Writing assignment series
Persuasive or argumentative essays
In persuasive or argumentative writing, we try to convince others
to agree with our facts, share our values,
accept our argument and conclusions,
and adopt our way of thinking.
Elements toward building a good persuasive essay include
- establishing facts
to support an argument
- clarifying relevant values
for your audience (perspective)
- prioritizing, editing, and/or sequencing
the facts and values in importance to build the argument
- forming and stating conclusions
- "persuading" your audience that your conclusions
are based upon the agreed-upon facts and shared values
- having the confidence
to communicate your "persuasion" in writing
Here are some strategies to complete a persuasive writing assignment:
Write out the questions in your own words.
Think of the questions posed in the assignment
while you are reading and researching. Determine
- any sources that will help you determine their reliability
(as well as for further reference)
- what prejudices lie in the argument
or values that color the facts or the issue
- what you think of the author's argument
List out facts; consider their importance:
prioritize, edit, sequence, discard, etc.
Ask yourself "What's missing?"
What are the "hot buttons" of the issue?
List possible emotions/emotional reactions and recognize them for later use
Start writing a draft!(refer to: Writing essays, the basics)
Start as close as possible to your reading/research
Do not concern yourself with grammar or spelling
- Write your first paragraph
- Introduce the topic
- Inform the reader of your point of view!
- Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper!
- Focus on three main points to develop
- Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph
- Keep your voice active
- Quote sources
to establish authority
- Stay focused
on your point of view throughout the essay
- Focus on logical arguments
- Don't lapse into summary
in the development--wait for the conclusion
Summarize, then conclude, your argument
Refer to the first paragraph/opening statement as well as the main points
- does the conclusion restate the main ideas?
- reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
- logically conclude their development?
- Edit/rewrite the first paragraph
to better telegraph your development and conclusion.
- Take a day or two off!
- Re-read your paper
with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil
- Ask yourself:
Does this make sense? Am I convinced?
Will this convince a reader?
Will they understand my values, and agree with my facts?
- Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary
- Check spelling and grammar!
- Have a friend read it and respond to your argument.
Were they convinced?
- Revise if necessary
- Turn in the paper
- Celebrate a job well done,
with the confidence that you have done your best.
- Ask yourself:
How to respond to criticism:
Consider criticism as a test of developing your powers of persuasion.
Try not to take it personally.
If your facts are criticized,
double check them, and then cite your sources.
If your values are criticized,
sometimes we need agree "to disagree". Remember: your success in persuading others assumes that the other person is open to being persuaded!
Fear: If you are not used to communicating,
especially in writing, you may need to overcome fear on several levels. Writing, unlike unrecorded speech, is a permanent record for all to see, and the "context" is not as important as in speech where context "colors" the words. For example: your readers do not see you, only your words. They do not know what you look like, where you live, who you are.
Hopefully in school, and class, we have a safe place
to practice both the art of writing and of persuasion. Then later, when we are in our communities, whether work, church, neighborhoods, and even families, we can benefit from this practice.
Persuasion also has another dimension:
it is built with facts, which illustrate conclusions. Of course, this means you need to know what you are talking about, and cannot be lazy with your facts, or you will not succeed in convincing anyone. This shows another level of fear: Fear of making a mistake that will make your argument or persuasion meaningless. Since you are writing, and the words are on paper for all to see (or on a web site!), you need to work to make sure your facts are in order.
Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |Thanks to the inspiration of S Ryder, and her sixth grade class in Pennsylvania, for revision of this Guide
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals | Elements of a Research Paper
Seven stages of writing assignments | "Lessons learned" | Deadlines
While some teachers consider persuasive papers and argument papers to be basically the same thing, it’s usually safe to assume that an argument paper presents a stronger claim—possibly to a more resistant audience.
For example: while a persuasive paper might claim that cities need to adopt recycling programs, an argument paper on the same topic might be addressed to a particular town. The argument paper would go further, suggesting specific ways that a recycling program should be adopted and utilized in that particular area.
To write an argument essay, you’ll need to gather evidence and present a well-reasoned argument on a debatable issue.
How can I tell if my topic is debatable? Check your thesis! You cannot argue a statement of fact, you must base your paper on a strong position. Ask yourself…
- How many people could argue against my position? What would they say?
- Can it be addressed with a yes or no? (aim for a topic that requires more info.)
- Can I base my argument on scholarly evidence, or am I relying on religion, cultural standards, or morality? (you MUST be able to do quality research!)
- Have I made my argument specific enough?
Worried about taking a firm stance on an issue?
Though there are plenty of times in your life when it’s best to adopt a balanced perspective and try to understand both sides of a debate, this isn’t one of them.
You MUST choose one side or the other when you write an argument paper!
Don’t be afraid to tell others exactly how you think things should go because that’s what we expect from an argument paper. You’re in charge now, what do YOU think?
…use passionate language
…use weak qualifiers like “I believe,” “I feel,” or “I think”—just tell us!
…cite experts who agree with you
…claim to be an expert if you’re not one
…provide facts, evidence, and statistics to support your position
…use strictly moral or religious claims as support for your argument
…provide reasons to support your claim
…assume the audience will agree with you about any aspect of your argument
…address the opposing side’s argument and refute their claims
…attempt to make others look bad (i.e. Mr. Smith is ignorant—don’t listen to him!)
Why do I need to address the opposing side’s argument?
There is an old kung-fu saying which states, "The hand that strikes also blocks", meaning that when you argue it is to your advantage to anticipate your opposition and strike down their arguments within the body of your own paper. This sentiment is echoed in the popular saying, "The best defense is a good offense".
By addressing the opposition you achieve the following goals:
- illustrate a well-rounded understanding of the topic
- demonstrate a lack of bias
- enhance the level of trust that the reader has for both you and your opinion
- give yourself the opportunity to refute any arguments the opposition may have
- strengthen your argument by diminishing your opposition's argument
Think about yourself as a child, asking your parents for permission to do something that they would normally say no to. You were far more likely to get them to say yes if you anticipated and addressed all of their concerns before they expressed them. You did not want to belittle those concerns, or make them feel dumb, because this only put them on the defensive, and lead to a conclusion that went against your wishes.
The same is true in your writing.
How do I accomplish this?
To address the other side of the argument you plan to make, you'll need to "put yourself in their shoes." In other words, you need to try to understand where they're coming from. If you're having trouble accomplishing this task, try following these steps:
- Jot down several good reasons why you support that particular side of the argument.
- Look at the reasons you provided and try to argue with yourself. Ask: Why would someone disagree with each of these points? What would his/her response be? (Sometimes it's helpful to imagine that you're having a verbal argument with someone who disagrees with you.)
- Think carefully about your audience; try to understand their background, their strongest influences, and the way that their minds work. Ask: What parts of this issue will concern my opposing audience the most?
- Find the necessary facts, evidence, quotes from experts, etc. to refute the points that your opposition might make.
- Carefully organize your paper so that it moves smoothly from defending your own points to sections where you argue against the opposition.