A persuasive essay explains a specific topic and attempts to persuade the audience that your point of view is the most informed, logical and valid perspective on the topic. This genre is also known as the argumentative essay.
While an expository essay written for an exam or a standardized test may have a persuasive element, most persuasive or argumentative essays are written out of class and require extensive research. The research may include several kinds of sources:
- Articles from high-quality non-scholarly magazines or journals (for example, The Atlantic, Harpers, Scientific American, etc.)
- Scholarly or non-scholarly books
- Scholarly or technical journal articles
- Government agency websites
- Statistical analysis
- Interviews with experts
Persuasive essays use such research both to educate the audience about the topic and to supply evidence supporting the writer’s opinions.
The main goal of an argumentative paper is to persuade your audience that your view is among the most compelling opinions on the topic. You should attempt to persuade even those who start out strongly disagreeing with you. To do that, you need to show that you’re very well-informed about your topic.
What Are the Elements of a Persuasive Essay?
A persuasive essay does have certain baseline requirements that are standard in nearly every essay type:
- A clear thesis or controlling idea that establishes and sustains your focus.
- An opening paragraph that introduces the thesis.
- Body paragraphs that use specific research evidence to illustrate your informative or argumentative points.
- Smooth transitions that connect the ideas of adjoining paragraphs in specific, interesting ways.
- Use of counterarguments to summarize and refute opposing positions.
- A conclusion that emphasizes your central idea without being repetitive.
How Do You Write a Persuasive Essay?
One common formula for the persuasive paper is the 5-Paragraph Essay. If you don’t have much experience with essay writing, this is a good method to start with, since it’s basic and straightforward. The 5-Paragraph Essay incorporates the elements listed above in the following basic structure:
- Introductory paragraph with a clear, concise thesis.
- Three body paragraphs that offer evidence and analysis connecting that evidence to the thesis.
- A concluding paragraph that sums up the paper by reevaluating the thesis in light of the evidence discussed in the essay’s body.
While the 5-paragraph structure gives you a helpful formula to work with, it’s only one among many valid options, and its suitability will depend on other factors like the length and complexity of your essay. If you’re writing a paper that’s more than 3 or 4 pages long, it should be more than 5 paragraphs. In most cases, the structure of a longer essay will be similar to that of the 5-paragraph essay, with an introduction, a conclusion and body paragraphs performing the same basic functions—only the number of body paragraphs will increase. The length of the paragraphs may also increase slightly in proportion to the length of the essay.
Composing a Persuasive Essay: A Process Guide
- Begin by reading the assignment carefully to make sure you understand it. Then find a topic that fits the assignment. It’s important that you narrow your topic so that it’s directly relevant to the assignment. But make sure your topic is not so narrow that it lacks significance. It’s best if you find a topic that you’re really interested in—this will make the work more enjoyable for you and will probably lead to higher quality research and writing.
- Before starting your research, make a list of facts—everything you already know about your topic. This list may be long or short depending on your level of knowledge.
- Make another list, this time of your ideas and opinions on the topic. Begin with the strongest opinions and list them in descending order according to your level of conviction.
- Ask yourself why you hold these opinions. It’s important to clarify your own views on the topic so you don’t get too overwhelmed by expert opinions when you begin your research. But you should also be open to changing these opinions if facts and logic warrant such change.
- Try to come up with an original, debatable perspective on your topic and write a tentative thesis statement that reflects your view concisely. Being original in this case doesn’t mean you have to come up with some earth-shattering revelation about human nature—it just means you should stay away from general, bland, or obvious ideas that most people would readily agree with.
- Familiarize yourself with the resources of your school’s library—the physical books and periodicals and the online databases. Describe your project ideas to a librarian and ask for recommendations on where to look for the resources you need.
- The main purpose of your research is to for you to become very well-informed about your topic. Immerse yourself in all the relevant factual data AND acquaint yourself with the most prominent, compelling opinions on the central issues.
- Look for sources that include unusual aspects of your topic, or unconventional perspectives on it—these may provide interesting, surprising angles from which to approach your argument.
- Read your sources critically and ask yourself what informs the various perspectives on your topic. Which sources seem best informed? Which use the most compelling logic? Which are guided more by ideology or assumptions than by credible evidence?
- Take notes on your sources as you read them. Summarize the parts of each source that are relevant to your thesis. In addition to the summary, write down your thoughts on the facts and opinions laid out in these sources. Critique the sources you disagree with. This note-taking will help you to process the research material and develop your perspective on the topic.
Composing and Revising
- Once you’ve compiled some research, revisit your tentative thesis statement and revise it according to what you’ve learned—see if you can make it more specific or original. Think of the thesis as your opening statement in a debate with people whose views oppose yours.
- Sift your research notes and sources for examples you can use to discuss conflicting opinions on your topic and to illustrate your own views. Each example should have some clear connection to your central idea.
- Your essay should devote one body paragraph to each of your major ideas and examples. So begin an outline by writing a topic sentence about each major example for each of your body paragraphs. Since the topic sentence will be part of each paragraph transition, it should make a clear, logical connection between your thesis and the evidence that paragraph will discuss.
