Whether you’re in high school, college, or grad school — and studying online or on campus — at some point you’ll need to write a persuasive essay. Also called a position paper, a persuasive essay is a short-length composition in which you compel the audience to share your viewpoint by presenting convincing evidence and a clear explanation supporting your position.
This assignment presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is obvious: write something that will make your teacher happy and perhaps even persuade a few readers in the process. The opportunity, however, is more subtle. World-renowned economist and professor Mark Skousen once observed, “The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilized society.” When you invest your energy into the timeless art of persuasion, you too could contribute to the maintenance of our civilization.
But of course, you’re also in it for the good grade. We can help. Check out our seven quick tips on writing an amazing persuasive essay.
1 State Your Position
Articulate your position clearly so the audience knows what you’re trying to achieve and how they should interpret your essay. Avoid dull or ambiguous positions. Scholarly debate is a thick jungle of arguments and opinions. You navigate this terrain solely by cutting through confusion with clear terminology, careful distinctions, and deliberate claims. Make sure your audience knows exactly what your position is, how it is supported by your data or evidence, and why it matters.
2 Get Organized
Organization is the key to remaining focused on the crux of your argument throughout your composition. Your thesis statement should both state your argument and preview the points you will make to support this argument. Use this thesis to lay out your supporting points in advance, structuring subsequent paragraphs to address these points, and laying out evidence to correspond to each of these supporting points. Make an outline before you begin writing, one that includes an introduction and thesis statement, three to five supporting sections that incorporate evidence gathered in your research, and a conclusion that both ties this evidence together and restates your argument in a new and insightful way.
3 Persuade with Passion
The best starting point for a good argument is to write about something that has personal meaning. It’s far easier to argue convincingly when the topic matters to you. Bring passion to your position paper. If you have the freedom to pick your topic, look for exciting subject matter. The right topic can motivate you to dig deeper in your research, write with greater personal investment, and convey your feelings to the audience in a way that is active and energetic. In fact, passion can be contagious. If you channel your feelings into a strong, rational argument contained in a clear and interesting paper, your readers will catch that passion. This makes your audience more receptive to your primary argument.
4 Know Your Audience
While it’s always important to know your audience when you write, it’ especially the case when writing a persuasive paper. Here, you aren’t merely reporting facts to the world or proving to your teacher that you read a book; you’re persuading your reader. Different audiences require different approaches, so it helps to know your target reader. Whether you’re persuading a teacher, a class, or a panel of judges, adjust your tone accordingly.
5 Do Your Research
Persuading people at an emotional level is not enough if the information you provide is inaccurate or unfounded. This is where research comes in. Familiarize yourself with all the major views on your subject. Be sure you understand the best evidence for and against your position. And consult only credible, legitimate sources, including peer-reviewed scholarly journals, primary source documents, or articles from valid news outlets. You’ll write a meatier essay when you understand different positions, including their respective strengths and weaknesses. Getting to know your subject well helps you prune distracting tangents, intensify your argument, and formulate a rational defense against those who disagree with you. In short, you need to know what you’re talking about before you start talking about it.
6 Support Your Argument
Opinions are like brains; everyone has one. No one will be impressed that you have one too. Your audience might, however, be keen to hear why your brain’s opinion is actually well-researched, supported by evidence, and illuminated by relevant data. Use meaningful evidence to demonstrate that a reasonable reader would likely agree with your position. Provide balanced consideration and refutation of opposing views. All of this requires both a concise presentation and a clear explanation of the crucial data points. A mere opinion evolves into a scholarly position when presented with compelling evidence.
Before diving into your argument, check out 15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know Before Getting into a Debate.
7 Write with Integrity
Persuasive essays carry an ethical component. Ideas have consequences. Be aware of the consequences should you select a controversial issue in public policy, religion, or society. Honesty, fair-mindedness, and a responsibly constructed argument will help your case. If you maintain integrity within your persuasive essay, you avoid descending into fallacy, deceit, or ideological grandstanding. Integrity is a key distinction between persuasive papers and propaganda. Make a responsible effort not to mischaracterize opposing views or to allow your personal bias to take the place of sound evidence.
A well-crafted persuasive essay can be a thing of beauty. All the best in writing yours.