High school and university students worldwide are bombarded with all sorts of written assignments. They are expected not to confuse different kinds of essays and write exactly what they are tasked, and the classification of essays is supposed to be obvious and self-explanatory. More often than not, however, students get confused when they are asked to write, for example, a persuasive essay. It is quite challenging to accomplish a task when you have a vague idea about even where to begin. Like with any kind of undertaking, it is good to know what you are doing and to have a clear plan of action.
This is why we have chosen to write this comprehensive guide on writing a persuasive essay. As the name implies, a persuasive essay is a written work aimed at convincing your reader that your point of view on a certain controversial topic is the right one. However, there also are argumentative essays that share the same goal as the persuasive ones, but employ different methods of persuasion to achieve this goal.
Classically, we use Aristotle’s classification of persuasion techniques. According to Aristotle, there are three main methods of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos has to do with ethics and appeals to the audience by convincing them of the authority of the author. Pathos appeals emotionally and encourages the audience to trust their “hearts” and “feelings.” Finally, logos is the 100% rational method of persuasion that reaches the audience through facts and logic. If you analyze the speech of any politician as an example, you will see that they are not focusing on just one method of persuasion, but combine two are all three of them in one speech.
When you are working on an argumentative essay, you are limited to using cold facts to convince your opponent. In other words, logos is the only persuasion strategy that you use. When you are assigned to write a persuasive essay, on the other hand, your only goal is to be persuasive – as the name implies. Therefore, you can use all or any of the three methods of persuasion in any combination: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Writing a persuasive essay is meant to train the high school and college students’ critical thinking by performing an analysis of a topic in a well-structured manner where they are also expected to explain all the logical steps. This is what you are expected to do when your teacher or professor gives you an assignment to write a persuasive essay. As for the volume, your essay should not be too long, you are to remain laconic. Usually, a persuasive essay will comprise of as little as five paragraphs, unless your teacher or professor specifies otherwise. Let us take a closer look at that:
The common 5-paragraph format is not incidental. It has been chosen to unify the essay format requirements nationwide. When all essays are written in five paragraphs, it facilitates the students developing their writing skills, because this way you do not need to adjust to the new rules when you change your school or when you enter a college.
However, some college courses will demand that a student addresses the more complicated topics which will require a deeper research and more reflection. Of course, the volume of the persuasive essay will expand in such case.
Sometimes, your teacher or professor will assign you a topic to write about. Often, however, it will be up to you to pick a topic for your persuasive essay. If this is the case, here is a tip for you: do not try to please your teacher by picking something that you think is interesting to them, even if you are 100% positive. Instead, pick a topic that you relate to, something that you are particularly interested in. This will make your writing process much more enthusiasm-driven and less tedious.
Another thing to remember when picking a topic is what is it exactly that you are willing to reveal to your professor. In high school, the main goal of assigning persuasive essays is to train their skill of putting their critical analysis of a problem to writing. In other words, your writing skills will be the focus of such an assignment.
At college, on the other hand, good writing skills are already a must, and the requirements to a persuasive essay will be different. Here, you will be expected to reveal some original and insightful ideas that show you as a sophisticated thinker. In other words, in high school, you aim for creating a well-written piece for getting a good grade, as opposed to the college where you aim for getting yourself recognized as someone who possesses vast background knowledge and comes up with truly unique ideas. Some shock value can be welcome here,
This is why, when writing a persuasive essay for high school, you can pick a simpler topic with more obvious conclusions. This way, you can save some effort on research and argument to concentrate on the writing as such. You do not need to solve a world-scale problem to secure yourself a good grade at school. At college, on the other hand, you should definitely pick something more interesting, a tricky topic where you will have quite some ambiguous material to work with.
Here are some examples of high school persuasive essay topics:
As you can see, the answers to these questions are pretty obvious, even though they do provide quite some material to work with. This makes them good for exercising your persuasive essay writing skills, but not more than that.
