The persuasive essay is a short, non-fiction composition. Its purpose is to convince the reader to think or act in a certain way. A good persuasive essay must have a strong, clearly stated thesis – sometimes called a proposition – and a logical line of reasoning that the reader can follow.
Newspaper and magazine editorials, opinion pieces, and columns are all examples of persuasive essays.
What follows is a list of techniques used in the persuasive/argumentative essay. Please read carefully.
ARGUMENTATION – attempts to convince through logic.
Argumentation takes two opposite forms, deduction and induction.
Deduction accepts a general principle as true, then applies it to specific cases.
Major premise: All men are mortal.
Minor premise: Socrates is a man. GOOD ARGUMENT
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
BAD Major premise: Progress is good.
ARGUMENT Minor premise: The automobile represents progress. Conclusion: The automobile is good.
The problem with deduction is that we cannot always agree on premises.
Induction is the opposite of deduction. It first observes particular cases, then from them formulates a general rule.
After a summer in the factory Joan thought she could afford a car, so the week before school began she bought a sporty red three-year-old japanese model. Speeding around town with the stereo turned up was so much fun that she didn’t mind the $350-a-month payments. But when the insurance company hit her for $2500 as a new driver, her savings took a dive. Each month she found herself paying $100 for gas and $150 for parking. A fall tune-up set her back $200, and new tires $400. Then came the repairs: $250 for brakes, $350 for a clutch, and $225 for an exhaust system. In desperation Joan took a part-time job selling shoes. That helped her bankbook but took her study time. Two weeks after exams, holding a sickly grade report in her hand, Joan decided to sell the car. Nobody could have told her to, since, like most people, she likes to make up her own mind. But the long string of evidence did the teaching: now Joan knows, through induction, that as a student she cannot afford a car.
PERSUASION – attempts to convince through emotion.
Word choice: Is an oil spill an “incident,” an “accident,” a “mistake,” a “crime” or an “environmental tragedy”? Writers tend to choose the term that reflects their feeling and the feeling they hope to encourage in the readers.
Example: An attempt to show old people as active may be helped by the example of your grandmother who skis.
Repetition: Intentional repetition can build feeling.
Hyperbole (exaggeration): This is used in humorous pieces. “Man You’re a Great Player!” – Gary Lautens.
Analogy and figures of speech: Analogies, comparing one thing with another from a different category (a monster with the forest industry), and their shorter cousins similes and metaphors, are powerful tools of persuasion.
Irony: “My Body Is My Own Business” – Naheed Mustafa
Appeal to authority or prestige: We invite our readers to believe what a judge says about law, or what an educator says about education. This approach appeals to our reader’s ethical sense: he or she believes these people know the facts and tell the truth.
Fright: A frightened reader is an interested reader. Frighten a reader only with facts that really are scary (such as the number of times computer error nearly launched a Third World War).
Climax: After a good introduction, start with your least dramatic point, then progress upward to your strongest.
Taken from The Act of Writing.
Read “Why Write”. (handout)
Begin to brainstorm your own topics for a persuasive piece. This link might be helpful.