A persuasive essay explains a specific topic and attempts to persuade the audience that your point of view is the most informed, logical and valid perspective on the topic. This genre is also known as the argumentative essay.
While an expository essay written for an exam or a standardized test may have a persuasive element, most persuasive or argumentative essays are written out of class and require extensive research. The research may include several kinds of sources:
- Articles from high-quality non-scholarly magazines or journals (for example, The Atlantic, Harpers, Scientific American, etc.)
- Scholarly or non-scholarly books
- Scholarly or technical journal articles
- Government agency websites
- Statistical analysis
- Interviews with experts
Persuasive essays use such research both to educate the audience about the topic and to supply evidence supporting the writer’s opinions.
The main goal of an argumentative paper is to persuade your audience that your view is among the most compelling opinions on the topic. You should attempt to persuade even those who start out strongly disagreeing with you. To do that, you need to show that you’re very well-informed about your topic.
What Are the Elements of a Persuasive Essay?
A persuasive essay does have certain baseline requirements that are standard in nearly every essay type:
- A clear thesis or controlling idea that establishes and sustains your focus.
- An opening paragraph that introduces the thesis.
- Body paragraphs that use specific research evidence to illustrate your informative or argumentative points.
- Smooth transitions that connect the ideas of adjoining paragraphs in specific, interesting ways.
- Use of counterarguments to summarize and refute opposing positions.
- A conclusion that emphasizes your central idea without being repetitive.
How Do You Write a Persuasive Essay?
One common formula for the persuasive paper is the 5-Paragraph Essay. If you don’t have much experience with essay writing, this is a good method to start with, since it’s basic and straightforward. The 5-Paragraph Essay incorporates the elements listed above in the following basic structure:
- Introductory paragraph with a clear, concise thesis.
- Three body paragraphs that offer evidence and analysis connecting that evidence to the thesis.
- A concluding paragraph that sums up the paper by reevaluating the thesis in light of the evidence discussed in the essay’s body.
While the 5-paragraph structure gives you a helpful formula to work with, it’s only one among many valid options, and its suitability will depend on other factors like the length and complexity of your essay. If you’re writing a paper that’s more than 3 or 4 pages long, it should be more than 5 paragraphs. In most cases, the structure of a longer essay will be similar to that of the 5-paragraph essay, with an introduction, a conclusion and body paragraphs performing the same basic functions—only the number of body paragraphs will increase. The length of the paragraphs may also increase slightly in proportion to the length of the essay.
Composing a Persuasive Essay: A Process Guide
- Begin by reading the assignment carefully to make sure you understand it. Then find a topic that fits the assignment. It’s important that you narrow your topic so that it’s directly relevant to the assignment. But make sure your topic is not so narrow that it lacks significance. It’s best if you find a topic that you’re really interested in—this will make the work more enjoyable for you and will probably lead to higher quality research and writing.
- Before starting your research, make a list of facts—everything you already know about your topic. This list may be long or short depending on your level of knowledge.
- Make another list, this time of your ideas and opinions on the topic. Begin with the strongest opinions and list them in descending order according to your level of conviction.
- Ask yourself why you hold these opinions. It’s important to clarify your own views on the topic so you don’t get too overwhelmed by expert opinions when you begin your research. But you should also be open to changing these opinions if facts and logic warrant such change.
- Try to come up with an original, debatable perspective on your topic and write a tentative thesis statement that reflects your view concisely. Being original in this case doesn’t mean you have to come up with some earth-shattering revelation about human nature—it just means you should stay away from general, bland, or obvious ideas that most people would readily agree with.
- Familiarize yourself with the resources of your school’s library—the physical books and periodicals and the online databases. Describe your project ideas to a librarian and ask for recommendations on where to look for the resources you need.
- The main purpose of your research is to for you to become very well-informed about your topic. Immerse yourself in all the relevant factual data AND acquaint yourself with the most prominent, compelling opinions on the central issues.
- Look for sources that include unusual aspects of your topic, or unconventional perspectives on it—these may provide interesting, surprising angles from which to approach your argument.
- Read your sources critically and ask yourself what informs the various perspectives on your topic. Which sources seem best informed? Which use the most compelling logic? Which are guided more by ideology or assumptions than by credible evidence?
- Take notes on your sources as you read them. Summarize the parts of each source that are relevant to your thesis. In addition to the summary, write down your thoughts on the facts and opinions laid out in these sources. Critique the sources you disagree with. This note-taking will help you to process the research material and develop your perspective on the topic.
Composing and Revising
- Once you’ve compiled some research, revisit your tentative thesis statement and revise it according to what you’ve learned—see if you can make it more specific or original. Think of the thesis as your opening statement in a debate with people whose views oppose yours.
