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Persuasive Essay

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Persuasive Essay

"A word after a word after a word is power."1 This sentiment, attributed to Margaret Atwood, uses simple language to express a bit of common knowledge. Speechwriters, advertisers, and the media know that persuasive words are necessary to sway their audience. A persuasive essay uses a combination of emotion, credibility, and logic to defend, challenge, or qualify a claim.

Persuasive Essay: Definition

When you write an essay to convince the reader about your opinion on a subject, it is formally known as a persuasive essay. Sometimes this can also be called an argumentative essay, but there are technically some stylistic differences between them.

While an argumentative essay presents evidence from both sides of the topic and lets the audience make a choice, the author of a persuasive essay has an obvious point of view and wants you to share their perspective.

To write an effective persuasive essay, you must first construct a solid argument. So, how do we structure a solid argument? Aristotle to the rescue! Aristotle developed the three interlocking parts of an essay (or Elements of Rhetoric) that work together to persuade an audience.

These three parts are:

  • Ethos (or "character"): The audience must feel like your opinion is credible, or they will never listen to what you have to say. Make sure you use reliable sources to back the claim in your persuasive essay.

  • Pathos (or "experience" or "emotion"): The reader has to care about your topic to be influenced, so write your persuasive essay in a way that appeals to their experiences or emotions.

  • Logos (or "reason"): Use logic when writing your essay. Effective persuasive essays are a balance between solid facts and rational feelings.

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher (384 BC-322 BC). He is considered one of the most influential philosophers, and he contributed to various fields, including math, science, political science, and philosophy. Aristotle developed many ideas still discussed today, such as the structure of persuasion.

Standard Terms in Persuasive Writing

Your thesis statement may be referred to as a claim. Claims are written in different styles:

  • Definitional claim: argues whether the topic "is" or "is not" something.
  • Factual claim: argues whether something is true or false.
  • Policy claim: defines an issue and its best solution.
  • Passive agreement claim: seeks audience agreement without expecting action on their part.
  • Immediate action claim: also seeks audience agreement but expects them to do something.
  • Value claim: judges whether something is right or wrong.

In a persuasive essay, you can:

  • Defend a position: Provide proof that supports your claim and refute the opponent's claim without saying they're wrong.
  • Challenge a claim: Use evidence to show how an opposing view is invalid.
  • Qualify a claim: If no compelling information is available to completely refute the opposing idea, admit some parts of the claim are true. Then, point out the parts of the opposing idea that are not true because this weakens the opposing argument. The valid part of the opposing argument is called a concession.

What Are Some Persuasive Essay Topics?

If possible, pick a topic for your persuasive essay that interests you because it ensures your passion will shine through in your writing. Any debatable topic has the potential to be crafted into a persuasive essay.

For example:

  • Universal healthcare.
  • Gun control.
  • The effectiveness of homework.
  • Reasonable speed limits.
  • Taxes.
  • The military draft.
  • Drug testing for social benefits.
  • Euthanasia.
  • The death penalty.
  • Paid family leave.

Persuasive Essay: Structure

A Persuasive essay follows the standard essay format with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Introduction

You should begin by reeling your audience in with an interesting quote, a shocking statistic, or an anecdote that catches their attention. Introduce your subject, then state your argument in the form of a claim that defends, challenges, or qualifies a claim. You can also outline the persuasive essay's main points.

Body Paragraphs

Defend your claim in the body paragraphs. You can also challenge or qualify the opposing viewpoint using verifiable sources. Take the time to investigate the opposite opinion to add depth to your subject knowledge. Then, separate each of your main points into their own paragraphs, and devote a section of your essay to disproving the rival belief.

Conclusion

The conclusion is your space to bring the message home to the reader and is your final opportunity to persuade them that your belief is correct. After restating the claim and reinforcing the main points, appeal to your audience with a call to action, a brief discussion of questions your essay raises, or a real-world consequence.

When discussing subjects we feel strongly about with friends and family, we say things like "I think" or "I feel." Avoid beginning statements with these phrases in persuasive essays because they weaken your argument. You are already telling your audience what you believe by making your claim, so including these unnecessary phrases in your persuasive essay shows a lack of confidence.

Persuasive Essay: Outline

Once you've picked a topic, done the research, and brainstormed, you're about ready to start writing your persuasive essay. But wait, there's more! An outline will organize your main points and sources, giving your persuasive essay a roadmap to follow. Here's the main structure:

I. Introduction

A. Hook

B. Introduction to the topic

C. Thesis statementII. Body paragraph (the number of body paragraphs you include will vary)

A. Main point B. Source and discussion of source C. Transition to next point/opposing belief

III. Body paragraph

A. State opposing belief

B. Evidence against opposing belief

C. Transition to conclusion

IV. Conclusion

A. Summarize main points

B. Restate thesis

C. Call to action/questions raised/consequences

Persuasive Essay: Example

While you read the following example of a persuasive essay find the immediate action claim in the introduction and see how the writer defends their position by using reputable sources. Further, what does the writer say in the conclusion to make a final attempt at persuading the audience?

