Did Shakespeare write all his own works? Is climate change real? Do dogs make better pets than cats? All these topics and more could be subjects for a persuasive essay. While other essays are meant to entertain, such as the narrative essay, or inform such as the informative essay, the goal of a persuasive essay is to champion a single belief.
Meghan Daurm said it best: “The point of essays is the point of writing anything. It’s not to tell people what they already think or to give them more of what they already believe; it’s to challenge people, and it’s to suggest alternate ways of thinking about things.”
What is a Persuasive Essay?
A persuasive essay provides the audience with all sides surrounding a particular issue and then highlights the strength of certain aspects and the weakness in others. It is an academic essay, and should, therefore, be devoid of any emotional context. A successful persuasive essay communicates its position in the thesis, which is then supported in the body paragraphs. The conclusion paragraph works to highlight the major points and truly persuade the reader regarding the position put forth in the paper.
Writing the Persuasive Essay – Steps to Take
While it may be tempting to think a persuasive essay provides a single side of a controversial issue and supports only it, that isn’t true at all. We have designed a guide to counter all the controversy and the archaic approaches that don’t work.
This guide will provide all the basic information students need to create an outstanding persuasive essay. We’ll review the outline, research, drafting, and revising process. As with most academic essays, the persuasive essay should have an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Your research should appear mainly in the body paragraphs as the introduction’s purpose is to provide background while the conclusion should review the essay’s strongest points.
Conduct research and pre-write
A great essay requires some work before beginning to write. It’s always helpful to sit down and do some prewriting. Consider answering the following questions before you conduct any research:
- What audience am I writing for?
- What information will be useful to my audience?
- What background information would be relevant to this topic?
- What are the different sides to this issue?
- What side will I be persuading the audience is correct?
- What type of primary resources would be best for this topic?
Once you’ve answered these prewriting questions, it’s time to choose your approach. Select an approach that you feel comfortable arguing in the persuasive essay, and work to find sources that support this particular viewpoint. It’s imperative that you understand the audience the essay targets. Finally, begin to research. Go into the research process armed with the following tools:
- At least 10-20 different search terms relevant to the topic
- A list of best sources: books? Journal articles? Magazine articles? Newspaper articles?
- Required citation method (MLA, APA, Chicago…)
- A notetaking method that works best for you (notecards, sentence outlines…)
As you’re conducting research, save yourself some time and organize the ideas as you find them. Evaluate the research’s purpose and place it into an outline where the research directly supports the paragraph’s main idea. For example, if it’s background information, it would go into the introduction paragraph.
Create an outline
Outlines are a great way to see what research you’ve found, and what you still need to find to create a strong, balanced argument regarding the topic of the persuasive essay. By creating an outline, you’ll be able to see if you’ve found research that supports the idea within the topic sentence for every body paragraph or for only two out of the three. The outline also helps you create an argument that flows. Remember: body paragraphs should always be organized weakest to strongest—that way the audience is left with the best paragraph.
Here is a persuasive essay outline example:
- Thesis: Democracy is the best form of government as it allows the most voices to be heard.
- Body Paragraph 1: Identify and discuss a theocracy
- Example 1: Vatican City
- Example 2: Saudi Arabia
- Body Paragraph 2: Dictatorship
- Example 1: North Korea
- Example 2: Zimbabwe
- Body Paragraph 3: Monarchy
- Example 1: Britain
- Example 2: Spain
- Body Paragraph 4: Democracy
- Example 1: United States of America
- Example 2: Iceland
- Conclusion: Based on provided examples, comparing the examples between each other to show that democracy drives the most progressive and wealthy countries.
For this example outline, the student needs to find research for each country and its form of government. Once the research has been gathered, it’s time to begin drafting the paragraphs.
Check our Persuasive Essay Outline writing guide:
Compose the introduction
Each introduction should begin with a hook. This sentence draws the reader into the topic by “hooking” his or her interest. A hook is typically one of four types of sentences:
- A fact or statistic
- A quotation
- A rhetorical question
- An anecdote
In a persuasive essay, the introduction paragraph tends to be longer than other academic essays. This is because all sides of the controversial must be introduced and defined. Remember: not every issue will have two sides; many issues are very complex and may have three or four or more sides that need to be acknowledged, defined, and discussed before moving into the body paragraphs.
