OMG! I have to write a persuasive essay! HELP!!!!!
First of all, don’t panic. You may think you don’t know how to write a persuasive essay, but you really do.
You’ve been persuading people all your life—with varying degrees of success, of course. From when you pleaded to stay up an extra fifteen minutes before going to bed, to when you begged for an Xbox, to when you tried to talk your girlfriend into, uh, well…you’ve been perfecting and honing this skill all your life.
All you have to do now is transfer this skill onto the written page. This blog post will teach you all about how to write a persuasive essay.
Two Reasons to Write a Persuasive Essay
Okay, maybe it only seems that way. But your teacher has a goal: to teach you what might be the single most useful skill in writing—to persuade effectively.
I’ve already mentioned how you have been practicing the art of verbal persuasion since you learned to talk. Written persuasion uses the same strategies and follows the same general rules:
- You have a target audience. This is the person or persons who will be reading your essay.
- That audience should be essentially neutral to your idea or concept (it’s too much uphill sledding to convince someone who you know is already opposed to you to change his/her mind, and if someone agrees with you already, well, your job is done).
- You will set out a logical argument: what your audience should do, why they should do it, and what they stand to gain from it.
I can’t emphasize this last point enough. You are not using a stick; you are dangling a big juicy carrot. You won’t be the one eating the carrot, so ignore any considerations of how much this action might benefit you.
How much you might benefit from the outcome, should you be successful, doesn’t matter at all in terms of how to write a persuasive essay. And yes, the potential benefit to you might be the whole reason you’re writing it—but your audience won’t care, so put that aside. (You can rub your hands together and cackle if you want.)
So you’re probably thinking, yeah, but it’s my teacher. She’s going to be reading a whole bunch of essays and isn’t going to spend a lot of time on mine—I don’t think I’ll really change her mind about anything.
The goal of an academic persuasive essay is to construct a persuasive argument. You must pretend that your reader (your teacher) cares about the topic but has no strong opinions one way or the other.
In fact, when evaluating your essay, your teacher will only consider one question: Would this essay persuade a neutral reader? Would it at least elicit the reaction, “Hmm, interesting…he could be right”?
In a nutshell, your teacher wants to see that you know how to write a persuasive essay.
Persuasion Outside the Classroom
Of course, you might also find yourself needing to know how to write a persuasive essay outside the classroom in any one of a number of contexts. You might be calling fellow students to action on a political or humanitarian cause—vote for Fred Flintstone, save the whales, that sort of thing.
You’ll need to give people a reason to listen to you and to “get off the fence” and join your cause. That flyer posted on the bulletin board should contain your best persuasive language.
Advertising is Persuasion—Persuasion is Advertising
All successful advertisements contain the three elements of persuasion. Let’s go back to that campus bulletin board and see if we can spot them. Aha! Here’s a poster for the concert next Friday night given by The Red Hot Screaming Acid Bath Tadpoles.
Let’s see how it uses the three elements of persuasion:
- Target audience. The poster accomplishes this by being placed on the bulletin board. This isn’t as simplistic as it sounds. The idea is to find a neutral audience and appeal to them. Hundreds of students don’t know what they want to do next Friday night.
- What the audience should do. Come to our mega-fun concert, dance the night away! Doors open at 8 pm! Admission only $5!
- How the audience will benefit. A fantastic experience not stated but implied by the cool graphics and visuals in the poster. You’ll have a blast!
Persuasive Essays Out in the Real World
Being persuasive remains important beyond school. It will come in handy to know how to write a persuasive essay in the real world too.
“Well, when will I ever have to write a persuasive essay in real life?” you may be thinking. And the answer is “Never,” except for:
- Job application cover letters (why you should hire me)
- School admission essays (why you should let me enroll there)
- Letters to managers of companies (why you should give me a refund)
- Letters to city officials (why you should let me raise chickens in my back yard)
- Letters to banks (why you should loan me money)
- Letters to prospective customers (why you should choose me to paint your house)
…1000. Letters to the governor asking for a pardon (I’ll be good from now on)
Okay, Okay. So Exactly How Do I Go About Writing a Persuasive Essay?
You’ve probably been exposed to the standard five-paragraph essay format beloved of English teachers everywhere:
- Introductory paragraph
- Three (or two, or four, or eighty-seven) body paragraphs
Nothing wrong with that. You can adapt this into a persuasive essay format very easily, simply by using the three body paragraphs as your 1-2-3:
- Identify the audience
- State the action
- State the benefit to the audience
Obviously, this can be tweaked; for instance, you may wish to spend less time on addressing/identifying the audience and more time telling them how awesome things will be if they just listen to you.
How to Write a Persuasive Essay: The Framework
First, let’s state the action. What do we want our audience to think or do?
Stop the illegal immigration of caribou from Canada into the U.S.
Next, let’s identify the target audience.
All Americans who care about border security/national forests, or should care.
Finally, let’s determine the potential benefit (to the audience of course)
Save our national forests from being nibbled to death by illegal immigrant caribou. Also, show Canadians that we’re serious about Homeland Security.
The next step is to construct a persuasive essay outline. This is a good method no matter what type of essay you’re writing. A good outline will contain the topic sentence of each paragraph:
- (Intro.) Massive herds of Canadian caribou are invading the forests of Washington, Idaho, and other border states. These hoofed locusts must be stopped from nibbling our precious trees before it’s too late.
- (Whom we’re addressing.) All good Americans should act to combat this menace before it’s too late—everyone should care about preserving our precious national forests.
- (What readers should do.) Concerned citizens should write their representatives immediately to urge them to pass anti-foreign-caribou legislation. Visit the website of Stop the Invasion! at www.nocaribou.com.
- (How it would benefit readers.) Driving the invading caribou back across the border would save our forests for American moose, deer, and elk, and would send a message to Canada and the world that the United States will not tolerate the nibbling of its forests by immigrant caribou.
- (Conclusion.) This menace will only be stopped by your concern and prompt action. Help save America before it’s too late!
The outline completed, you now need to fill in the paragraphs. This method is much easier in the long run than just trying to write on the fly. Writing an essay without doing an outline is like building a house without first laying a foundation and putting up a frame.
This is the sort of endeavor where you can best learn by example. As I’ve mentioned, persuasion is all around you, every day. Want to know how to write a persuasive essay? Check the editorial page of your local newspaper. There will always be several opinion columns. Some of these guys could talk an Eskimo into buying a surfboard. How persuasive are the authors? What works and what doesn’t? What is their goal? Who are they trying to persuade?
You can also benefit by reading some of the best persuasive essays in history. For example, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” the Declaration of Independence, and the Preamble to the Constitution are all powerful pieces of persuasion.
Or, you could read Benjamin Franklin’s “Advice on the Choice of a Mistress”—a very persuasive essay in letter form on how a young man should prefer older women (from a true expert on the subject).
I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t point out that we have a very useful library of persuasive essays examples for you to look over. Have a look at our resources and start writing!
While you’re at it check out this Persuasive Essay Infographic. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to talk a dog out of his bone.