Tips for Writing a Persuasive Essay

by Meg Embry
• 4 min read
TheBestSchools.org

So you've been assigned a persuasive essay: lucky you! This is your best shot at learning to influence people in every arena of your life.

Everyone wants to have influence of some kind: in their relationships, their career, their community, or their online spaces.

Persuasion is at the heart of influence. Good persuaders know how to convince an audience and even move people to action.

Persuasion is a skill you learn by doing, and one of the best ways to learn is by writing a persuasive essay.

What Is a Persuasive Essay?

A persuasive essay — also called a position paper or argument essay — is a piece of academic writing in which you employ logic and evidence to convince a reader to accept your point of view.

Whether you go to college in person or online, at some point you're going to have to write a persuasive essay.

Here are five simple steps to get you started.

5 Simple Steps for Writing a Persusive Essay

1. Know Your Audience

All writing is written to someone. With that in mind, you need to begin by understanding your audience.

  • Who are you trying to persuade?
  • What do they care about?
  • What views and opinions do they already hold?
  • Are they already open to your point of view, or are they skeptical?
  • What arguments will they find most compelling?

What works with one audience may not work with another.

Are you writing for middle-aged conservatives or for a cross-section of leftist Gen-Z undergrads? Write directly to that audience.

Pro Tip:

It is always a mistake to assume your audience will understand what you meant to say. In fact, it can be helpful to imagine that your readers are both lazy and uncharitable (really!).

  • Lazy: They will not make special efforts to understand unclear writing
  • Uncharitable: They will assume your claims are false

It is your job to overcome these deficiencies in your reader by:

  • Writing clearly, and
  • Providing sufficient evidence for your claims

2. State Your Position

This might seem obvious, but every persuasive argument should establish a clear claim. What exactly are you arguing for? If the audience has to guess, you've already lost their attention.

You can avoid that problem by developing a strong thesis statement right out the gate. Reference it frequently to keep your reader focused on the matter at hand as you build each part of your argument.

How Do I Write a Strong Thesis Statement?

The trick to composing a solid thesis statement that can motivate an entire essay is to do your research first. That way, you won't commit to a position you can't make a compelling case for.

A thesis statement should be:

  • Easy to understand
  • Debatable
  • Well-researched
  • Focused in scope

If your thesis statement is too broad — "I argue that we should do something to combat climate change" — the argument will be both harder to establish and less interesting.

But if your thesis statement has a tight focus — "I argue that local governments can combat climate change by funding urban gardening projects" — you will be able to present specific, convincing evidence. Your argument will be much more compelling and actionable.

It's better to treat a narrow topic thoroughly than to treat a broad topic poorly.

3. Draw a Roadmap

Once you've stated your claim, create a roadmap for your audience. Let the readers know exactly what to expect by explaining what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.

Use keywords to guide the reader, like "first" and "second." Don't do anything in the paper that you haven't outlined in your roadmap. Tangents will only confuse your audience. Aim for a coherent, logical flow that is easy for the reader to track.

Creating a good roadmap can be a lot harder than it sounds. To make it easier, draft an outline of your entire paper before writing it.

A Simple Persuasive Essay Outline:

  • Thesis statement/opening paragraph
  • Roadmap
  • Point # 1
    • Evidence
    • Evidence
    • Address objections
  • Point # 2
    • Evidence
    • Evidence
    • Address objections
  • Point # 3
    • Evidence
    • Evidence
    • Address objections
  • Conclusion

4. Support Your Argument

An argument is not an opinion.

However, arguments stem from opinions. That's why we construct arguments in the first place: We have opinions, and we want other people to agree with them.

It's not enough to state your opinion with rhetorical flair. This isn't Twitter. You've got to back yourself up with good evidence and research.

Here are three things that will help you do that.

  • Data

    Statistics can be very convincing. It's hard to object to cold, hard numbers. Of course, stats can also be manipulated or misinterpreted, so be sure to provide the full context for any data you use and credit your sources.

  • Examples

    Good examples, including testimony and anecdotes, can strengthen your point. Examples are vivid and exciting in a way that numbers aren't, which can help your reader see things from a new perspective. Make sure your examples are specific and applicable.

  • Experts

    Referencing an expert's knowledge, experience, or researched conclusions is a persuasive way to provide evidence for your argument. Make sure to choose a relevant expert with good credentials. Otherwise, you'll weaken your position.

Pro Tip:

One way to absolutely sink your essay is to engage in any kind of logical fallacy to support your claims. Make sure you know what logical fallacies are and how to avoid them.


5. Anticipate Objections

One of the most persuasive things you can do is raise objections to your own points.

That may seem counterintuitive — why would I highlight viewpoints that oppose the one I'm arguing for? — but this is where knowing your audience really matters.

Your points might be brilliant and dazzling, but if your argument comes off as one-sided, your efforts at persuasion are going to fail.

On the flip side, if you can anticipate the objections your audience is most likely to raise and raise them yourself, you can then swiftly refute those objections with sound logic and good evidence.

"If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words."

–Marcus Tullius Cicero

In debate, this tactic is called a "prebuttal," and it makes your position look much stronger.

As an added benefit, the reader comes away with the sense that you have been very transparent, understood their perspective, and addressed their hesitations directly.

The result? Your audience is persuaded to agree with you.

TL,DR:

If you want to ace that persuasive essay, dominate that debate, or learn how to effectively influence others, follow these five steps:

  1. Know your audience
  2. State your position clearly
  3. Draw a roadmap
  4. Support your arguments with evidence, including data, examples, and experts
  5. Anticipate and respond to objections

Also, check out your school's writing center! The folks who work there can help you master these techniques for free.

Meg Embry is a Colorado-based writer for TheBestSchools.org covering higher education. She is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Header Image Credit: Ezra Bailey, Elke Schroeder / EyeEm | Getty Images

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