- Sift your research notes and sources for examples you can use to discuss conflicting opinions on your topic and to illustrate your own views. Each example should have some clear connection to your central idea.
- Your essay should devote one body paragraph to each of your major ideas and examples. So begin an outline by writing a topic sentence about each major example for each of your body paragraphs. Since the topic sentence will be part of each paragraph transition, it should make a clear, logical connection between your thesis and the evidence that paragraph will discuss.
- Complete your outline by thinking of an interesting, meaningful way to end the essay. Remember that the conclusion should sum up your central points without merely repeating what you’ve said earlier. You might suggest the larger implications of what the essay has discussed and analyzed. One way to do this is to offer a concise review of what you’ve covered combined with a reasonable forecast or recommendations for the future.
- You might want to experiment with writing the body paragraphs before you write your introduction. The details of analysis in the body of the paper often help you to determine more precisely how to word your thesis and the sentences that surround it.
- Your essay should perform several of the following tasks that overlap and merge smoothly with each other:
- Define your key terms or ideas.
- Describe and analyze specific examples of your topic.
- Summarize and evaluate contrasting opinions on your topic.
- Compare and contrast your examples and their relation to your thesis.
- Connect your examples explicitly to your central idea and to each other.
- Use plenty of quotations and paraphrase of your sources to support your analysis and argument. Integrate the quotes into your own sentences so the discussion reads more smoothly.
- Make sure you cite ALL information that comes from your sources, whether quotations or paraphrase. Use the citation format required by the class or the assignment—MLA, APA, etc. The Writers’ Toolkit citation tools will make the process easy for you by automating the format.
- Polish your essay through revision to make it artful, original, and interesting. Avoid clichéd language or the most obvious examples. You want your reader to learn something new and compelling, whether it’s an unusual fact or a novel perspective on your topic.
A law should be passed that bans the use of a cell phone while driving. Too often I have seen people driving recklessly while engaged in conversation on a cell phone. They can't seem to find time to exercise proper vehicle functions or safe driving procedures because they are too busy gabbing on their little phones. One hand holds the phone to the ear, and the other hand might be used to steer. In fact, a study has shown that more accidents are caused by people using cell phones while driving than by people who are drunk while driving. The need for restricting cell phone use, then, is clear. These careless people are endangering you and me on the public streets, and I personally believe the time has come to call for an end to this needless and potentially dangerous practice.
The writer clearly presents his opinion using the persuasive purpose. A key characteristic of persuasive writing, a persuasive claim, is evident in the first sentence of the essay when the writer proclaims, "A law should be passed that bans the use of a cell phone while driving." The writer bolsters the claim using another characteristic of persuasive writing, support, when he employs the personal appeal to tell of his own observations of careless driving. He brings the logical appeal into play by introducing evidence of a study that concludes that cell phoning drivers cause more accidents than drunken drivers. A third characteristic of persuasive writing, a general warrant, appears when the writer suggests that the streets belong to everyone and they should not be endangered by cell phone users. Other characteristics of persuasive writing, such as appropriate language and a direct address of the reader, are also apparent in the essay. The presence of these various characteristics of persuasive writing demonstrates the writer's effective use of the persuasive purpose.
Back to top
MORE PERSUASIVE EXAMPLES
Primary Purpose: Persuasive
A common form of persuasion is the editorial. An editorial is a persuasive column that appears regularly in most newspapers. In an editorial, the writer gives his or her opinion about a certain issue. Three editorials from around 1900 follow.
On December 29, 1890, U.S. Army soldiers killed about 300 Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The Indians had few weapons to fight back against the soldiers armed with machine guns. The so-called Massacre at Wounded Knee marked the last major battle between American Indians and whites.
A few days later, on January 3, 1891, an editorial about Wounded Knee appeared in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was written by a young editor named L. Frank Baum. About ten years later, Baum became famous for a book he wrote. That book was called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.
An eastern contemporary, with a grain of wisdom in its wit, says that "when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre."
Primary Purpose: Persuasion
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus
A child was having doubts about Santa Claus, so she wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun. The newspaper quickly printed an unsigned editorial in response on September 21, 1897. The editorial had been written by a cynical veteran newsman, Francis Pharcellus Church (1839-1906), the childless son of a Baptist minister who often railed against religious dogma. The editorial was an immediate sensation and has become the most reprinted editorial in history.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Primary Purpose: Persuasive
The Marvellous Balance of the Universe--
A Lesson in the Texas Flood
In September 1900, a hurricane swept across Galveston Island, Texas, claiming 6000 lives. It was the worst natural disaster in American history. The following editorial meditates on the event. This editorial was published in a Hearst newspaper late in 1900.