Here are some of the more complicated topics which you may write about when at college:
One can easily tell that such question leaves much more room for an engaging discussion with polarized views on the topic. It is true that making up your mind on which side to pick on such a question, as well as conducting a proper research and collecting evidence to back up your standpoint, may be somewhat challenging. But on the other hand, it gives you the opportunity to truly stand out as a master of argument.
If you want any job to be well done, you need a clear plan of action. Similarly, if you want your persuasive essay to be well written, you should better have a clear and comprehensive outline. Just like almost any written assignment, it will comprise of three sections: the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. Here is a template for such an outline:
II. Main body
1) First main body paragraph
2) Second main body paragraph
3) Third main body paragraph
Let us look into each of these sections to see what exactly can be done to build up a solid persuasive essay.
So you begin your INTRODUCTION with a firm and straightforward opening sentence. What does that mean? It means that this sentence is supposed to slap your readers in their faces, to occupy all their attention and keep them focused until the end of the essay. It is also called a hook sentence because it should hook your reader like a fish. It is not forbidden to provide something shocking in this sentence. If you cannot come up with something of the kind for some reason, you do not have to squeeze it out of yourself. Instead, as an option, you can take a different approach and instead start off with a rhetorical question, for example.
After that, you move on to getting your reader acquainted with what they are about to read by presenting the problem that your persuasive essay deals with. Here you explain why this problem demands a solution and dedicate a sentence to each subject of analysis (these subject are the themes of your main body paragraphs).
Finally, you conclude your introduction with a thesis statement. This is the primary goal of any persuasive essay. Your thesis statement is basically your core argument. We have a tip to share: once you write your thesis statement, you may find it somewhat effort-consuming to connect your evidence to that (or rather to shape these connections into words), – therefore, it is a good idea to reverse the writing process a little bit and write your thesis statement after you are ready with the rest of your persuasive essay.
Following the introduction, you have the MAIN BODY PARAGRAPHS. Each paragraph starts off with a topic statement. This is a sentence or two that introduce your argument. Once again, you need to capture your reader’s attention to this sub-topic. This can be achieved by embedding power words that emphasize the meaningfulness of the statement. You can find extensive lists of power words online, but one needs to be critical about them. Before you make up your mind on your choice of words, you are welcome to test out the strength of those words on your friends.
Then you back up your topic statement with evidence. Here you can state some facts and/or the outcomes of their analysis that support your standpoint. Also, remember to specify how exactly is this evidence connected to the topic of your persuasive essay. You have clearly conducted some serious research in this field, so you have becomes a bit of an expert on the subject. Well, for better or worse, your reader, has not. Therefore, some things that are obvious to you are not necessarily obvious to your reader.
Once you have stated your evidence and explained how it is relevant to your persuasive essay topic, you should sum up the paragraph with a mini-conclusion. Here you capitalize on the information that you have provided in this paragraph and make a point of it. It has to be laconic, yet meaningful. Once again, this is best achieved with power words.
The number of the main body paragraphs may vary depending on how broad your topic is and what your teacher’s or professor’s requirements to your persuasive essay are. Still, you can apply this paragraph structure regardless of how many paragraphs there are.
After you have written the main body, you can CONCLUDE your persuasive essay. The conclusion starts with restating the thesis statement. It is true that the reader is already familiar with your essay’s thesis statement. However, their attention has been dispersed by various aspects of the analyzed problem that you have been covering in your main body paragraphs. So, now it is up to you to concentrate their attention on your essay’s focal point (that is your thesis statement) once again.
Then you briefly list your supporting evidence. Make sure that you remember to include all of those points, but you should condense them into one sentence per each main body paragraph. Also, take care that they are easy to follow and transition into one another in a logical manner.
Finally, you give the overall conclusion where you remind your reader why the problem that you have been analyzing in your essay in important and why it interests you. You also restate that the solution that you are suggesting is the ultimate one.
It can be a good idea to set the direction for further studies in this field. This will reveal to your reader that you did not write this persuasive essay just because your teacher or professor has assigned you to, but you, in fact, connect with it and want this problem solved.
That being said, we have a few more general tips to share: