how to write a persuasive essay conclusion

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how to write a persuasive essay conclusion

How to Write a Persuasive Essay

The broadness of persuasive writing is what makes it extremely valuable to learn. It is taught early on in schools. Students learn how to dissect political speeches, advertisements, and various other media. Most persuasive writing addresses contemporary issues. It challenges writers to take a stance and provide an educated opinion. So what is a persuasive essay?

The persuasive essay definition is an academic piece of writing aimed to persuade the reader to agree with a specific point of view. When writing a persuasive essay, the writer must conduct solid research and analysis to understand their subject to the fullest extent. They must be aware of their own (and the readers’) biases. Upon finishing reading a persuasive essay, the reader must be convinced that there is no other correct point of view.

Our professional essay writers have crafted this definitive guide to help you write an outstanding persuasive essay!

In schools, persuasive writing is taught using the five-paragraph essay structure. The high school persuasive essay format is usually APA. However, senior students are often tasked to write in MLA to help them transition into college.

The format of a persuasive essay relies on the way arguments are structured in the outline . For example, a typical body paragraph is the presentation and solidification of one argument. The section opens up with an introductory sentence which leads to the argument. After the argument is presented, the writer uses sources to prove that their argument is valid. Next, the writer transitions into the next argument, and so forth. The ‘outline’ section of this article provides further insight on how to format a persuasive essay.

When thinking of persuasive essay ideas, it is best to choose a topic with many contrasting opinions . Broad issues such as gun control and abortion rights can spawn novel length essays. These best be avoided unless you’re writing a dissertation.

Say you want to argue in favor of space exploration. It perfectly fits the description of a widely explored contemporary subject. Creating a structure where every body paragraph explores a different planet might be a bit too much. Why not narrow it down and argue in favor of building a base on the moon? This way, you can convince the audience of the benefits of creating a moon base, and giving them a small idea of what can be achieved from space exploration on a larger scale.

Hence, you have persuaded your reader on a small topic connected to a much broader one. This will leave them inspired with plenty of thoughts to feast on, allowing them to dive further into the world of space.

Perhaps the concept of space exploration is long and tedious and makes your stomach turn. Don’t worry - you can come up with plenty simple persuasive essay topics for high school. Perhaps you have already debated on some of these with your friends:

  • Should sex ed be taught in public schools?
  • Should ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ be banned in school because its language makes some kids uncomfortable?
  • Should cellphones be banned in classrooms?
  • Should students wear uniforms in school?
  • Should students influence the school curriculum?

Persuasive essay topics for college get a bit more complicated. The best essay topics are ones that are aware of contemporary life, challenging and questioning it. Students have the opportunity to make a serious impact with their writing, fearlessly breathing new life into the old world. For college, it is best to choose controversial persuasive essay topics. They challenge the writer to engage in relevant intellectual issues. Here are some examples:

  • Media marketed for teenagers advertise morally and ethically wrong messages.
  • Federal courtrooms must have live cameras that televise all trials.
  • Beauty contests should not be encouraged.
  • With the amounts of information available online, college education should be made significantly cheaper.
  • Create a prisoner rehabilitation system using music and art.
  • Arguing in favor of Net Neutrality.

The primary concern when writing a persuasive essay thesis should be the writer's position on the selected topic. The thesis must be brief and direct, providing a clear idea of the essay’s stance. The writer’s mission is to create a piece that will solidify the thesis, proving it as valid and unchallenged. Here are some examples to shed more light on how to write a thesis statement for a persuasive essay:

  • Homeless people are becoming a nuisance in Chicago, and someone should take care of them.
  • There are many pros of buying food from local markets.
  • Life on Mars is possible if we make it so.
  • The government of Chicago must take the homeless problem more seriously, providing them access to services such as food donations, public restrooms, and camping facilities.
  • Buying food from local markets is hugely beneficial in improving the economy of small towns and villages, and the country as a whole.
  • Mars colonization might be the only hope left for humanity, as pollution levels on Earth will soon make the planet uninhabitable.

As you may have noticed, lousy thesis statements offer a generalized and neutral view. Good thesis statements take a stable position in the argument.

After getting well-versed on your topic, it is essential to craft an outline. The outline will assist you in organizing your argument. Every body paragraph presents an argument and backs it up with sources. These arguments and references used will all be placed in your outline which you can always refer to when writing your essay. The end of this section contains a persuasive essay outline example to help you get it done.

There are plenty of ways how to start a persuasive essay. The introduction of the essay must blast off with a hook to grab the audience’s attention. You can start with a humorous statement to break the ice and suggest a less formal writing approach. Alternatively, you may begin with a robust controversial statement. Put the reader straight into the action!

Any opener or headline serves as a tool to paint a broad picture of the work, leading to the main point. The same goes for a persuasive essay introduction. While it seems like a small structural element without any reliable info, the opening is crucial to capturing and maintaining the reader’s interest. It is best to write the introduction in the end. Knowing the content that follows will help you lead into it.

Here’s where the heavy artillery comes into play. The persuasive essay body paragraphs are where the viewpoint is backed by hard facts and evidence. Good persuasive writers know the topic inside out. They can anticipate any opposing views and provide counter-arguments. Here are ways you could support an argument in a persuasive essay body paragraph.

  • Use Facts. Factual information will come from reading and observation, as well as personal experience. These facts always have to be backed up by sources to make them credible.
  • Quotes. “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” It is highly likely that there have been writers who already tackled your topic. Referring to them, and solidifying your argument with quotes can have a tremendous impact.
  • Statistics. Some things just can’t be argued with. Always have statistics from a reliable scientific source to make your argument solid.
  • Examples. These can include all of the above. Painting a specific scenario as an example could also work - depending on how it’s written. A good essay writer can persuade on just about any point.
  • Concessions. An excellent way to prove your expertise in the field is by accepting part of your opponent's argument as valid. Creating a concession will put you in a right place from an ethical perspective. It will help you find common ground with your opponent. “True, building a border wall will help keep drugs out of the country. However, people who fully rely on it are missing the point…”

It is precious to know how to end a persuasive essay efficiently. The persuasive essay conclusion does not delve far from the introduction. However, certain elements are exclusive for conclusions. Restating the thesis and summarizing main points is the obvious first thing to do.

To make a conclusion effective, one must write a meaningful personal comment. This could be a call for action to leave the reader with something to ponder about. This can be a prediction based on the information presented in the essay. It could be a quote that you believe perfectly summarizes the piece and its main points. Perhaps you’ve already found the solution to the problem, and you want to use the conclusion to suggest a way to solve it? Whatever the case, your mission here is to get creative and leave an impact.

The final version of your outline should look something like this.

There are specific things instructors will look for in your essay. Following this persuasive essay rubric will help you win the praise of your professors.

  • Focus: The thesis statement, as with the whole paper, must state a concrete point of view instead of being neutral. Every piece of writing in the paper exists to defend that thesis statement.
  • Supporting the thesis: The thesis is well defined through solid arguments and references to credible sources. There is a minimum of 3 supporting points, which are organized in the essay outline.
  • Organization: Every transition from one idea to the next is executed smoothly. There are transitional sentences which help the essay flow. Arguments are presented in the most suitable order.
  • Conclusion: After reading the essay - the reader must have understood the writer’s point of view. The point of view is unbiased and educated and presented in a way that challenges the writer to take part in the argument.
  • Conventions: Punctuation and grammar rules are supported. The essay isn’t hard to read due to a balance between short and long sentences.

Having ticked off these points, you can rest assured you’ve done everything correctly.

With all being said, here are some final tips for writing a persuasive essay.

  • Avoid fancy vocabulary: Having some variety when it comes to vocabulary is fine - but don’t expect your grade to go up because of some fancy synonyms. Find your style and write in a way that makes sense.
  • Search for different persuasion techniques. There are plenty of them in countless different mediums. Perhaps doing some research on persuasion might help you with your essay.
  • Triple check your work! Practice makes perfect, and so does proofreading. Check the essay for readability. Make sure that everything flows in harmony with the thesis. Get a second pair of eyes by giving your essay to a friend for reading!
  • Every paragraph is a mini-essay: This is the best out of all the persuasive essay tips you will find. Take the essay outline, compress it, and apply it to every paragraph. This way, every section has an introduction with a hook, a mini-thesis, a sustained argument, and final concluding sentence. The structure is everything!

Check out any persuasive essay example to help get those creative juices flowing!

Are Women Weaker Than Men Today?

