Persuasive Essay Writing Techniques: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

persuasive writing techniques

Persuasive writing is a delicate endeavor. There are those who make an art out of it, and those who make a mess out of it. When persuasive essay is written by an experienced author, it can be inspiring, moving and, dare I say, persuasive. But, when it’s done poorly, it will turn the reader off, confuse them rather than draw them in.

So, how do you do it right? Here are some guidelines for writing great persuasive essay.

Things to avoid in persuasive writing

    • Hyperbole. Don’t exaggerate. If your argument is that President Reagan’s economic policies damaged the American middle class, don’t write “Ronald Reagan destroyed America and threw our economic progress back to the Stone Age.” It’s too dramatic and only serves to undermine your authority. The reader won’t trust the rest of your argument if you come out guns blazing without any facts, stats or historical analysis to back you up.
    • Don’t use first person. A persuasive essay earns its credibility by achieving a certain level of objectivity. By making it personal and using “I” statements, you make it sound more like a personal opinion, rather than a well-researched analysis.
    • Don’t leave out opposing arguments. One of a persuasive essay’s greatest strengths is recognizing the arguments that exist against your position. That way, you’re presenting the reader with all the facts and allowing them to choose which side they find more valid. By ignoring the other side, you lose the opportunity to address it directly, and discredit it with your own argument. Providing an analysis of the opposition’s opinion also shows that you’re an expert on the subject: you’ve studied both sides of the issue before making your decision.
    • Don’t rant. Nobody appreciates being on the receiving end of a rant. Even if you’re convinced that the Republican or Democratic party are spawns of the devil, unless you have specific facts and evidence to prove it, your words won’t be taken seriously. If you go rambling on with no structure or organization and pure emotional impulse, then your readers may get bored and stop reading.
    • Don’t be mean, catty or rude. No name-calling or swearing. Strong language and insults once again do more damage to your reputation than they do to your opponents. Nobody wants to be verbally assaulted, and reading offensive and aggressive commentaries will turn the reader against you.

Things to use in your persuasive essay

  • A good hook. Get the reader’s attention right off the bat with a powerful quote, an anecdote or a statistic.
    Quote. “I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
    -Mahatma Gandhi
    Anecdote. Last week’s scandal of financial corruption and pedophilia that shook Smalltown, USA’s church community poses the following question: are church leaders really following Christ’s example?
    Statistic. A shocking 40% of Catholic Churches in the United States have been the subject of investigation over pedophilia charges.
  • Refine your thesis statement. Your essay’s thesis statement is the crux on which the rest of your essay hangs. If it’s strong and solid, then you’ll have an easier time backing it up. If it’s weak and rambling, then it will be harder to defend. It should be a polemical statement, meaning that someone could easily argue the other side of the issue.

Example of a weak thesis statement: “College graduates are facing hard times.” It’s okay. You’ll be able to find research to defend this. But it’s not polemical enough. There’s no counter-balance to it. It would be difficult to find a counter-argument.

Example of a strong thesis statement: “This year’s college graduates will have a harder time finding a job than their parents did thirty years ago.” It’s easy to find credible research to back it up and it provides two specific groups that are being compared: this year’s college graduates, and college graduates from thirty years ago. There could be a strong counter-argument for this statement, so it’s a better choice than the first one, even though they’re both expressing a similar idea.

  • Provide credible research from reputable sources. Personal blogs that spout opinions by people who hold no degree in the subject they write about aren’t credible sources. Wikipedia is not a credible source. Newspaper articles, reputable magazines and specialized publications should be used to support your ideas.
  • Include your research in well organized supporting paragraphs. Structure your essay in a way that’s easy to follow and that provides clear examples to support your thesis statement. Don’t forget to include opposing arguments.
  • Use transition words. Transition words can do wonders for the flow of your essay. A persuasive essay isn’t just about proving your point, but making it easy for the reader to follow you. Words such as “moreover”, “furthermore”, “in spite of”, “however” serve as guides throughout your essay. They help to:
    1. Reinforce a point already made.
    2. Alert the reader of a contrasting statement.
    3. Signal the introduction or conclusion of an idea.

    Here’s a comprehensive list of transition words and their uses.

  • Take advantage of the conclusion. Don’t just summarize the main points of your essay. They’ve already read your essay and know what it says. The concluding paragraph is an opportunity for you to explore further questions to be answered about your subject.

If you’re writing about conflict in the Middle East, raise the question about the next steps. What are the risks of withdrawal? What are the benefits of continued presence?

If you’re writing about global warming: who can provide answers or offer guidance? What kind of research is needed to solve the problems presented?

The conclusion should demonstrate your expertise on this subject and should leave the reader inspired, intrigued and, hopefully, on your side.