What Is a Persuasive Essay?
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.