Have Human Been Too Dependent On Technology

Advice From Our Professional Writer

This type of essay is one of the most common types of papers assigned in your early high school years. Their main purpose is to teach a beginner writer how to present and structure an argument. From my years of experience writing such essays, I’ve learned that the most important thing to do is to always, always, always present the counter argument. If your paper just talks about your side of the argument, then you didn’t do a good job writing. The way you win over a person who doesn’t share your point of view is not by blindly forcing them to accept your argument, but instead explaining to them why their argument is invalid. My advice for writing persuasive essays is: when you’re toward the end of your essay, include a paragraph of the counter argument and explain why that point of view is invalid. This strategy will make your essay infinitely stronger.

If you are struggling with your persuasive essay, you always can get professional assistance from EssayPro writing team.

How to write a persuasive essay conclusion

OMG! I have to write a persuasive essay! HELP.

First of all, don’t panic. You may think you don’t know how to write a persuasive essay, but you really do.

You’ve been persuading people all your life—with varying degrees of success, of course. From when you pleaded to stay up an extra fifteen minutes before going to bed, to when you begged for an Xbox, to when you tried to talk your girlfriend into, uh, well…you’ve been perfecting and honing this skill all your life.

All you have to do now is transfer this skill onto the written page. This blog post will teach you all about how to write a persuasive essay.

Two Reasons to Write a Persuasive Essay

Your teacher told you to.

You want to persuade someone or some group of people to take action or adopt a point of view.

Okay, maybe it only seems that way. But your teacher has a goal: to teach you what might be the single most useful skill in writing—to persuade effectively.

I’ve already mentioned how you have been practicing the art of verbal persuasion since you learned to talk. Written persuasion uses the same strategies and follows the same general rules:

  • You have a target audience. This is the person or persons who will be reading your essay.
  • That audience should be essentially neutral to your idea or concept (it’s too much uphill sledding to convince someone who you know is already opposed to you to change his/her mind, and if someone agrees with you already, well, your job is done).
  • You will set out a logical argument: what your audience should do, why they should do it, and what they stand to gain from it.

I can’t emphasize this last point enough. You are not using a stick; you are dangling a big juicy carrot. You won’t be the one eating the carrot, so ignore any considerations of how much this action might benefit you.

How much you might benefit from the outcome, should you be successful, doesn’t matter at all in terms of how to write a persuasive essay. And yes, the potential benefit to you might be the whole reason you’re writing it—but your audience won’t care, so put that aside. (You can rub your hands together and cackle if you want.)

So you’re probably thinking, yeah, but it’s my teacher. She’s going to be reading a whole bunch of essays and isn’t going to spend a lot of time on mine—I don’t think I’ll really change her mind about anything.

The goal of an academic persuasive essay is to construct a persuasive argument. You must pretend that your reader (your teacher) cares about the topic but has no strong opinions one way or the other.

In fact, when evaluating your essay, your teacher will only consider one question: Would this essay persuade a neutral reader? Would it at least elicit the reaction, “Hmm, interesting…he could be right”?

In a nutshell, your teacher wants to see that you know how to write a persuasive essay.

Persuasion Outside the Classroom

Of course, you might also find yourself needing to know how to write a persuasive essay outside the classroom in any one of a number of contexts. You might be calling fellow students to action on a political or humanitarian cause—vote for Fred Flintstone, save the whales, that sort of thing.

You’ll need to give people a reason to listen to you and to “get off the fence” and join your cause. That flyer posted on the bulletin board should contain your best persuasive language.

Advertising is Persuasion—Persuasion is Advertising

All successful advertisements contain the three elements of persuasion. Let’s go back to that campus bulletin board and see if we can spot them. Aha! Here’s a poster for the concert next Friday night given by The Red Hot Screaming Acid Bath Tadpoles.

Let’s see how it uses the three elements of persuasion:

  1. Target audience. The poster accomplishes this by being placed on the bulletin board. This isn’t as simplistic as it sounds. The idea is to find a neutral audience and appeal to them. Hundreds of students don’t know what they want to do next Friday night.
  2. What the audience should do. Come to our mega-fun concert, dance the night away! Doors open at 8 pm! Admission only $5!
  3. How the audience will benefit. A fantastic experience not stated but implied by the cool graphics and visuals in the poster. You’ll have a blast!

Persuasive Essays Out in the Real World

Being persuasive remains important beyond school. It will come in handy to know how to write a persuasive essay in the real world too.

