English Composition I
Home Page >> Writing Assignments >> Persuasive Essay
Persuasive essays are any essay where you are trying to convince the reader that your view of the subject is valid. Note that you are not trying to convince the reader that your view or position is the ONLY way to see the subject, nor are you necessarily trying to convince the reader that your position is the best way to see the subject.
The key is to think defensively: you are trying to explain why YOU see the subject this way. More importantly, you want to base your argument on solid evidence. This is NOT a personal experience essay, even though your personal experiences will probably influence your viewpoint. EVERY point that you make needs to be supported with evidence. Your entire argument should be based on evidence from reliable sources.
In general, evidence that proves that your views are known or shared with a wide variety of other people will help validate your claims; that's one of the primary reasons for using sources - to provide that outside validation that you aren't the only one who feels this way. However, remember that your position should be the focus of the paper. You should not just be blindly repeating your sources' arguments -- we want to know YOUR unique set of evidence and how it adds up to support your claims.
Thus, the key to doing an argumentative essay is to begin with a subject, but don't lock yourself into a viewpoint yet. Keep an open mind. Try to find as wide a variety of sources as possible and learn as much about the subject as you can. After you've done the research, reading, and thinking about the subject, then you are ready to share your viewpoint with the audience. Remember that the focus should be on how YOU are putting the evidence and ideas together, not on how your sources have interpreted this information. Make sure that you cite all evidence from your sources. Give credit where credit is due.
Pick a subject from current events and give your viewpoint on the issue. The subject should either be controversial or at least a subject where there are multiple sides or viewpoints being presented. Make sure that you do the proper research for this paper. Try to get a variety of sources in terms of timeframe and perspectives. If all of your sources are from the same week, there probably won't be much variety. If all of your sources are liberal in perspective, you also won't get much variety.
Review the literature for your career field. For example, for business you would look at Fortune, Forbes, Barron's, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, or their websites. For education, you would look at Education Digest, NEA, AFT, ERIC, or other education resources. See what issues they are discussing. Review the materials on the subject.
After determining what professionals in the field are saying, go to general interest magazines, especially magazines with editorial/opinion writing like National Review, New Republic, Commentary, the Progressive, The American Spectator, etc or their websites to see what non-professionals are saying about the subject.
Pick a subject that you want to know more about, or that you are already somewhat of an expert about. Research that subject to determine what other people need to know about it. Explain what the major issues or controversies are in the area, and take a stand on that issue. For example, if you are a football fan, you could research the XFL and write a paper indicating whether you think it was good or bad for the sport.
Remember that you are writing this essay to explain YOUR viewpoint on the issue, not just to repeat your sources' views. You can't just tell us that something is true. You can't just say: "Smoking is unhealthy." You need to have sources that back that up. You need to explain to us WHY it's unhealthy. Remember that you are DEFENDING your view, not just telling the audience what to believe
Try to remember that your audience does not know as much as you do. Even if they know more facts about the subject, they don't know YOUR understanding as well as you do. Your job is to explain to the reader how YOU interpret the information and how YOU see things fitting together. Also, as indicated above, remember that you are not telling the audience that their views are wrong or stupid. You are defending/explaining your views, not attacking theirs.
The organization of an argument is always open to interpretation. You will probably find yourself using parts of the earlier essays like personal narrative, compare/contrast, classification, etc. to do different parts of the argument. Remember that each part of the argument needs to be connected to the main thesis at some point so that the reader sees how the overall argument builds to the conclusion.
Remember the basic body paragraph formula for an argument:
· evidence supporting the thesis,
· explanation of HOW the evidence supports the thesis and how the paragraph's point fits into the overall argument.
Make sure that your argument includes the three facets of a convincing argument: logos, ethos, and pathos.
Logos: is it logical? Is it based on solid evidence clearly connected together into a strong argument?
Ethos: The traditional element of ethos deals with the character of the writer. How trustworthy are you? What are your credentials? How believable is your argument? Does any bias show through, and if so, does it harm their argument's "truth?" Most student writers already feel uncertain about their credentials, which is one reason why outside sources are often used. The ethos argument then needs to be applied to THOSE sources as well.
Pathos: Have you given the issue a human face? Have you used specific examples to show the reader how this issue affects real people, not just theoretical abstracts?