I occasionally rely on food banks to help feed my children. As the cost of groceries continues to rise, food banks can sometimes be the difference between my kids going to bed hungry or feeling secure. Unfortunately, the variety of foods they offer is sometimes lacking. Food banks that provide fresh fruits and vegetables or meat are few and far between. This shortage is not due to a lack of excess food in the United States. Food waste accounts for 108 billion pounds of food ending up in the trash every year.2 Rather than throwing the extra food away, grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers should donate leftovers to food banks to help fight food insecurity.
Food waste does not refer to leftover scraps. Instead, it is wholesome portions that go unused for various reasons. For example, fruits and vegetables don't always look how retailers want them to look. Other times, farmers leave crops in their fields rather than harvesting them. Further, not all of the food prepared in restaurants gets served. Instead of being thrown away, food banks could distribute this food to the 13.8 million households with food insecurity in 2020.3 Homes with food insecurity are households that "were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food."3 Thankfully, non-profits such as Feeding America work to bridge the gap between the surplus of food and the people who need to be fed, but there are still obstacles to overcome.
Most places still refuse to donate excess food. One of the main reasons they are against the idea is because they are concerned with being held liable if a beneficiary gets sick from something they provided. However, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects donors from legal worries. It states that if "the donor has not acted with negligence or intentional misconduct, the company is not liable for damage incurred as the result of illness."4 Food waste is slowly becoming a mainstream topic. Hopefully, knowledge of the Food Donation Act spreads along with awareness.
An easy way to combat food insecurity in the United States is to eliminate some of the massive amounts of food that end up in landfills every year by donating it to food banks. Non-profits dedicated to fighting hunger and food waste are essential, but some responsibility falls to the industries that create most of the waste. If the two sides don't work together, millions of children will go hungry.

To summarize:

  • The example persuasive essay uses an immediate action claim to outline the topic. It is an immediate action claim because it states a problem and requests grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers to do something about it. The stated opinion that excess food should be donated to food banks clarifies that the essay is persuasive.
  • The body paragraph uses respected sources (USDA, EPA) to defend the claim to the audience. It challenges an opposing point. The example persuasive essay follows a logical path to its conclusion.
  • The conclusion of the example persuasive essay changes the wording of the claim to summarize the argument without insulting the audience's intelligence. The last sentence makes a final attempt to persuade the audience by making a rational emotional and moral appeal.

Persuasive Essay - Key Takeaways

  • A persuasive essay attempts to convince the audience of your opinion using reliable sources to back your claim.
  • When writing a persuasive essay, you can defend a claim you wish to support, challenge a claim using evidence against it, or qualify a claim if it cannot be completely refuted using concessions to discuss its valid points.
  • Using a combination of credibility, emotion, and logic is the key to crafting an effective persuasive essay.
  • Avoid using "I think" or "I feel" statements in your persuasive essay because they weaken your message.
  • Any subject you can agree or disagree with can be turned into a persuasive essay.

1 Lang, Nancy, and Peter Raymont. Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power. 2019

2 "How We Fight Food Waste in the US." Feeding America. 2022

3 "Key Statistics and Graphics." USDA Economic Research Service. 2021

4 "Reduce Wasted Food By Feeding Hungry People." United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2021

Frequently Asked Questions about Persuasive Essay

A Persuasive Essay offers an opinion on a topic and attempts to convince an audience it is correct.

A Persuasive Essay includes a thesis statement written into an Introduction, followed by Body Paragraphs, and a Conclusion.

Any topic you can agree or disagree with has the potential to be crafted into a Persuasive Essay including:

  • Universal healthcare
  • Gun control
  • The effectiveness of homework
  • Reasonable speed limit
  • Taxes
  • The military draft
  • Drug testing for social benefits
  • Euthanasia
  • The death penalty
  • Paid family leave

Some examples of persuasive essays are:

  • "Ain't I a Woman" by Sojourner Truth
  • "Kennedy Inauguration Speech" by John F. Kennedy
  • "Freedom or Death" by Emmeline Pankhurst
  • "The Pleasure of Books" by William Lyon Phelps

Writing persuasive essays is important because it teaches you how to examine both sides of an issue and helps you recognize a persuasive tone. 

Final Persuasive Essay Quiz

Question

Which type of essay relates both sides of an argument and allows the audience to make their own decision?

Show answer

Answer

Argumentative Essay

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Question

What subjects make good topics for Persuasive Essays?

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Answer

Any subject that you can agree or disagree with can be crafted into a Persuasive Essay.

Show question

Question

What are the three Elements of Rhetoric?

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Answer

A, B, and C

Show question

Question

Why should you avoid "I think" and "I feel" statements in your Persuasive Essay?

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Answer

You should avoid "I think" and "I feel" statements because they weaken your message.

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Question

How should you structure your Persuasive Essay?

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Answer

A persuasive Essay should include a thesis statement that lays out your argument and main points in an Introduction. Argue your main points in the Body Paragraphs. Use your Conclusion to finalize your argument while retating your thesis and summarizing your main points.

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Question

Why are Persuasive Essays important?

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Answer

Persuasive essays help you to think critically about your beliefs.

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Question

How is a Persuasive Essay different from an Argumentative Essay?

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Answer

A Persuasive Essay presents one side of a topic and refutes the other. An Argumentative Essay presents both sides and allows the audience to form their own opinion.

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Question

Who was Aristotle?

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Answer

Aristotle was the Greek philosopher who developed the Elements of Rhetoric.

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Question

What are some fields that use persuasive writing?

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Answer

Persuasive writing is used in advertising, the media, and by speechwriters.

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Question

Where in your essay do you initially state your opinion and main ideas?

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Answer

You state your opinion and main ideas in your thesis statement.

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