- Complete your outline by thinking of an interesting, meaningful way to end the essay. Remember that the conclusion should sum up your central points without merely repeating what you’ve said earlier. You might suggest the larger implications of what the essay has discussed and analyzed. One way to do this is to offer a concise review of what you’ve covered combined with a reasonable forecast or recommendations for the future.
- You might want to experiment with writing the body paragraphs before you write your introduction. The details of analysis in the body of the paper often help you to determine more precisely how to word your thesis and the sentences that surround it.
- Your essay should perform several of the following tasks that overlap and merge smoothly with each other:
- Define your key terms or ideas.
- Describe and analyze specific examples of your topic.
- Summarize and evaluate contrasting opinions on your topic.
- Compare and contrast your examples and their relation to your thesis.
- Connect your examples explicitly to your central idea and to each other.
- Use plenty of quotations and paraphrase of your sources to support your analysis and argument. Integrate the quotes into your own sentences so the discussion reads more smoothly.
- Make sure you cite ALL information that comes from your sources, whether quotations or paraphrase. Use the citation format required by the class or the assignment—MLA, APA, etc. The Writers’ Toolkit citation tools will make the process easy for you by automating the format.
- Polish your essay through revision to make it artful, original, and interesting. Avoid clichéd language or the most obvious examples. You want your reader to learn something new and compelling, whether it’s an unusual fact or a novel perspective on your topic.
Argumentative Essay and Persuasive Essay Writing: Building a Logical Argument
The argumentative essay, also called the persuasive essay, is an essay in which you try to convince readers to accept the argument you make. Through writing facts that back up your opinion or stance, you attempt to get readers to agree with your thinking. It often involves answering a question by taking one position over another.
Writing an argumentative or persuasive essay is about selecting a topic that has two clear sides or positions. You approach the topic by investigating it and collecting, generating and evaluating supporting evidence. The actual essay lays out your position concisely.
The building blocks of a well-written argumentative essay include the following:
- Well-established facts supported through research when necessary
- Values that are both relevant and clarified to give your readers perspective
- An argument that is sequenced by the priority of facts and the level of importance
- Conclusions formed throughout the paper and stated at the end
- Persuasion that establishes facts your readers agree with and values they share
- Confidence to communicate effectively with persuasion
- Inclusion of hot-button issues that evoke an emotional response
The structure of an argumentative or persuasive essay includes the following sections:
- An introduction with a clear thesis statement
- At least two body paragraphs with supporting evidence (the five-paragraph essay format is often used)
- A conclusion the ties the evidence in with the thesis statement and concludes the argument
Argumentative essay structure
The structure of an argumentative essay is important because it lays out the specifics and evidence of your argument and allows you to conclude it effectively. Before writing, make sure you have a narrow and clearly defined thesis, a working outline and the facts to back up your argument.
The introduction of the argumentative essay should do several things:
- Provide background information and introduce your topic
- Explain your point of view to readers by highlighting the importance of the topic or the reason readers should care
- Include a well-defined, concise and clear thesis that highlights at least two main points, with three preferable
- Stay engaging to make readers want to continue reading your essay
- Contain a transition into the body paragraphs
- Create an attention-grabbing lead into the argument
The body paragraphs contain the supporting evidence that backs up your position. The opposing positions should also be clearly stated and defined. Keep the following guidelines in mind when writing your body paragraphs:
- Stick to one main point per paragraph.
- Make sure to establish a logical connection to the thesis statement in each paragraph.
- Explain the connections to the thesis with respect to how and why.
- Devote at least one paragraph to the opposing viewpoint.
- Use evidence to support your points.
- Keep in mind that sources provide authority to your position, and cite any sources used.
- Avoid summarizing information because body paragraphs develop the ideas, not conclude them.
The evidence that supports your thesis statement might include facts, personal anecdotes, statistics or logic.
The conclusion re-introduces the thesis, but it is more than a simple rewording. Instead, it involves synthesizing the evidence from the body paragraphs with the thesis statement. Never add new information in your conclusion. Review the essay as a whole while clearly concluding the argument persuasively. This is your last chance to convince someone of your position, so make it count by using sound logic.
Including the opposing view in the argumentative or persuasive essay
Including the opposing view(s) in the body paragraphs of an argumentative essay is necessary. You want readers to draw the same conclusions you do, but you cannot in good conscience expect someone to take a position without at least some understanding of the opposing viewpoint. When including this information, shy away from simply stating that the position is wrong. Instead, explain why the position does not align with your thesis. Maybe the basis of the viewpoint is outdated. Maybe it is a viewpoint that is based on misinformation.
Whatever it is, present the opposing viewpoint fairly, objectively and accurately. Let readers draw their own conclusions; if you write a strong and convincing argument that is well-written and easy to follow logically, you can persuade your readers with open minds to see your viewpoint.
After writing your first draft, always go through the revision process, including proofreading and editing. The basic premise of writing an effective argumentative essay is in writing a persuasive and logical argument, so make a complete argument. With one, your essay’s intent or argument stays clear to readers. As a final note, follow any specific instructions you receive with the assignment, including writing under official style guides.