The Persuasive Essay

What is a persuasive essay?  Put simply, a persuasive essay is a short commentary designed to persuade your audience.  It is an article traditionally five paragraphs long that communicates your position in a persuasive manner.

At the college essay level, the persuasive essay is used to demonstrate your writing skills and how well you understand a topic.  In the real world, a persuasive essay can be a sales letter, a job application or even a presentation to a group of people.

The persuasive essay is constructed using a title, thesis statement, supporting paragraphs and a conclusion.  Let’s break these down a little further:

1.  Title

The title is straightforward.  What topic are you writing about?  You can be a little descriptive here to give your reader a brief overview of what you are discussing.  For example, your title heading might be “Modern Eco Friendly Housing”.  You haven’t taken a position yet but you are letting your reader know what is to come.

2.  Thesis Statement

This is a statement about what you are trying to convince your readers of.  For example, your thesis statement might be “Housing made from renewable resources have a low carbon footprint compared to traditional construction methods”.  Make your thesis statement a little controversial to emotionally involve your audience.  But only be a little controversial.  If you take the extremist point of view, you risk alienating your readers.

The thesis statement is a bait to hook your readers.  If you need help with how to write your thesis statement, then walk through your local mall or turn on the TV.  You are surrounded by them every day.  Advertising headlines are great examples of thesis statements that capture attention.

3.  Supporting Paragraphs

A persuasive essay will normally have a minimum of three supporting paragraphs.  Start each supporting paragraph with a statement that supports your main thesis.  Back up their statement with facts or testimonials from well known sources.  Facts form the foundation of your argument and allow you to act as an authority on the subject.

The key to your supporting paragraph is to remember that a fact is not debatable.  The statement you make in these paragraphs is an emotional interpretation of these facts to persuade readers.  Marketers know the best way to sell something is to use the Feature-Benefit rule.  First, identify a feature (or a fact) and then draw the reader in with the benefit they will receive by agreeing with you.  Marketers sell the sizzle, not the sausage.

For example, “Good orientation increases the energy efficiency of a home, making it more comfortable to live in and cheaper to run”.  Good orientation and energy efficiency is the feature.  But what does it mean to the house owner?  The benefit to the owner is a house that is comfortable to live in and cheaper to run.

4.  Conclusion

The last part of the persuasive essay is the conclusion.  If you are like most students, you are writing your essay just hours before it is due.  Your writing skills are fading and you just want it done.  Make a mistake here and all your effort is down the drain.  The conclusion is the call to action.  If you are selling something, then this is a real physical action such as clicking on the buy button.  In your essay, the call to action is having your reader agree with you.

Use your conclusion to remind the reader of what your thesis statement is together with your supporting facts.  Next, tell your reader what to.  If you’re selling a product, tell them to buy.  If it’s a job application, ask for the interview.

What happens if your reader does not take action?  It does not mean you have failed, it just means you have not taken into account the objections your readers have.  These are the “No’s” that you must overcome before you can get to a “Yes”.  Persuasive essays use passive argument to overcome objection.  When you first sit down to write, ask yourself what objections will your readers have to your ideas?  Now, what features and benefits can you discuss to overcome these objections?  For example –

Objection: Eco-friendly housing is expensive when compared to other designs.

Feature/Benefit: Savings in heating and cooling will quickly offset the price over just a few years.

In the paragraph above I stated that a persuasive essay uses passive argument.  This is where you focus on the features and benefits of your point of view. You do not actively discuss the opposing view.  If you are in a job interview, you don’t talk about how good the other candidates are for the job, you focus on how you can fill their needs.  If you use an active argument discussing both sides of the topic, then you are writing an argumentative essay.  Both essays are often confused and I will discuss the argumentative essay in my next article.

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