How to Write a Good Persuasive Essay

Persuasive essays are widespread amongst different types of media - newspapers, online media, journals, and so forth. Every journalist or a professional in the field of media (and even advertising) needs to demonstrate skills related to persuasion. In the contemporary world persuasion has become more important than adhering to the truth and reality, which is due to the fact that the truth not always brings success and wealth. Making people convinced in your cause or idea, on the other hand, brings popularity and success. The current guide will help you understand the main principles of writing a persuasive essay.

How to write a good persuasive essay – 10 essential tips

1. Definition

A persuasive essay is such a paper which discusses a given issue and argues in favor of a definite point of view. This means such an essay in principle does not need to correspond to the truth in all of its aspects; it should rather make the reader convinced in the offered standpoint. However, in order to make the essay look realistic and the point of view corresponding to the truth, you have to offer appropriate arguments, that is, arguments which are formally and substantially correct.

2. Formal side of the argument

Formally, your argument must follow the principles of logic. Here are some of them:

a) A is identical with A, and is different from non-A. This especially concerns definitions where very often it happens that the object of definition is defined in different ways (for example, the term “communism” today is defined politically, economically, socially, and even culturally, and all these definitions sometimes contradict each other).

b) It is not possible for the proposition X and the proposition negating it be true at once (i.e., “Lincoln was the best president in the history of the US”; “Lincoln was not the best president in the history of the US”).

c) Your definition should not be too wide (i.e., “A human being is a person who possesses two lungs”) nor two narrow (“A human being is a mammal endowed with intelligence living in Asia”).

d) Your argument needs to be formulated as a syllogism. From two prepositions only one conclusion follows: 

A: New York is located in North America.
B: North America is located on the planet Earth.
Conclusion: New York is located on the planet Earth.

Hence, at least one of your prepositions should directly lead to the conclusion. A conclusion like “New York is in the Milky Way” would not be correct because the term “Milky Way” is not present in the prepositions.

3. Substantial side of the argument

This is the so-called veracity of your argument. Pay heed to the fact that a syllogism can be true even if it does not correspond to the facts:

A: Human beings can fly.
B: John is a human being.
Conclusion: John can fly.

This conclusion is not true but is valid. Therefore, you need to put stress on the veracity of your prepositions in order the conclusion to be true. Every preposition employed by you must be factually checked and well-examined. If it is about a reported event, situation, etc., you must be sure that it has really taken place in the reported way. Hence, you must ask: did the event really happen?

But there is another question: Does the report describe the whole event? You must find other reports, especially if they present other points of view. This is the way to ensure that your knowledge on the topic is objective and free of personal distortions of information.

4. Pick up a topic

Persuasive essays deal with such topics which are subjects of hot debates. We advise you to choose an actual topic in order to have your original contribution to the debate as well as to check your research and persuasion skills. It is good to choose a problem which you are interested in. Amongst the most interesting topics nowadays there are the following ones: abortion, alcohol abuse, religion, poverty, environment protection, terrorism, war, international law, debts, the financial crisis of 2008, liberalism, conservatism, and many others.

Be careful: do not choose a topic which is your personal cause because then you might breach the principle of objectivity. It’s not that your paper must be absolutely neutral; on the contrary, it has to express your personal standpoint. But usually people do not take into consideration information contradicting their views. Your essay could lack veracity; remember that the best persuasion is done through facts.

Once you have the topic you need to formulate the title of your essay.  Let’s say your topic is “Alcohol abuse.” The topic should express your thesis: “Alcohol abuse seen as caused by existential vacuum.”

5. Research on the topic

In spite of the fact you already know what to write, it is good to have some actual information; let’s say, the percentage of alcohol-abusing persons in a given state or country, or a community. Use actual statistical data - you can find them on specialized monographs. Do not rely only on what you can see on the forums - sometimes this data is distorted or even forged.

Try to find information about the main counter-thesis, or the view which you want to repudiate. If possible, find all actual theories regarding the topic, and put emphasis on the one which is widespread amongst the academic world. Of course, scientists sometimes get wrong, hence you can exercise your critical thinking skills.

6. Critical thinking

To think critically does not mean to negate or to reject every possible assertion. Critical thinking is a method which subjects every assertion to a special kind of examination: what you have to do is to examine the reality (veracity) of the assertion, and then check its adherence to the formal criteria mentioned above. Every theory in science must be subjected to critical examination in order its validity to be confirmed more precisely.