“Well, when will I ever have to write a persuasive essay in real life?” you may be thinking. And the answer is “Never,” except for:

  1. Job application cover letters (why you should hire me)
  2. School admission essays (why you should let me enroll there)
  3. Letters to managers of companies (why you should give me a refund)
  4. Letters to city officials (why you should let me raise chickens in my back yard)
  5. Letters to banks (why you should loan me money)
  6. Letters to prospective customers (why you should choose me to paint your house)

…1000. Letters to the governor asking for a pardon (I’ll be good from now on)

Okay, Okay. So Exactly How Do I Go About Writing a Persuasive Essay?

You’ve probably been exposed to the standard five-paragraph essay format beloved of English teachers everywhere:

  1. Introductory paragraph
  2. Three (or two, or four, or eighty-seven) body paragraphs
  3. Conclusion

Nothing wrong with that. You can adapt this into a persuasive essay format very easily, simply by using the three body paragraphs as your 1-2-3:

Obviously, this can be tweaked; for instance, you may wish to spend less time on addressing/identifying the audience and more time telling them how awesome things will be if they just listen to you.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay: The Framework

First, let’s state the action. What do we want our audience to think or do?

Stop the illegal immigration of caribou from Canada into the U.S.

Next, let’s identify the target audience.

All Americans who care about border security/national forests, or should care.

Finally, let’s determine the potential benefit (to the audience of course)

Save our national forests from being nibbled to death by illegal immigrant caribou. Also, show Canadians that we’re serious about Homeland Security.

The next step is to construct a persuasive essay outline. This is a good method no matter what type of essay you’re writing. A good outline will contain the topic sentence of each paragraph:

  1. (Intro.) Massive herds of Canadian caribou are invading the forests of Washington, Idaho, and other border states. These hoofed locusts must be stopped from nibbling our precious trees before it’s too late.
  2. (Whom we’re addressing.) All good Americans should act to combat this menace before it’s too late—everyone should care about preserving our precious national forests.
  3. (What readers should do.) Concerned citizens should write their representatives immediately to urge them to pass anti-foreign-caribou legislation. Visit the website of Stop the Invasion! at www.nocaribou.com.
  4. (How it would benefit readers.) Driving the invading caribou back across the border would save our forests for American moose, deer, and elk, and would send a message to Canada and the world that the United States will not tolerate the nibbling of its forests by immigrant caribou.
  5. (Conclusion.) This menace will only be stopped by your concern and prompt action. Help save America before it’s too late!

The outline completed, you now need to fill in the paragraphs. This method is much easier in the long run than just trying to write on the fly. Writing an essay without doing an outline is like building a house without first laying a foundation and putting up a frame.

This is the sort of endeavor where you can best learn by example. As I’ve mentioned, persuasion is all around you, every day. Want to know how to write a persuasive essay? Check the editorial page of your local newspaper. There will always be several opinion columns. Some of these guys could talk an Eskimo into buying a surfboard. How persuasive are the authors? What works and what doesn’t? What is their goal? Who are they trying to persuade?

You can also benefit by reading some of the best persuasive essays in history. For example, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” the Declaration of Independence, and the Preamble to the Constitution are all powerful pieces of persuasion.

Or, you could read Benjamin Franklin’s “Advice on the Choice of a Mistress”—a very persuasive essay in letter form on how a young man should prefer older women (from a true expert on the subject).

I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t point out that we have a very useful library of persuasive essays examples for you to look over. Have a look at our resources and start writing!

While you’re at it check out this Persuasive Essay Infographic. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to talk a dog out of his bone.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay

Helpful tips for writing a successful persuasive essay

Last updated: May 19, 2016

A persuasive essay uses reason to demonstrate that certain ideas are more valid than others in academic writing. The purpose of such an essay is to encourage readers to accept a particular viewpoint or act in a particular way. A persuasive essay must be based on sound logic and must contain factual evidence to support the argument.

How to write a persuasive essay

Take a stance. What do you think about the issue? What side will you take? Be aware of any prejudices you might have that could color your argument. What resolution will you suggest?

Know your audience. Determine if your audience will agree with your position and why they may not. You must be able to understand both sides of the issue in order to successfully argue your point of view.

Thoroughly research your topic. The point of a persuasive essay is to provide detailed and compelling evidence—you should be able to disprove the opposing argument. It will likely be necessary to undertake library-based research in order to accomplish this.

Think about the structure of your essay. Determine what evidence you will include and the order in which you will present it. Remember, it must be logical.