Not sure how a subject could have more than merely two sides? Let’s take a look at a common persuasive essay assigned in social studies or history class: what kind of government is the best kind? In order to answer this question, the student would have to acknowledge and consider the most common forms of government including a democracy, theocracy, dictatorship, and monarchy. A well-written persuasive essay would introduce all the forms and define them in the introduction before delving into the strengths and weaknesses within the body paragraphs.
Finally, the introduction should end with the thesis statement. This statement should be argumentative in nature and clearly state which side the writer intends to prove as the stronger side. As the last sentence in the introduction paragraph, it acts as a natural transition to the first body paragraph.
Tips for a great introduction
- Introduce all sides of the issue
- Provide key background information relevant to the subject
- Clearly state which side is stronger, and why
Formulate body paragraphs
Like most other academic essays, the body paragraphs should follow the typical format of including five kinds of sentences:
- Topic sentence
- Background sentence
- Quotations of support from primary sources
- Analysis of support
- Conclusion/transition sentence
While there are five kinds of sentences, there will likely be more than five sentences in the paragraph. There may be several background sentences, and in your research, you may find quotations from several different sources to include in one paragraph…that’s great! The most important part of the paragraph is the analysis section; this is where you make your case for supporting or weakening an argument.
A key aspect of persuasive essays is the counter argument. This form of argument allows the writer to acknowledge any opposition to their stance and then pick it apart. For example, if the writer is arguing that democracy is the best form of government, he or she needs to take the time to acknowledge counter arguments FOR other forms of governments and then disprove them. Including counter arguments as paragraphs themselves ultimately strengthens one’s own argument.
Hints for Great Body Paragraphs
- Create clear, concise topic sentences
- Provide correctly quoted support from primary sources
- Thoroughly analyze the support to strengthen your position
- Use strong persuasive language such as
- In reality
- The majority
- The experts agree
- Polls show
- Research proves
Sum up the conclusion
This paragraph signals the end of the persuasive essay. Want to know how to write a stellar conclusion? First, don’t introduce any new information. The cardinal rule of conclusion paragraphs is this: only discuss what’s already in the paper. Begin by restating the thesis; this reminds the audience about the essay’s goals and purpose. Next, review the main points covered in the body paragraphs.
Finally, here’s where the persuasive essay is a bit different than other academic essays: the call to action. In a persuasive essay, the conclusion should offer a call to action; if the reader agrees with the writer’s thesis than he or she should be willing to take some form of action. Set forth a call to action before ending the essay. A call to action could be something as little as recycling or something larger such as calling a government representative and discussing a particular issue.
3 Hints for a Great Conclusion
- Restate the thesis to link back to the introduction and remind the reader of your argument
- Review the paper’s stronger points to persuade the audience of a particular side
- End with a strong call to action
Revise your persuasive essay
Done the first draft? Then it’s time to revise to make the essay stronger both content-wise and grammatically. Check out these great questions to help you revise:
- Does the essay begin with a hook that captures the reader’s interest?
- Does the introduction introduce all sides of the issue and provide background information?
- Does the introduction end with a clearly worded thesis statement?
- Does the essay clearly convey a specific position regarding the topic?
- Are the counter arguments stated and refuted?
- Do the body paragraph offer relevant and reliable research to substantiate claims?
- Does the conclusion review the main points made within the paper?
- Are all sentences complete and grammatically correct?
Once you are through with the seven steps of writing the persuasive essay, you can happily enjoy what you accomplished. Feel free to submit the final piece to your professor/instructor.
Remember: writing is more of a triathlon than a walk in the park. Just like a triathlon involves three key components, so too does writing: brainstorming, drafting, and revising. Begin the persuasive essay early and work through the various stages of writing to ensure that the final product is polished and grammatically flawless. If your school offers a Writing Center, use these resources.
It’s hard to catch one’s own mistakes, so ask a classmate or friend to review your paper. And don’t forget about your as well as a professional writing/editing service! Skip the stress of beginning the assignment the night before it’s due and instead plan out your writing process and begin as soon as you receive the assignment. While content and grammar are the major players “gradewise”, don’t discount formatting. How you format your final paper is the first impression your professor will have of your work. Therefore, take the time to check the margins, font, headings, spacing, title page, and Works Cited page to ensure that they meet the professor’s expectations.