How to Write a Persuasive Essay

Persuasive Essay
Writing Guide

What Is a Persuasive Essay?

A persuasive essay is one where you choose a position and support it with evidence throughout the body of the essay. A persuasive essay has to be about a topic that you could strongly argue either for or against something. This can only be done when the topic is polemical. For example, you wouldn’t be able to argue for or against the statement “Humans need air to breathe.” But you could argue, “Humans need political structures in order to thrive.”

A good persuasive essay has a compelling introduction that draws the reader in, has a strong thesis statement that’s supported with solid evidence, addresses the opposing side’s arguments and concludes with questions or suggestions for further research or study.

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Step 1 - Choosing Your Position

A persuasive essay exists because a topic is polemical, meaning you could successfully argue for or against it. While the tendency is to choose to write about the side you agree with, that might not necessarily be the easiest to argue.

Example: if you wanted to choose the topic of the cause of global warming and you personally believe that it’s a natural planetary process, you might actually find more evidence to support that it’s caused by human activity, or vice versa.

Choosing a position should be based on your ability to find solid research to back it up.

Step 2 - Research

Now that you’ve chosen your topic, it’s time to delve into your research. Read widely at first to find out what the popular themes of discussion are about this topic. Then start to narrow your research to include only credible sources (articles published in credible publications or blogs written by people with a background in the subject).

Step 3 - Narrowing Down Your Evidence

As you’ve performed your research, you may have come across many different topics that are interesting. But you won’t have time to explore all of them. Now is the time to choose which themes provide the strongest evidence and which are the most compelling. This doesn’t necessarily mean the most commonly argued themes. Throwing in a well-researched but rarely discussed position can earn you big points with your teacher.

Example: if you’re arguing that human activity causes global warming, a new study published on the topic that links cell phone use to global warming could be a fun and not-yet-widely-discussed argument to throw in.

Step 4 - Write an Outline

An outline for a persuasive essay should look like this:

  1. Introduction. Introduce your topic with an anecdote, a strong quote by a relevant figure, a shocking statistic or other opening that wows the reader. The story should be leading up to your thesis statement which is where you state your position and is the last sentence of the introduction.
  2. Supporting paragraph. Introduce evidence to support your thesis.
  3. Supporting paragraph. More evidence to support your thesis.
  4. Antithesis paragraph. Entertain the other side of the argument and explain why you still choose the side you choose.
  5. Conclusion. Suggest further research or questioned that haven’t been discussed yet that could lead to an improved understanding of the topic.

Persuasive essay outline

Step 5 - Write Your Thesis

It’s very important to get the thesis statement right. The thesis statement strongly states what position you’re arguing without leaving a shred of a doubt. The wording has to allow the topic to be argued against as well.

Example: “Too many kids use the internet without parent supervision” is a weak statement and doesn’t really show what you’re arguing. But, “Stricter parental supervision policies should be implemented on the internet” is a strong statement that gets to the heart of what your essay is going to be about and is easy to argue against.

Step 6 - Write Your Rough Draft

Once you’ve written your outline and fleshed out an awesome thesis statement, you’re in the home stretch. Now all you have to do is fill in the blanks with the evidence you’ve collected during your research.

Step 7 - Wait

After you’ve finished your rough draft, you may be tempted to go to the beginning and start reading through it to edit it. Resist the temptation. Editing is most effective when you’ve had some time between the writing process and the editing process. It helps you spot flaws in logic, spelling and grammar errors and get a sense if the essay flows or not.

Step 8 - Edit

Now that you’ve left yourself some time since writing your first draft, you’re ready to edit. Don’t just read through it to see if it’s passable. Really look for where things can be improved. If you discover that a piece of evidence you presented doesn’t sound convincing but have another piece of evidence that would work better, don’t hesitate to make the change even if it means more work. The essay will sound better and the better grade will be worth it.

3 Tips on How to Write an Even Better Persuasive Essay:

  • Know your enemy. The best way to craft a really good persuasive essay is to be prepared for all of the opposition’s arguments. Make a list of all the their arguments and highlight the strongest ones. As you do your research, think in terms of how you can disprove their arguments. That way, when you write, you’ll not only be presenting your side, but subtly refuting the opposition.
  • Present the opposing side respectfully. When presenting the opposing side’s arguments, remember to use neutral language that doesn’t demonstrate judgement.

    Example: In Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris”, Owen Wilson’s character explains to his fiancé that he and his father-in-law have different political opinions in the following dialogue: “Your father supports the right wing Republican Party and I think you almost have to be a demented lunatic to do that…but it’s okay because we respect each other’s right to our own opinions.”

    Don’t be Owen Wilson in your essay. Talk respectfully about the other position’s arguments and respectfully explain why you don’t agree.

  • Provoke strong emotions. A persuasive essay needs to be convincing. Don’t be afraid to use strong language that really involves the reader in the situation.

    Example: if you’re talking about global warming, a sentence that reads: “Scientists predict that ocean levels will have risen by 13% by 2040” vs. one that reads: “If scientists’ calculations are correct, New York City, London, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and several other major metropolitan cities will be underwater by 2040, a mere 23 years from now.”

    A good persuasive essay makes the reader care about the topic. That’s the first step to winning them to your side.

Good luck and happy writing!

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