Support your argument. Use hard facts. You can gather these from your research, observations, or personal experiences. But be careful! In order to avoid plagiarism, you must cite your sources. You should always use verifiable statistics. It is important to be able to back up your argument with data. In order to further strengthen the argument in your persuasive essay, try using one or two direct quotes from experts on the topic. Finally, provide meaningful examples to enhance and clearly illustrate your argument.

How to organize your persuasive essay

The introduction.The introduction in your persuasive essay should grab the readers' attention and provide background information about your subject. It should end with a clear statement of your thesis.

The body. The body should consist of all the arguments that support your thesis. Each paragraph should focus on one particular point. Next, include one or two paragraphs to succinctly explain and refute the most compelling opposing argument.

The conclusion. The conclusion should restate the main argument and supporting points. After all, the point of a persuasive essay is to convert your readers to your point of view.

Take a day or two off. Let your essay sit and your mind rest. Then, read your persuasive essay with fresh eyes. Ask yourself if your essay is logical and convincing. Will your readers be persuaded by your argument? Did you provide enough evidence in the way of facts, statistics, quotes, and examples?

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Image source: pinkypills/BigStockPhoto.com

If you've been told time and time again that you express great ideas in your essay writing but your writing needs polishing, you aren't alone. The following tips will help improve your writing skills and turn you into a great writer.

You've come up with the perfect thesis or essay topic, you've done plenty of research, and know everything that there is to know about your topic, and yet you can't seem to put pen to paper. This is where an outline comes in.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just could not stay awake? Let's face it, we've all been there. We have compiled a short list of reasonable ways to stay awake during life's less-than-exciting moments.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay?

can be defined as,

“A form of essay writing that offers or supports a particular opinion, viewpoint or analogy”.

A persuasive essay writer applies various techniques: logical analysis, support from existing evidence, scientific data/results, personal opinion or introspection to convince his readers of his perspective an reasoning, regarding an issue or subject.

The purpose of a persuasive essay is to convince the reader to agree with your perspective or to acknowledge your suggestion for a course of action. While writing a persuasive essay, you write either for or against the topic given.

A persuasive essay therefore has either of the following two objectives:

  1. To convince your audience to adopt your point of view
  2. To convince your audience to take a specific course of action or thought

Guide for Writing Persuasive Essays

In today’s post you will be studying how to write a persuasive essay in order to argue, influence and (hopefully) sway other people to support your stance and promote your particular point of view on a given subject.

It’s just like taking a trip down memory lane and recalling those times when you were asked to participate in a debating contest. You were either in favor of a notion or against it and you would have gathered all the evidence that validated your claim and authenticated your stance.

You can seek advice from a sample persuasive essay for assistance before you start inking but, for the most part, a persuasive essay structure turns out to be as follows.

Writing a persuasive essay is much like preparing for a debate. All you need to do initially is build up a strong argument and then gather supporting evidence in order to persuade the reader about your topic. In addition, it is important to know how to write a persuasive essay, which mainly considers the organization of ideas along with an effective strategy to stand by your argument.

Choosing Persuasive Essay Topics & Ideas

It is essential to choose a realistic and effective , probably one that interests the audience. In addition, the writer needs to choose a topic that can hold a strong argument. The topic needs to be neither too broad or too narrow.

can help you in coming up with new prompts and suggestions for writing your persuasive essay.

Choosing an Effective Persuasive Strategy

This means that the writer needs to be well informed and well read regarding the topic. The actual rationale of a persuasive essay is to bring about a change within the respective audience by the strength in the argument that has to be put forward.

The writer’s perspective needs to be strong in order to move the reader to action or otherwise force him to rethink his opinion about the topic. To define an effective strategy, it is essential to analyze the audience. It is important to know what audience you are targeting because it can be helpful in touching upon their needs, desires, and beliefs.

Supportive Evidence for Your Arguments

Evidence is an important part of your persuasive essay as it supports your argument and helps it gain strength. Evidence can be any sort of information that supports claims that the writer makes.

Avoid unsustainable claims with data, illustrations, and analogies. Four main kinds of evidences can be stated in your persuasive essays to support your argument.

  1. Numerical or factual evidence
  2. Subjective evidence or examples
  3. Expert evidence
  4. Analogical evidence

A persuasive essay lacking evidence is hard to pull over. High use of evidence is important in essays to make a difference.

The normally follows a standard and comprises of the following elements:

First Paragraph: Introduce Your Thesis and Stance

To make a reader go through the complete essay, it is important to catch their attention from the . This will make them read further. Choose an attractive strategy to grab a reader’s attention by giving a short anecdote in the beginning.

