Writing a persuasive essay: tricks of the trade

Most students face the task of learning to write a persuasive essay at an early stage of their education. They get taught the fine art of analyzing just about everything that holds any value in today's society. If people talk about it and have opinions on it, you should be able to write about it persuasively. A persuasive essay is not just about offering an opinion; your claims should be well-supported by evidence and able to withstand challenges posed by opposing arguments.

By definition, a persuasive essay is an academic text written with the intent of persuading an audience to believe in a particular view and to take the corresponding action. The actual writing will come after thorough research on the subject. During this preparatory phase, authors are familiarized with all aspects of an issue, including the widespread prejudices that exist on the matter. They explore their attitudes and check them for bias. This is especially important for emotionally charged topics. Only after understanding all the facts, beliefs, and existing theories on something can a student form an educated opinion and formulate it in a shape of a persuasive essay. If written successfully, this type of essay leaves no room for doubt; readers are 100% clear about the author's opinion and find it credible.

In this article, we'll provide you with a comprehensive guide to writing a persuasive essay. We’ll let you learn from professional writers and make sure you never get anything less than a perfect grade.

Formal aspects of writing a persuasive essay

A typical persuasive essay for high-school or college comprises five paragraphs. The first paragraph is an introduction to the topic. The next three form the body of the essay. Each body paragraph presents a single argument and backs it up with evidence. The writer pays careful attention to the selection of arguments as well as their presentation in logical succession. The transition should be smooth and easy to follow. An outline written beforehand serves as a guide to organizing your essay to comply with its required structure. Formatting is done using the requested citation style, usually MLA or APA.

Choosing a topic for your persuasive essay

When contemplating the possible topics to explore in a persuasive essay, there are a few things you should bear in mind:

  •  You should write on a subject that's both interesting and approachable from many different angles. An emotionally charged topic on which everyone has an opinion is bound to engage your readers and motivate them to read your essay attentively.
  •  Narrow down your topic to a specific aspect of a particular problem. If a topic is too broad, it might be impossible to cover it in a five-paragraph essay. You'll just end up giving a list of uncorroborated statements which will hardly sound convincing.
  •  Make sure your narrowed-down topic shows an apparent connection to a more complex issue. That way you'll inspire your readers to think about the subject and form a personal opinion (preferably one that agrees with yours).

Here's a list of possible topics for a high school persuasive essay:

  •  Should public schools enforce a stricter dress code?
  •  Are school curriculums outdated and long-overdue for revision?
  •  Introduction of modern technology into public schools: feasible or mere fantasy?
  •  Should schools provide counseling on reproductive health or should this be left to other institutions?
  •  Should students’ internet use in schools be more strictly monitored?

As you can see, high school students are well-advised to discuss a topic connected with their educational experience which is something to what both teachers and other students can easily relate. It's preferable they write on a subject that carries a deep personal meaning since it guarantees they will argue their opinion with enthusiasm. If a topic is of no particular interest for a writer, their arguments will be weaker and less capable of influencing the audience.

As far as possible topics for a persuasive essay for college are concerned, the situation gets a bit more complicated. Students are generally required to write about an issue that has a slightly broader significance. They can discuss their view on a much debated moral issue, offer a personal outlook on an environmental problem, or discuss the implications of a recent technological breakthrough. The more controversial the topic is, the more it will engage the readers both on an intellectual and emotional level. College students can consider writing about freedom of media, pollution, unemployment, social inequality, educational system reforms, euthanasia, etc.

Coming up with a strong thesis statement

The first thing a student should decide upon when working on an essay outline is the position they would like to take on a specific issue. They should formulate it in a single sentence that captures the essence of the message the writer attempts to get across. It's important that it sounds compelling since your entire essay will revolve around it. Providing the rationale for the thesis statement and proving its legitimacy and ability to withstand opposition is the goal of a persuasive essay.

What to avoid when formulating a thesis statement:

  •  Giving vague statements off the top of your head without thinking them through and formulating a convincing message you’d like to get across
  •  Sounding ambivalent about your chosen topic.

So stay away from formulations like:

"Something should be done about the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles." You don't specify what should be done or why this issue is critical for the local community. Or

"There are as many downsides to using biofuel as there are advantages." Here, the writer does not take a stance, his position remains unclear, and there is no call for action.

Check out the examples of how the previous sentences can be reformulated to constitute strong thesis statements:

“Authorities of Los Angeles should provide affordable housing, soup kitchens, and job training to tackle with the issue of homelessness in this city.”

“In spite of belonging to renewable energy sources, biofuel still contributes to air pollution significantly and cannot be considered an ecological substitute for oil.”

An essential step for writing a persuasive essay: the outline

Once you’ve done your research on a particular topic you’d like to discuss, you should write an outline which will help you comprehensively present your argument. The outline contains your notes on the topic, how you will introduce an issue, which arguments you'll discuss, and what evidence you will provide for each argument.