Do you ever think of the wonderful protection, the marvellous precision in celestial mechanics that guard you as you travel through space?
The oceans, seas and lakes contain water enough to cover the entire surface of the earth to a depth of six hundred feet, if the earth's surface were actually round.
In huge reservoirs, which we call oceans, the earth's waters are stored for our use. Those vast volumes of water rest on the surface of a whirling sphere travelling through space at fearful speed. The slightest derangement, the slightest lack of balance in our motion round the sun, the slightest shifting of the poles, and mountains of water miles high would sweep over the continents and wipe out--not only one small city--but the entire human race.
Our existence here requires a precision so great that our minds can but feebly grasp it. Change the temperature of your body by but a few degrees and you die. But you travel through space safely, with a freezing ocean of ether about you. You travel in company with suns that throw out endless billions of degrees of heat. You are protected in a travelling hothouse, regulated exactly to suit your feeble strength and all your wants.
Did you ever see the small, black nose of a pug dog pressed against the window of a flying express train? Have you ever seen that pug barking at the landscape whirling by? Have you ever reflected on the utter inability of that pug to realize the marvellous intelligence and power that are whirling him along as he barks and wags his tail and enjoys himself calmly?
Kind reader, you and all of us, whirling along in this magnificently conducted express train called the earth--whirling onward to a destiny worthy of our habitation--are so many poor little pug dogs looking out at nature's marvels and looking out with less than pug-dog appreciation.
Primary Purpose: Persuasive
Some persuasions use words and images. An editorial (or political) cartoon uses imagery and a few words to convince the reader or to make a comment about current events.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, is an agency in the Department of Justice, which is part of the executive branch of the federal government. In the late 1940s, Congress (the legislative branch) wanted to use the FBI to investigate communist activities in the government. The cartoon suggests that President Truman would not condone such a use. Later, the Congressional investigation of "un-American activities" became known as McCarthyism, after Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. This cartoon was drawn by Clifford Berryman in 1948. The cartoon is from the National Archives and Records Administration (ARC 306137).
|Hope This Won't Develop Into a Neighborhood Feud|
May 18, 1948
Primary Purpose: Persuasion
Main Patterns: Narration, Evaluation
Email Scam Letter
I received this scam letter, sometimes called the Nigerian scam, by Email in October 2007. It is one of the best of this sort of scam letters I have received. I have not changed the content of the letter except for the Email address; all mistakes were in the original letter. Notice the extensive use of the emotional appeal.
Me and my sister got your contact when we were searching for a good honest and reliable person. we prayed over it and decided to reveal to you our problem. I am Benedict koffi Tinabacam (19 years old) and my sister name is Mercy (16 years old), the only children of late Dr Mrs. Amos Koffi Tinabacam. Our father was a very wealthy Gold/Diamond dealer in Freetown, the economic capital of Sierra Leone. our father was poisoned to death by his close business associates on one of their outings on a business trip. our mother died 16 years ago,precisely during the child deliverly birth of Mercy my kid sister and since then our father took us so special. He was also playing the role of a mother to us too.
Before the death of our father in a private hospital in Freetown, he secretly called me by his bed side and told me of a deposit of $9,000,000,00 united state dollars (NINE MILLION DOLLARS) he concealed in a Trunk box and deposited with a Security Company in Abidjan, the economic capital of cote d'Ivoire, he used my name been the only son as the next of kin when he deposited the money.
He warned me that because of envy that he was poisoned by his close associates. He also advised me to seek for an honest foreigner in a country of my choice those associates will not hurt me and my sister as they have succeeded in poisoning him. For your information, it has been difficult to know who is an honest person to assist us in this transaction, and we decided to make a try on you.
Dear, I honourably seek your assistance to hurry up and come down here in abidjan so that me and Mercy will take you to the Security Company where our father deposited the money so that we can introduce you and you will help us clear the money and we will go together to a nearby bank and open a new account in your name and transfer the money immediately from the bank to your bank account in your country and together me and Mercy will enter plane with you and go back to your country with you so that we can continue our education over there and you will help us invest the money in your country. Me and Mercy has agreed to compensate you with %10 of the money.
