Persuasive essays convince readers to accept a certain perspective. Writing a persuasive essay therefore entails making an argument that will appeal to readers, so they believe what you say has merit. This act of appealing to readers is the art of persuasion, also known as rhetoric. In classical rhetoric, persuasion involves appealing to readers using ethos, pathos, and logos.
THE ART OF PERSUASION
Ethos refers to establishing yourself as a credible source of information. To convince an audience of anything, they must first trust you are being earnest and ethical. One strategy to do this is to write a balanced discussion with relevant and reliable research that supports your claims. Reliable research would include quoting or paraphrasing experts, first-hand witnesses, or authorities. Properly citing your sources, so your readers can also retrieve them, is another factor in establishing a reliable ethos. When writing for academic purposes, expressing your argument using unbiased language and a neutral tone will also indicate you are arguing fairly and with consideration of others having differing views.
When you appeal to your readers’ emotions, you are using pathos. This appeal is common in advertising that convinces consumers they lack something and buying a certain product or service will fulfill that lack. Emotional appeals are subtler in academic writing; they serve to engage a reader in the argument and inspire a change of heart or motivate readers toward a course of action. The examples you use, how you define terms, any comparisons you draw, as well as the language choices you use can draw readers in and impact their willingness to go along with your ideas.
Consider that one purpose of persuasion is to appeal to those who do not already agree with you, so it will be important to show that you understand other points of view. You will also want to avoid derogatory or insulting descriptions or remarks about the opposition. You wouldn’t want to offend the very readers you want to persuade.
Establishing an appeal of logos is to write a sound argument, one that readers can follow and understand. To do this, the facts and evidence you use should be relevant, representative, and reliable, and the writing as a whole should be well organized, developed, and edited.
STEPS FOR WRITING PERSUASIVELY
Step One: Determine the Topic
The first step in writing a persuasive essay is to establish the topic. The best topic is one that interests you. You can generate ideas for a topic by prewriting, such as by brainstorming whatever comes to mind, recording in grocery-list fashion your thoughts, or freewriting in complete sentences what you know or think about topics of interest.
Whatever topic you choose, it needs to be:
- Interesting: The topic should appeal both to you and to your intended readers.
- Researchable: A body of knowledge should already exist on the topic.
- Nonfiction: The information about the topic should be factual, not based on personal opinions or conspiracy theories.
- Important: Your reader should think the topic is relevant to them or worthy of being explored and discussed.
Step Two: Pose a Research Question
Once you have a topic, the next step is to develop a research question along with related questions that delve further into the first question. If you do not know what to ask, start with one of the question words: What? Who? Where? When? Why? and How? The research question helps you focus or narrow the scope of your topic by identifying a problem, controversy, or aspect of the topic that is worth exploration and discussion. Some general questions about a topic would be the following:
- In what way is this topic a problem for society or for your specific audience?
- Who is affected by this problem and how?
- Have previous efforts or polices been made to address this problem? – What are they?
- Why hasn’t this problem been solved already?
For Maggie’s topic of educational technology, potential issues or controversies range from data privacy to digital literacy to the impact of technology on learning, which is what Maggie is interested in. Maggie’s local school district has low literacy rates, so Maggie wants to know the following:
- Is there evidence for better learning from using technology?
- Are there advantages and/or disadvantages of technology within primary and secondary education?
- Which types of technology are considered the best in terms of quality and endurance?
- What types of technology and/or programs do students like using and why?
- Do teachers know how to use certain technologies with curriculum design, instruction, and/or assessment?
Step Three: Draft a Thesis
A thesis is a claim that asserts your main argument about the topic. As you conduct your research and draft your paper, you may discover information that changes your mind about your thesis, so at this point in writing, the thesis is tentative. Still, it is an important step in narrowing your focus for research and writing.
The thesis should
1. be a complete sentence,
2. identify the topic, and
3. make a specific claim about that topic.
In a persuasive paper, the thesis is a claim that someone should believe or do something. For example, a persuasive thesis might assert that something is effective or ineffective. It might state that a policy should be changed or a plan should be implemented. Or a persuasive thesis might be a plea for people to change their minds about a particular issue.
Once you have figured out your research question, your thesis is simply the answer. Maggie’s thesis is “Schools should supply technology aids to all students to increase student learning and literacy rates.” Her next step is to find evidence to support her claim.
