The argument in academic writing is the thesis statement or primary claim in addition to all of the evidence and/or supporting reasons that back up the thesis statement.
You can think of the thesis statement as similar to the main idea in a text, but usually, this main idea will be speculative and hypothetical -- in other words, a thesis statement is often subject to opinion, and while a good thesis statement should be provable in theory, it might not be possible to prove with 100% certainty.
Consider the following example: you may read a piece of non-fiction that describes the different types of ducks in Florida. This text has a main idea (the different types of ducks in Florida), but it most likely does not have a thesis statement, unless the author is trying to prove something new or unique about those Floridian ducks.
So if an instructor asks you to write a paper with an argument, this is very different from a paper that is merely summary. You need to start by developing a reasonable thesis and then structure your paper around that thesis through the incorporation of evidence that supports your thesis.
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Image Credit: Argument by A M from the Noun Project