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How to write a Persuasive Essay

With Naplan coming up, we would like to share more about Persuasive writing. For past few years of year 3 Naplan writing, the theme has always been to write a persuasive text.

So what is Persuasive essay writing?

A persuasive essay is an essay used to convince a reader about a particular idea or focus, usually one that you believe in. Your persuasive essay could be based on anything about which you have an opinion. Whether you're arguing against junk food at school or petitioning for a raise from your boss, the persuasive essay is a skill that everyone should know.

1. Choose a strong, defendable stance for your thesis statement. The thesis statement is your argument boiled down to one sentence. For a persuasive essay, this statement needs to take a strong, active stance on the issue. Don't try and play both sides and be wishy-washy -- it won't persuade anyone.
  • Good: "Affirmative action relegates minorities to "helpless" status, keeps the best minds from the best positions, and should be eliminated."
  • Bad: "Affirmative action does help many minorities, but it hurts some other groups as well."
  • Note that you can persuade people to be open-minded. Saying "affirmative action is a nuanced issue in need or serious overhaul, not to be destroyed or continued completely," still shows you taking a strong, defendable stance.
2. Use clear, directed topics sentences to begin each paragraph. Consider the beginning of each paragraph as a mini-thesis statement. This allows your argument to flow cohesively. You build the argument brick by brick for the reader so there is no confusion.
  • Good: "The destruction of the world's rainforests also destroys the incredible potential to find medical and scientific breakthroughs in the diverse, mysterious ecosystem."
  • Good: "The rainforest is home to a wide variety of plants and animals that may have medical and scientific benefits -- benefits we lose if we keep destroying it."
  • Bad: "Destroying the rainforest is not a good thing."

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3. Interweave facts and references to back up your claims. The best rule of thumb is, whenever you make a claim or point that isn't common sense, you need to back it up. One of the best ways to do this, however, is in reverse. Let the evidence lead to your arguments -- bringing the reader with you.

  • Good: "A recent poll shows that 51% of young white millennials believe they suffer as much discrimination as minorities. Young white millennials may believe in having racial equality, but they also believe that they've already found it.[1]
  • Good: "Equality and liberty aren't just good for individuals, they're good for society. Furthermore, the lack of this liberty is said to be “a source of perversion and demoralization” to everyone involved, and prevents “any really vital improvement... in the social condition of the human race” (Mill, 98).
  • Bad: "The prisons system has kept dangerous drugs and criminals off the streets, and Americans are definitely safer because of it." Unless you back it up, this claim is meaningless.
4. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Only make one point or argument in each sentence. You want the reader to be able to build the argument logically, but this is impossible if they get lost in the weeds.
  • Good: While the United States’ founding fathers were intellectual, the same could not be said for the majority of the populace. Education was the right of the wealthy, and achieved through expensive private schools or tutors. In the early 1800’s, Horace Mann of Massachusetts devoted himself to rectifying that situation.
  • Good: Public education is no longer a priority in this country. As it stands, only 2% of tax dollars go to schools.[2] Clearly, we need to find a way to increase this budget if we expect to see any real improvement in our education system.
  • Bad: The United States was not an educated nation, since education was considered the right of the wealthy, and so in the early 1800's Horace Mann decided to try and rectify the situation.[3]
5. Use a variety of persuasion techniques to hook your readers. The art of persuasion has been studied since ancient Greece. While it takes a lifetime to master, learning the tricks and tools will make you a better writer almost immediately. For example, on a paper about allowing Syrian refugees, you could use:
  • Repetition: Keep hammering on your thesis. Tell them what you're telling them, tell them it, then tell them what you told them. They'll get the point by the end.
    • Example: Time and time again, the statistics don't lie -- we need to open our doors to help refugees.
  • Social Validation: Quotations reinforce that you aren't the only one making this point. It tells people that, socially, if they want to fit in, they need to consider your viewpoint.
    • Example: "Let us not forget the words etched on our grandest national monument, the Statue of Liberty, which asks that we "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is no reason why Syrians are not included in this.
  • Agitation of the Problem: Before offering solutions, show them how bad things are. Give them a reason to care about your argument.[4]
    • Example: "Over 100 million refugees have been displaced. President Assad has not only stolen power, he's gassed and bombed his own citizens. He has defied the Geneva Conventions, long held as a standard of decency and basic human rights, and his people have no choice by to flee."
6. Be authoritative and firm. You need to sound an expert, and like you should be trustworthy. Cut out small words or wishy-washy phrase to adopt a tone of authority.[5]
  • Good: "Time and time again, science has shown that arctic drilling is dangerous. It is not worth the risks environmentally or economically."
  • Good: "Without pushing ourselves to energy independence, in the arctic and elsewhere, we open ourselves up to the dangerous dependency that spiked gas prices in the 80's."
  • Bad: "Arctic drilling may not be perfect, but it will probably help us stop using foreign oil at some point. This, I imagine, will be a good thing."
7. Challenge your readers. Persuasion is about upending commonly held thoughts and forcing the reader to reevaluate. While you never want to be crass or confrontational, you need to poke into the reader's potential concerns.
  • Good: Does anyone think that ruining someone’s semester, or, at least, the chance to go abroad, should be the result of a victimless crime? Is it fair that we actively promote drinking as a legitimate alternative through Campus Socials and a lack of consequences? How long can we use the excuse that “just because it’s safer than alcohol doesn’t mean we should make it legal,” disregarding the fact that the worst effects of the drug are not physical or chemical, but institutional?
  • Good: We all want less crime, stronger families, and fewer dangerous confrontations over drugs. We need to ask ourselves, however, if we're willing to challenge the status quo to get those results.
  • Bad: This policy makes us look stupid. It is not based in fact, and the people that believe it are delusional at best, and villains at worst.
8. Acknowledge, and refute, arguments against you. While the majority of your essay should be kept to your own argument, you'll bullet-proof your case if you can see and disprove the arguments against you. Save this for the second to last paragraph, in general.
  • Good: It is true that guns can be used to protect you against threats. However, it has been proven time and time again that you are more likely to hurt yourself with a gun than protect you against someone else.
  • Good: While people do have accidents with guns in their homes, it is not the governments responsibility to police people from themselves. If they're going to hurt themselves, that is their right.
  • Bad: The only obvious solution is to ban guns. There is no other argument that matters.

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