Writing on a persuasive essay topic? Persuade your reader!

If you have a persuasive essay topic you’ll be trying to persuade your reader to “see things your way”! To do this you’ll need to be confident that you thoroughly understand your persuasive essay topic and the arguments surrounding it. Ultimately you will need to persuade the reader that the conclusions of your persuasive essay are based upon the facts and represent the most reasonable explanation of them. Writing a good persuasive essay therefore involves first reviewing those facts, along with the contrasting arguments given to explain them (i.e. research the persuasive essay topic).

As with any other essay you must consider the essay question or title. Make sure you completely understand your persuasive essay topic. In particular you need to articulate the dilemma posed by your persuasive essay topic. You might phrase it as a statement or question, but should summarize it clearly and succinctly. Do it for yourself before writing the essay, and then use it in your essay introduction. Get straight to the point. Avoid flowery language and meaningless prose. Avoid using clichés and proverbs, or other worn-out literary phrases in an attempt to grab the readers attention: be original!

While researching your persuasive essay topic you’ll need to balance and prioritize contrasting values. It’s not just a matter of collecting all the relevant facts, but of analyzing contrasting, and perhaps conflicting, information, evidence and opinions. This isn’t easy, but it is a skill worth developing. You’ll have to make judgments and choices about what you think is and isn’t right. Then you must write an essay that persuades the reader that your judgments are valid and your choices appropriate.

The research for your persuasive essay topic needs to be thorough. The following general advice is given to help you to tackle the dilemmas you may face when researching your persuasive essay topic:

1. Collect information relevant to your persuasive essay topic. It is very important to have accurate and comprehensive information before starting to write your essay: you can’t write a persuasive essay unless you can convey that you’re an authority on your essay topic. Although this seems straightforward you should remember that even “facts” can be contentious. You therefore have to be aware of who is presenting the “facts” you have. Are their particular personal, religious, economic, political or cultural beliefs influencing their presentation (perhaps sub-consciously)? Have they done original research or a review of primary literature? (Try to find primary information sources. See the section on essay writing to find out more about primary and secondary information sources.)

2. Identify the various possible solutions. Think about each solution before deciding on your own line. It will be important to show that you know what the alternative views are and that you have reasons for them being less desirable than your own chosen viewpoint.

Consider what the possible outcomes of particular solutions are? Who wants what and why (what are the vested interests)? The interested parties will usually be obvious, but may not be only those who are most vociferous. They may include governments as well as companies and various pressure groups or public bodies of some kind. Governments won’t have action independence, being pressured by voters, industry and those who donate to their party funds, as well as political ideology. Determining the exact nature of vested interests may not be straightforward. Philanthropic actions by companies, for example, may be driven by various forces, including genuine concern on the part of directors, incentives such as tax-breaks and government assistance with funding or favourable regulation, the development of long-term markets, or concerns with public image. Bear in mind that a “potential” good or bad may only be realized given certain political and economic conditions.

Be suspicious of those who know what they want, or think, without knowing why. Contrary to popular belief it is not necessarily true that one argument is as good as another! The worth of an opinion will depend on whether it is based on reasoned argument supported by objective information (as yours must be!).

3. When you’ve weighed up the evidence you’ll need to be able to articulate your own opinion and say why the other positions are less satisfactory. Choose examples that back up your reasoning and identify the potential benefits associated with your choice of solution. Ask yourself if you are you entirely satisfied with your choice. Do you think you might modify your opinion if other evidence was available that isn’t now? If so then you’ll need to be able to convey this to your reader.

In your essay introduction you need to accurately state the dilemma posed by your persuasive essay topic. Say what questions will be addressed. Say what you will show during the course of your essay, and say it with conviction!

In the main part of your essay you’ll expand on your persuasive essay topic and provide the details that move it forward. Explore each of the main possible arguments in the light of the evidence that you’ve uncovered during your research. Don’t just list the arguments, saying “so and so thinks this, someone else thinks that”. You need to say why they think what they do and why you agree or disagree with them. Discuss the evidence that supports or contradicts their (and your) points of view. Don’t ramble on, keep to point and be succinct. You need to give the reader the feeling that you know what’s what without conveying arrogance (sure but reasonable!).

Your conclusion should re-affirm your view-point and the essence of the main reasons for it. Don’t be too general or vague or you won’t be convincing. Don’t reargue your case or give new examples. If you still feel you need to do this then the main body of your essay needs revising.

Once you have a first draft of your essay be sure to revise and edit it – several times if necessary. Leave plenty of time to proofread. If you can, put your essay away for a few days, and come back to it after a break. You will be more likely to spot errors and to see where you can make improvements. Make sure your writing is clear and precise. It should be vivid without being too flowery: use simpler words in place of longer or obscure words, don’t use ten words when one will do! Make sure that each word means what you think it means. Whenever possible use active rather than passive verbs. It is essential that everything in your essay should be to the point: delete any parts that don't contribute to your theme. Check your grammar and spelling carefully and, even though this is a persuasive essay, you must avoid using slang or colloquial language.

When you’re happy with your essay try and get feedback from others. Can they identify your overall theme? Can they understand your reasoning without having to ask for further details or other clarification? Do they find your arguments convincing? Are they persuaded to your viewpoint? If the answer to either of the first two question is no then you’ll need to improve the clarity of your explanations. If your essay isn’t persuasive then you need to think about how you are presenting your case. Have you chosen the most appropriate examples and evidence, and have you presented it clearly? Have you left any holes in your arguments? Have you shown why the other arguments should be rejected? Revise your essay in the light of your readers responses, and then ask someone to comment on the revised version.