Regarding the problem with alcohol abuse, you can try to analyze both points of view: the radical view of full rejection of such persons (they do not deserve any help), and the extreme altruism regarding them (the people who do not help them are “bad”). Try to figure out your own point of view.

7. Thesis

A well-elaborated thesis is a must in a persuasive essay. Your thesis should be formulated according to the information you have gained (during your research, for example). The thesis has to be presented in the end of the introduction part or in the beginning of the following paragraph.

You should adhere to the following rules: 

  • The thesis has to be short and concise (at most 2-3 sentences).
  • It must concern the topic directly. It should not add other main topics and problems; for instance, drug addiction, global poverty, etc.
  • The thesis should not be formulated in a negative form. You have to prove that something IS and not that something IS NOT. Do not say what is not (or cannot be) a cause of alcohol abuse; say what IS the cause.
  • The thesis should contain the key words of your essay. Thus you need to prepare a list of key words prior to writing the thesis and the paper.

8. Counter-thesis and alternative viewpoints

Try to pay heed to the counter-view of your own standpoint. Do not attack your opponent on emotional ground; you should rather prove that precisely your view is right and correspond to the facts.

Remember: you should present the counter-thesis as defined by its proponents. In many cases essay writers present a “counter-thesis” which actually does not have anything common with the view referred to by them. They do this in order to win the “battle” more easily.

Other points of view could also be presented but do not pay too much attention to them. Your task is not to describe theories but to prove or repudiate them.

9. Quotations

Quotes are necessary in papers which claim to be of academic value. Remember: quotations serve only as a tool for proving the facts you refer to! You should not employ quotes only for making your essay longer.

There is no specific formula regarding how many quotes to use in your paper. We recommend you the following: the text contained in the quotations should not exceed one-tenth of the whole length of the essay. Hence, if the essay is ten pages long, then the quotations must take half of the page at most, about 15-16 lines maximum.

Every quote must be interpreted and should be directly related to the idea contained in the paragraph preceding it. You cannot just insert quotes anywhere you want.

10. Bibliography

A list of references is a must in such an essay. A list containing from five to ten titles will be fine. A sample bibliography is attached to the essay below.

PERSUASIVE ESSAY SAMPLE

Title: “Alcohol abuse seen as caused by existential vacuum.”

Introduction: People who abuse alcohol are often held to be asocial or even criminals. The public opinion does not perceive them positively. Amongst various causes of this sort of addiction we can discern the existential vacuum or the feeling that one’s life does not have any meaning.

Thesis: The existential vacuum (as defined by Jaspers) is brought about by a wide range of life events of negative character. Its existence drives the individual to search for some ways to fill the “gap” inside. One of these ways is alcohol.

The current thesis can be seen as being too wide but it can be applied to many cases of alcoholism. The psychologists X and Y as well as sociologists like Z have proved that the alcohol-abusing people do not have any sense of goal in life. They do not live for anything; they just exist. The psychologist X claims that… (quotation follows). From the statistical data it can be concluded that most of the alcohol-abusing people at age from 30 to 45 lack any awareness of the causes of their addiction.

Besides the observation of these persons’ behavior, there is another argument which can prove our thesis. This is the fact that the therapy of alcohol abuse often includes raising awareness of one’s priority and goals in life. The sociologist Z points out that Frankl’s logotherapy is applied successfully in such cases.

There can be a counter-argument: that there are various social factors for abusing alcohol, amongst them belonging to a given group, the need of social recognition (amongst college students, for instance), family tradition (alcohol abuse passed from generation to generation), and others. According to Prof. W… (quotation follows). This cannot be denied but they are too overstressed by the researchers. The so-called existential vacuum is usually overlooked.

Conclusion: From all said up to here it follows that effective therapy should be done through paying heed to one’s goals in life and focusing their attention on these goals. This will certainly help.

References:

Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy. Boston: Beacon Press.  (APA style)

The persuasive sample essay above is rather neutral than of subjective nature. Of course you can criticize the counter-thesis more harshly and try to seem more convincing. Your goal is not merely to convince the reader but also to bring realistic and true arguments in favor of your standpoint.

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