Persuasive Writing

What is a persuasive/argumentative paragraph or essay?

Persuasive writing, also known as the argumentative writing, utilizes logic and reason (and sometimes emotion) to show that one idea is more legitimate than another idea. It attempts to persuade a reader to adopt a certain point of view or to take a particular action. Ideally, the argument should always use sound reasoning and solid evidence by stating facts, giving logical reasons, using examples, and quoting experts. However, more emotional techniques are also used effectively, though sometimes they may border on manipulation! Consciously or not, an author may draw on our emotions by using logical fallacies.

When planning a persuasive essay, follow these steps:

    1. Choose your position. Which side of the issue or problem are you going to write about, and what solution will you offer? Know the purpose of your essay.
    2. Analyze your audience. Decide if your audience agrees with you, is neutral, or disagrees with your position.
    3. Research your topic. A persuasive essay must provide specific and convincing evidence. Often it is necessary to go beyond your own knowledge and experience. You might need to go to the library or interview people who are experts on your topic.
    4. Structure your essay. Figure out what evidence you will include and in what order you will present the evidence. Remember to consider your purpose, your audience, and you topic.

The following criteria are essential to produce an effective argument:

    • Be well informed about your topic. To add to your knowledge of a topic, read thoroughly about it, using legitimate sources. Take notes.
    • Test your thesis. Your thesis, i.e., argument, must have two sides. It must be debatable. If you can write down a thesis statement directly opposing your own, you will ensure that your own argument is debatable.
    • Disprove the opposing argument. Understand the opposite viewpoint of your position and then counter it by providing contrasting evidence or by finding mistakes and inconsistencies in the logic of the opposing argument.
    • Support your position with evidence. Remember that your evidence must appeal to reason.
    • Though the persuasive/argumentative essay is always written from your point of view, you normally do not use "I" or "my" in this type of essay.

The following are some of the different techniques to support your argument:

Examples - Examples enhance your meaning and make your ideas concrete. They are the proof. Often these examples are drawn from shared every-day experience or from history. They can be events, ideas, logical arguments or quotations. They can be anecdotes, which are small stories that have explanatory meaning, or analogies, in which one example is made meaningful because it resembles another example. The order of examples, which is part of logic, can also have a positive effect. Sometimes examples can be emotive (or biased), and are used to elicit sympathy from the reader. As well, some key examples might be missing. Often the biggest problem with examples is not that the examples are wrong, but that they are incomplete and unrepresentative. Watch out for an argument where no examples are offered - just a thesis and a conclusion!

Facts - A powerful means of convincing, facts can come from your reading, observation, or personal experience. They are like examples, but are usually singular and observable. As with examples, persuasive writing may suffer from the selective use of facts.

  • Note: Do not confuse facts with truths. A "truth" is an idea believed by many people, but it cannot be proven.

Statistics - These are facts based on numerical measurement, and can provide excellent support. Be sure your statistics come from responsible sources, and always cite your sources.

Expert Testimony - Direct quotations from leading experts and/or peer-reviewed journals that support your position are invaluable.

Emotional Language - Though considered biased and manipulative, emotional loaded words are commonly used to capture the feelings and sympathies of the readers.

Colloquial Language - In order to be more accessible and inviting, some persuasive writers will employ a more conversational style of language. You might see the strategic use of "and" and "but" at the beginning of a sentence, or a conscious use of a sentence fragment to emphasize a point. If you want to try this technique, please don't overuse it; it can become annoying and transparent, and less effective the more you use it!

Poetic Devices - Some writers of persuasive texts will borrow the techniques of poetry, particularly when it comes to the sounds and meanings of words. Common techniques include alliteration, repetition, metaphors, imagery, and rhyme.

Powerful Images - In less formal writing, evocative images may be selected to enhance and support an argument.

THE PROBLEM OF BIAS: As you can see above, many of these persuasive techniques can be considered unfair or manipulative. In general, such techniques are seen as examples of bias. And, if you use them or are influenced by them, you are said to be biased. Of course, if you are are going to persuade a reader or listener, you might argue that any technique is valid, and that it's up to the reader or listener to detect bias and make his or her judgment accordingly. For more information about detecting bias and making good judgments, click here.

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