The introduction should contain a “hook” to grab the readers’ attention and a strong thesis statement. In a five-paragraph essay, each body paragraph should provide a new argument. You can dedicate two body paragraphs to evidence supporting your position and one to evidence that refutes any opposing views.

The conclusion ties all the evidence together, links your topic to a broader context, and offers a call for action. A detailed outline provides a clear format for your essay since it encompasses all the main elements the final writing will consist of and all the sources to back your claims.

Students should pay careful attention not to omit any of the essential elements of persuasive writing:

  •  Logos: the appeal to reason, presentation of evidence in a logical manner to support your position.
  •  Ethos: the appeal to ethics, speaks to the writer's credibility and authority on a particular subject.
  •  Pathos: the appeal to emotions, provoking an emotional reaction in the audience, making them sympathize with the subject of writing.

All three elements should be finely balanced, without giving too much space to any of them at the expense of others.

An example of a persuasive essay outline

Title: Biofuel – a valid substitute for oil or just another air polluter

  •  Introduction:
  1.  Essential information on the topic: how and when was biofuel developed, what was its intended purpose?
  2.  Main argument: although produced through biological processes biofuel still emits carbon dioxide similar to levels produced by fossil fuels.
  3.  Thesis statement: Regardless of its classification within renewable energy sources, biofuel still leads to considerable air pollution and cannot be considered an ecological substitute for petrol.
  •  Body:
  1.  First paragraph. Reasons for the introduction of biofuel, the goals that were not achieved.
  2.  Second, third, and fourth paragraph. Three most significant facts related to burning biofuel supported with evidence and examples: levels of carbon emissions, deforestation and excessive use of water resources.
  •  Conclusion
  1.  Reiterate your main argument and demonstrate how you substantiated your thesis statement.

Things that can make your arguments stronger

  •  Using specific factual information. These should always be supported by evidence, preferably scientific or originating from a dependable source.
  •  Quoting highly valued authorities on the matter. Giving a recognized person's opinion on the subject will induce your audience to side with you and accept your views.
  •  Citing statistical data. Percentages always make a compelling argument and are hard to contradict.
  •  Giving examples to prove your point. They make your opinion easier to understand. Choose them carefully and tailor them to your audience.
  •  Allow for concessions: a good writer never claims that their position is the only valid way to look at something. They will acknowledge the value of opposing arguments, say that they are partially right but demonstrate their shortcomings as well. Say something like: "It's true that biofuels can increase sustainable economic projects in Africa, but…"

The students’ main concern when writing any type of essay is the grade they will get for their work. Here are some pointers concerning the grading system for persuasive essays:

  •  Papers in which writers have taken a firm position on a specific issue are graded higher than those who appear to be neutral. Persuasive essays are meant to convince readers of the validity of a particular point of view. To do that, the author should be confident of their argument and present it compellingly.
  •  Papers that merit high grades are those that comply with a strict organizational structure. They should present at least three arguments that corroborate their opinion and back them with factual evidence or reference to dependable sources.
  •  Writers who make sure their work reads smoothly will be graded higher than those whose arguments are merely piled up, without logical succession.
  •  Upon reading a paper, readers must be quite clear on the writer's position on the topic. They must see the point made even though they do not necessarily agree with it. If well-written, the paper should serve as a good discussion opener that invites the readers to think about the topic and formulate their own opinion.
  •  Papers that do not focus solely on finding supporting arguments but present a counterargument as well will generally warrant a higher grade. Acknowledging that your position is not the only possible one adds quality to your work if you can present flaws in the opposing view and discredit its evidence.
  •  The order in which you present your arguments is crucial. It's always better to leave your most convincing argument to the end since that's the one that will stick in your readers' minds. You can even open with a counterargument; refute it and then go on to present the evidence in support of the stance you're taking. Just make sure that your point of view is apparent to your reader from the very beginning. The readers shouldn't have to wait until the end to find out what you really think.
  •  Ending your paper with a meticulously formulated conclusion that rounds up the whole piece of writing also contributes to a higher grade.
  •  Even though you're merely writing the paper for your professor to read and grade you, you should write it with a broader audience in mind. You'll know that a persuasive essay is well-written if a person who's completely new to the topic of discussion understands what you're discussing.
  •  Formal considerations: submitting a paper with spelling and grammar mistakes is unacceptable and is sure to lead to a lower grade. Making sure your sentences are clear, without repetitive use of words or overly informal expressions, will make a good impression on your professors. Always proofread your work! If possible have a friend or a fellow student read it with a fresh pair of eyes to make sure there are no blunt errors. Ask your friend for comments on your work and rewrite any sections that seemed vague or confusing.
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