompt relates to?  Now, your job is to decide which context you believe is going to prove the best one you’d like to write about.


 How Do I Include This “Context” In My Writing?

The truth is that once you start to think about how your argument is important to a context, it is difficult to NOT include it all over your essay.  You’ll find that your introduction, thesis, and your body paragraph reasonings and examples all relate to the context.

You might find that you have never personally had to deal with this iPad-in-the-classroom issue; and you might never had read a book or seen a movie about it either.  If that were the case for you, wouldn’t that make it difficult to write about at all?  But if you understand how this issue relates to other similar issues, then you have a lot to write about!

Just think about your introduction, for a moment.  You might not have a personal story about buying or not buying an iPad.  BUT, if you think about it in terms of contexts, you might have a lot of other similar issues from your life that you could use as an attention getter.  Take a look and see here:

  • Academic = You could talk about a time that there was anything in a classroom that had the potential of both helping or hurting one’s education.
  • Generational = You could talk about a time that anyone older than you misunderstood something about you or youth in general.
  • Social = You could talk about a time when you struggled with having enough personal discipline to accomplish (or not accomplish) a particular responsibility.
  • Economic = You could talk about any major purchase you personally have made that required a lot of thought, risk, or decision-making.

See how once you establish what kind of context you want, ideas about other similar issues suddenly flood your mind?

Your next big step is to practice thinking in contexts.  Make sure that you go over the Prompt Analysis for several sample essays.  When you do, don’t ignore the question that asks you to consider what contexts this question relates to!

When it comes to writing your essay, look for further information about contexts in relation to Introductions, Thesis Statements, and Body Paragraph examples.