Build Around Your Thesis Statement

Illustrations that are relevant to the topic can also be of interest. Moreover, an introduction should comprise of a clear that shows what the writer intends to write.

State briefly your main points of arguments and analysis in the same order which you will follow through the rest of your essay.

Body Paragraphs: Argument and Analysis

Point Your Arguments Towards the Conclusion

The body of a persuasive essay should consist of at least three to four paragraphs. Each paragraph should include a good reason to support your thesis statement.

aims towards the conclusion right from the beginning, directly or indirectly. Use this approach in presenting your and .

Present Conflicting Opinions and Counter Arguments

A good persuasive essay tries to look forward to conflicting opinions and presents counter-arguments along with the main points of the essay.

Concluding Paragraphs: Summing Up Your Analysis and Arguments

A persuasive essay usually ends by summarizing the most essential details of the argument and affirming once again what the reader is to believe or do. You might want to conclude with a question, a prediction, a recommendation, or a quotation.

Closing with a question leads your readers to draw their own , a prediction might lead to a discussion, recommendations stress on what should be done where as quotations may summarize, predict, question or lead you to act upon it.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay

How to write a persuasive essay? Persuasive essay writing has a bad reputation. At its worst we picture a slimy hoodlum twisting someone’s arm to “persuade” him to tell where the diamonds are. We think of battleships and bombers hovering off the coast of a tiny country to “persuade” its government to change its policies. Cigarette advertisements in magazines “persuade” men that one brand will make them feel as if they’re riding a snorting stallion on the range while another brand will make women feel daring and rebellious. How about empty political campaign speeches or a father screaming at his late, tipsy teenager at 2 A.M.? Persuasion is commonly pictured as forcing, tricking, seducing, or lecturing people to buy or do something not really in their best interests. Too often these tactics work. But that’s not the kind of persuasion we’re interested in here.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay:

A persuasive essay is an essay used to convince a reader about a particular idea or focus, usually one that you believe in . When writing a persuasive essay, a writer takes a position FOR or AGAINST an issue and writes to convince the reader to believe or do something.

Persuasive essay utilizes logic and reason to show that one idea is more legitimate than another idea. It attempts to persuade a reader to adopt a certain point of view or to take a particular action. The argument must always use sound reasoning and solid evidence by stating facts, giving logical reasons, using examples, and quoting experts.

When planning a persuasive essay, follow these steps:

  1. Choose your position. Which side of the issue or problem are you going to write about, and what solution will you offer? Know the purpose of your essay.
  2. Analyze your audience. Decide if your audience agrees with you, is neutral, or disagrees with your position.
  3. Research your topic. A persuasive essay must provide specific and convincing evidence. Often it is necessary to go beyond your own knowledge and experience. You might need to go to the library or interview people who are experts on your topic.
  4. Structure your essay. Figure out what evidence you will include and in what order you will present the evidence. Remember to consider your purpose, your audience, and your topic.

The following criteria are essential to produce an effective argument

  • Be well informed about your topic. To add to your knowledge of a topic, read thoroughly about it, using legitimate sources. Take notes.
  • Test your thesis. Your thesis, i.e., argument, must have two sides. It must be debatable. If you can write down a thesis statement directly opposing your own, you will ensure that your own argument is debatable.
  • Disprove the opposing argument. Understand the opposite viewpoint of your position and then counter it by providing contrasting evidence or by finding mistakes and inconsistencies in the logic of the opposing argument.
  • Support your position with evidence. Remember that your evidence must appeal to reason.

The introduction has a “hook or grabber” to catch the reader’s attention. Some “grabbers” include:

  1. Opening with an unusual detail: (Manitoba, because of its cold climate, is not thought of as a great place to be a reptile. Actually, it has the largest seasonal congregation of garter snakes in the world!)
  2. Opening with a strong statement: (Cigarettes are the number one cause of lighter sales in Canada!)
  3. Opening with a Quotation: (Elbert Hubbard once said , “Truth is stronger than fiction.”)
  4. Opening with an Anecdote: An anecdote can provide an amusing and attention-getting opening if it is short and to the point.
  5. Opening with a Statistic or Fact: Sometimes a statistic or fact will add emphasis or interest to your topic. It may be wise to include the item’s authoritative source.
  6. Opening with a Question. (Have you ever considered how many books we’d read if it were not for television?)
  7. Opening with an Exaggeration or Outrageous Statement. (The whole world watched as the comet flew overhead.)