Step Four: Research
Once you have a topic, research question, and thesis, you are ready to conduct research. To find sources that would be appropriate for an academic persuasive essay, begin your search in the library. The Purdue Global Library has a number of tutorials on conducting research, choosing search teams, types of sources, and how to evaluate information to determine its reliability and usefulness. Remember that the research you use will not only provide content to prove your claim and develop your essay, but it will also help to establish your credibility as a reliable source (ethos), create a logical framework for your argument (logos), and appeal to your readers emotionally (pathos).
Step Five: Plan Your Argument; Make an Outline
Once you have located quality source information—facts, examples, definitions, knowledge, and other information that answers your research question(s), you’ll want to create an outline to organize it. The example outline below illustrates a logical organizational plan for writing a persuasive essay. The example outline begins with an introduction that presents the topic, explains the issue, and asserts the position (the thesis). The body then provides the reasoning for the position and addresses the opposing viewpoints that some readers may hold. In your paper, you could modify this organization and address the opposing viewpoints first and then give the reasoning for your viewpoints, or you can alternate and give one opposing viewpoint then counter that with your viewpoint and then give another opposing viewpoint and counter that with your viewpoint.
The outline below also considers the alternatives to the position—certainly, there are other ways to think about or address the issue or situation. Considering the alternatives can be done in conjunction with looking at the opposing viewpoints. You do not always have to disagree with other opinions, either. You can acknowledge that another solution could work or another belief is valid. However, at the end of the body section, you will want to stand by your original position and prove that in light of all the opposing viewpoints and other perspectives, your position has the most merit.
Sample Outline of a Persuasive Argument
- 1. Introduction: Tell them what you will tell them.
- a. Present an interesting fact or description to make the topic clear and capture the reader’s attention.
- b. Define and narrow the topic using facts or descriptions to illustrate what the situation or issue is (and that is it important).
- c. Assert the claim (thesis) that something should be believed or done about the issue. (Some writers also briefly state the reasons behind this claim in the thesis as Maggie does in her paper when she claims that schools should supply tablets to students to increase learning, engagement, and literacy rates).
- 2. Body: Tell them.
- a. Defend the claim with logical reasons and practical examples based on research.
- b. Anticipate objections to the claim and refute or accommodate them with research.
- c. Consider alternate positions or solutions using examples from research.
- d. Present a final point based on research that supports your claim in light of the objections and alternatives considered.
- 3. Conclusion: Tell them what you told them.
- a. Recap the main points to reinforce the importance of the issue.
- b. Restate the thesis in new wording to reinforce your position.
- c. Make a final remark to leave a lasting impression, so the reader will want to continue this conversation and ideally adopt the belief or take the action you are advocating.
In Maggie’s draft, she introduced the topic with facts about school ratings in Texas and then narrowed the topic using the example of her local school district’s literacy rates. She then claimed the district should provide each student a tablet in order to increase learning (and thus, literacy rates).
Maggie defends her claim with a series of examples from research that proved how access to tablets, technology-integrated curriculums, and “flipped classrooms” have improved literacy rates in other districts. She anticipates objections to her proposal due to the high cost of technology and counter argues this with expert opinions and examples that show partnerships with businesses, personalized curriculums that technology makes possible, and teacher training can balance the costs. Maggie included an alternative solution of having students check out tablets from the library, but her research showed that this still left students needing Wi-Fi at home while her proposal would include a plan for students to access Wi-Fi.
Maggie concluded her argument by pointing out the cost of not helping the students in this way and restated her thesis reaffirming the benefits, and then left the reader with a memorable quote.
Click here to see Maggie’s draft with feedback from her instructor and a peer. Sample Persuasive Draft
Feedback, Revision, and Editing
After you write a draft of your persuasive essay, the next step is to have a peer, instructor, or tutor read it and provide feedback. Without reader feedback, you cannot fully know how your readers will react to your argument. Reader feedback is meant to be constructive. Use it to better understand your readers and craft your argument to more appropriately appeal to them.
Maggie received valuable feedback on her draft from her instructor and classmate. They pointed to where her thesis needed to be even more specific, to paragraphs where a different organization would make her argument more convincing, to parts of the paper that lacked examples, sentences that needed revision and editing for greater clarity, and APA formatting that needed to be edited.
Maggie also took a critical look at her paper and looked back at her writing process. One technique she found helpful was to read her paper aloud because it let her know where her wording and organization were not clear. She did this several times as she revised and again as she edited and refined her paper for sentence level clarity and concision.
In the end, Maggie produced a convincing persuasive essay and effective argument that would appeal to readers who are also interested in the way technology can impact and improve student learning, an important topic in 2014 when this paper was written and still relevant today.
Click here to see Maggie’s final draft after revising and editing. Sample Persuasive Revised