Thank you as we are expecting your reply immediately you receive this email You can contact us true our private email firstname.lastname@example.org [address changed to protect the guilty]
Bendict and Mercy
Primary Purpose: Persuasive
Main Patterns: Narration, Evaluation
Letter from the Alamo
William Barret Travis (1809-1836) was born in South Carolina. He arrived in Texas in 1831 and gained land from Stephen F. Austin. When trouble developed between Mexico and Texas, Travis was one of the first to join the Texas military forces. In January 1836, Travis and a group of men entered the Alamo in San Antonio. By the middle of February, the group numbered about 180 men. Meanwhile, General Santa Anna's forces were building up around San Antonio. On February 24, 1836, Travis sent the following plea for help, which never came. The Alamo fell to Santa Anna's forces on March 6, 1836.
Commandancy of the Alamo--
To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world--
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna--I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man -- The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken -- I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls -- I shall never surrender or retreat.
Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch -- The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country --
Victory or Death
P.S. The Lord is on our side -- When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn -- We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves -- Travis
Primary Purpose: Persuasive
Main Patterns: Narration, Description
Speech at the Brandenburg Gate
On June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in West Berlin, Germany. He stood at the Brandenburg Gate in the Berlin Wall. He called upon Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, to tear down the Berlin Wall. Two years later, the Berlin Wall was torn down. Part of Reagan's speech follows. The photograph is from the National Archives (ARC198585).
And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.
Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! . . .
Primary Purpose: Persuasive
Main Patterns: Narration, Description
Florence Kelley Speaks Out on Child Labor
Florence Kelley (1859-1932) was the daughter of a U.S. congressman. She was college-educated and became a follower of Karl Marx. She was a well-known advocate for socialism, women's suffrage, civil rights for freed blacks, and regulations on child labor. In 1899, she helped form the National Consumer's League, a radical group working to gain a minimum wage and a limit on working hours for women and children. She delivered the following speech about child labor in Philadelphia on July 22, 1905.
No other portion of the wage earning class increased so rapidly from decade to decade as the young girls from fourteen to twenty years. Men increase, women increase, youth increase, boys increase in the ranks of the breadwinners; but no contingent so doubles from census period to census period (both by percent and by count of heads), as does the contingent of girls between twelve and twenty years of age. They are in commerce, in offices, in manufacturing.
Tonight while we sleep, several thousand little girls will be working in textile mills, all the night through, in the deafening noise of the spindles and the looms spinning and weaving cotton and wool, silks and ribbons for us to buy.
In Alabama the law provides that a child under sixteen years of age shall not work in a cotton mill at night longer than eight hours, and Alabama does better in this respect than any other southern state. North and South Carolina and Georgia place no restriction upon the work of children at night; and while we sleep little white girls will be working tonight in the mills in those states, working eleven hours at night.
Nor is it only in the South that these things occur. Alabama does better than New Jersey. For Alabama limits the children's work at night to eight hours, while New Jersey permits it all night long. Last year New Jersey took a long backward step. A good law was repealed which had required women and [children] to stop work at six in the evening and at noon on Friday. Now, therefore, in New Jersey, boys and girls, after their 14th birthday, enjoy the pitiful privilege of working all night long.
In Pennsylvania, until last May it was lawful for children, 13 years of age, to work twelve hours at night. A little girl, on her thirteenth birthday, could start away from her home at half past five in the afternoon, carrying her pail of midnight luncheon as happier people carry their midday luncheon, and could work in the mill from six at night until six in the morning, without violating any law of the Commonwealth.
If the mothers and the teachers in Georgia could vote, would the Georgia Legislature have refused at every session for the last three years to stop the work in the mills of children under twelve years of age?
Would the New Jersey Legislature have passed that shameful repeal bill enabling girls of fourteen years to work all night, if the mothers in New Jersey were enfranchised? Until the mothers in the great industrial states are enfranchised, we shall none of us be able to free our consciences from participation in this great evil.
We do not wish this. We prefer to have our work done by men and women. But we are almost powerless. Not wholly powerless, however, are citizens who enjoy the right of petition. For myself, I shall use this power in every possible way until the right to the ballot is granted, and then I shall continue to use both.
What can we do to free our consciences? There is one line of action by which we can do much. We can enlist the workingmen on behalf of our enfranchisement just in proportion as we strive with them to free the children. No labor organization in this country ever fails to respond to an appeal for help in the freeing of the children.
For the sake of the children, for the Republic in which these children will vote after we are dead, and for the sake of our cause, we should enlist the workingmen voters, with us, in this task of freeing the children from toil!
Most persuasive messages these days are visual. I have assembled several vintage advertisements and posters. The image files are each large, so they take quite a while to download. If you have dial-up Internet service, you might not want to look at the visual persuasive messages because of how long they would take to download. If you have broadband Internet service, you should look at the ads and posters at the link below.
Persuasive Purpose, part 2
Back to Primer Contents
Site maintained by D. W. Skrabanek
English/Austin Community College
Last update: October 2012