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They could do it because they believed they could.
Vergil, 70 - 19 BCE
Roman poet

Writing assignment series

Persuasive or argumentative essays

In persuasive or argumentative writing, we try to convince others
to agree with our facts, share our values,
accept our argument and conclusions,

and adopt our way of thinking.

Elements toward building a good persuasive essay include

  • establishing facts
    to support an argument
  • clarifying relevant values
    for your audience (perspective)
  • prioritizing, editing, and/or sequencing
    the facts and values in importance to build the argument
  • forming and stating conclusions
  • "persuading" your audience that your conclusions
    are based upon the agreed-upon facts and shared values
  • having the confidence
    to communicate your "persuasion" in writing

Here are some strategies to complete a persuasive writing assignment:

Write out the questions in your own words.

Think of the questions posed in the assignment
while you are reading and researching. Determine

  • facts
  • any sources that will help you determine their reliability
    (as well as for further reference)
  • what prejudices lie in the argument
    or values that color the facts or the issue
  • what you think of the author's argument

List out facts; consider their importance:
prioritize, edit, sequence, discard, etc.
Ask yourself "What's missing?"

What are the "hot buttons" of the issue?
List possible emotions/emotional reactions and recognize them for later use

Start writing a draft! (refer to: Writing essays, the basics)
Start as close as possible to your reading/research
Do not concern yourself with grammar or spelling

  • Write your first paragraph
    • Introduce the topic
    • Inform the reader of your point of view!
    • Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper!
    • Focus on three main points to develop
  • Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph
    • Keep your voice active
    • Quote sources
      to establish authority
    • Stay focused
      on your point of view throughout the essay
    • Focus on logical arguments
    • Don't lapse into summary
      in the development--wait for the conclusion
  • Conclusion
    Summarize, then conclude, your argument
    Refer to the first paragraph/opening statement as well as the main points
    • does the conclusion restate the main ideas?
    • reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
    • logically conclude their development?
  • Edit/rewrite the first paragraph
    to better telegraph your development and conclusion.
  • Take a day or two off!
  • Re-read your paper
    with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil
    • Ask yourself:
      Does this make sense? Am I convinced?
      Will this convince a reader?
      Will they understand my values, and agree with my facts?
    • Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary
    • Check spelling and grammar!
    • Have a friend read it and respond to your argument.
      Were they convinced?
    • Revise if necessary
    • Turn in the paper
    • Celebrate a job well done,
      with the confidence that you have done your best.

How to respond to criticism:
Consider criticism as a test of developing your powers of persuasion.
Try not to take it personally.

If your facts are criticized,
double check them, and then cite your sources.

If your values are criticized,
sometimes we need agree "to disagree". Remember: your success in persuading others assumes that the other person is open to being persuaded!

Fear: If you are not used to communicating,
especially in writing, you may need to overcome fear on several levels. Writing, unlike unrecorded speech, is a permanent record for all to see, and the "context" is not as important as in speech where context "colors" the words. For example: your readers do not see you, only your words. They do not know what you look like, where you live, who you are.

Hopefully in school, and class, we have a safe place
to practice both the art of writing and of persuasion. Then later, when we are in our communities, whether work, church, neighborhoods, and even families, we can benefit from this practice.

Persuasion also has another dimension:
it is built with facts, which illustrate conclusions. Of course, this means you need to know what you are talking about, and cannot be lazy with your facts, or you will not succeed in convincing anyone. This shows another level of fear: Fear of making a mistake that will make your argument or persuasion meaningless. Since you are writing, and the words are on paper for all to see (or on a web site!), you need to work to make sure your facts are in order.


Writing assignments

Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals | Elements of a Research Paper
Seven stages of writing assignments | "Lessons learned" | Deadlines

Thanks to the inspiration of S Ryder, and her sixth grade class in Pennsylvania, for revision of this Guide