A persuasive essay is defined by two purposes: to convince the audience to agree with the speaker’s position on a debatable issue and to inspire listeners to take action. In order to succeed, the speaker must forge a relationship with the audience, while appealing to their intellect and emotions. Let’s look at six steps to writing an excellent persuasive essay.
1. Choose a debatable issue about which you have strong feelings and a definite position.
A debatable issue is one that generates conflicting opinions and points of view; it also may generate strong personal or professional feelings as to how it should be addressed. A persuasive essay is likely to be more effective if you invest your time and effort in writing about an issue that is important to you, perhaps one that you relate to personally.
2. Research all sides of the issue and take notes.
Once you have chosen an issue for your essay, research conflicting views about it. Take notes over information that supports your position on the issue: facts, examples, statistics, anecdotes, and quotations from experts and/or reliable studies. Record the sources of the information to establish its reliability. Also, take notes over information that supports the strongest argument against your position on the issue.
3. Draft a thesis statement for your essay.
Like most essays, a persuasive essay needs a thesis statement: a sentence that clearly states what you will explain and support in the essay. Write a thesis that clearly states your position on the issue.
4. Create a working outline.
A working outline is not detailed. Referring to your notes, create a 3-part working outline that lists 2 of the strongest arguments in favor of your position and the strongest argument against it.
5. Draft the introduction, main body, and conclusion of your essay.
In drafting your essay, keep in mind the objectives to achieve in each part. Also, incorporate rhetorical devices, imagery, and figurative language throughout the text.
Introduction: To arouse the interest of the audience, use one or more of these methods.
- Begin with an anecdote that relates to the subject of the essay; it can be an anecdote from your personal experience or one you have heard or read from another source.
- Begin with historical or factual information of interest regarding the subject.
- Begin with a quotation that relates to the subject. Quotations from history, literature, or contemporary figures can all be effective; identify the source of the quotation.
Develop the introduction by identifying the general subject of your essay and the specific issue at hand; acknowledge that the issue generates disagreement, as views regarding it often conflict.
Conclude the introduction with your thesis, stating your position on the issue clearly and concisely.
Main Body: Refer to your working outline while writing the main body of your essay. Draft a main body paragraph to address each of the three parts of the outline. Since the working outline includes two arguments supporting your position and one opposing it, the main body may consist of three paragraphs; however, if more than one paragraph is required to thoroughly address a part of your outline, by all means, write it. Refer to your research notes and the list of rhetorical devices while developing each paragraph.
Conclusion: The final paragraph should indicate to listeners that your essay is reaching an end.
- Restate the issue and your position regarding it.
- Briefly sum up your two arguments in favor of your position.
- Explain what will happen if your position is not adopted and why the resulting consequences are important to the audience.
- Point out actions that should be taken in addressing the issue to avoid serious consequences.
The final sentence of the conclusion should leave listeners with something to think about. A powerful, thought-provoking quotation, a vivid image, or a final rhetorical question—asked and answered—will provide a sense of closure, while emphasizing the validity of your essay.
6. Review the structure and content of the essay, and revise the text to make it more effective and convincing.
After reviewing and revising the text of your essay, you should be able to answer “yes” to these questions:
Is there a paragraph of introduction?
- Have you engaged the interest of the audience in some way?
- Have you established your own voice in the essay and created a bond between you and your listeners?
- Have you identified the topic and the specific issue of your essay?
- Does the paragraph end with a thesis statement that clearly states your position on the issue?
Does the main body consist of at least 3 paragraphs?
- In the first main body paragraph, have you stated the strongest argument against your position on the issue? Have you refuted the argument with various types of specific evidence?
- In the second main body paragraph, have you presented your first argument in favor of your position? Have you supported your argument with various types of specific evidence?
- In the third main body paragraph, have you presented a stronger argument in favor of your position, the best argument you can present? Have you supported it with various types of specific evidence?
- Throughout the main body paragraphs, have you included appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos?
Is there a paragraph of conclusion?
- Have you restated the issue and your position on it?
- Have you summed up your two arguments in favor of your position?
- Have you explained what will happen if your position is not adopted and why the resulting consequences are important to the audience?
- Have you pointed out actions that should be taken in addressing the issue to avoid serious consequences?
- Does the conclusion give listeners a sense of closure and leave them with something to think about?
Does the text of your essay employ numerous rhetorical devices?
As you read your essay aloud, have you provided transition words and phrases to move smoothly from one part of a paragraph to another and from one paragraph to the next?
Do you think your essay is persuasive and will hold the attention of the audience? (If not, why not? What would make it more persuasive and engaging?)