The introduction should also include a thesis or focus statement.

The Thesis/Hypothesis is your statement of purpose. The thesis/hypothesis should be one sentence in length. This is the foundation of your essay and it will serve to guide you in writing the entire paper.

There are three objectives of a thesis statement:

  1. It tells the reader the specific topic of your essay.
  2. It imposes manageable limits on that topic.
  3. It suggests the organization of your paper.

Through the thesis, you should say to the reader:

“I’ve thought about this topic, I know what I believe about it, and I know how to organize it.”

The writer then provides evidence to support the opinion offered in the thesis statement in the introduction. The body should consist of at least three paragraphs. Each paragraph is based on a solid reason to back your thesis statement. Since almost all issues have sound arguments on both sides of the question, a good persuasive writer tries to anticipate opposing viewpoints and provide counter-arguments along with the main points in the essay. One of the three paragraphs should be used to discuss opposing viewpoints and your counterargument.

The following are different ways to support your argument:

  • Facts – A powerful means of convincing, facts can come from your reading, observation, or personal experience. Note: Do not confuse facts with truths. A “truth” is an idea believed by many people, but it cannot be proven.
  • Statistics – These can provide excellent support. Be sure your statistics come from responsible sources. Always cite your sources.
  • Quotes – Direct quotes from leading experts that support your position are invaluable.
  • Examples – Examples enhance your meaning and make your ideas concrete. They are the proof.

Hints for successful body paragraphs:

  1. Clarify your position in your topic sentence – state your argument or reason that supports your position (thesis), think about what needs to be explained, and then think about how you can elaborate.
  2. Include Concession Statements (address opposing viewpoints!) : concession: If you’re writing a persuasive piece, you might consider beginning with a concession–that is, by beginning with an acknowledgement of part of your opponent’s argument as being valid. Remember that a concession is not a form of weakness. In fact a concession is a strength as it finds common ground with your opponent and establishes your ethical appeal: you are a reasonable person willing to listen to/acknowledge that there are more sides to an issue than yours.

You can’t ignore compelling opposing evidence. You must address strong arguments on the other side; if you don’t, it looks like you are not well prepared and have not looked at the issue you are writing about from all perspectives.

Example: “True, gun control legislation in Canada needs to be tightened to prevent the United States from becoming as violent as its neighbors to the south. The proposal that has been submitted, however, does not go far enough. Instead,…[now writer begins building his side of argument, showing how it is stronger than the opposing side’s!]

  1. Use transitions between sentences to serve as cues for the reader (first, second, then, however, consequently, therefore, thus, still, nevertheless, notwithstanding, furthermore, in fact, in contrast, similarly, instead)

A piece of persuasive writing usually ends by summarizing the most important details of the argument and stating once again what the reader is to believe or do.

  1. Restate your thesis or focus statement.
  2. Summarize the main points: The conclusion enables your reader to recall the main points of your position. In order to do this you can paraphrase the main points of your argument.
  3. Write a personal comment or call for action. You can do this:
  • With a Prediction: This can be used with a narrative or a cause and effect discussion. The conclusion may suggest or predict what the results may or may not be in the situation discussed or in similar situations.
  • With a Question: Closing with a question lets your readers make their own predictions, draw their own conclusions.
  • With Recommendations: A recommendations closing is one that stresses the actions or remedies that should be taken.
  • With a Quotation: Since a quotation may summarize, predict, question, or call for action, you may use a quotation within a conclusion for nearly any kind of paper.

As a general guideline, when writing a persuasive essay:

  1. Have a firm opinion that you want your reader to accept.
  2. Begin with a grabber or hook to get the reader’s attention.
  3. Offer evidence to support your opinion.
  4. Conclude with a restatement of what you want the reader to do or believe.

If you have the time and creativity to invent your own persuasive structure, do it. But over 2000 years from Roman orators to today’s editorialists, one model structure stands out. Not only does this model help you organize your ideas, but also it generates new ideas and makes sure you cover key aspects of any persuasive presentation. The four-part structure is Introduction, Main Supporting Ideas, Refutation, and Conclusion.

The introduction should begin by intriguing us with a concrete problem that is difficult to solve and end with your solution to this problem, your thesis. You establish a reasonable, ethical, knowledgeable tone here by showing the reader your familiarity with several issues involved.

The introduction should also outline in detail exactly what you are proposing. Explain how your plan will work, define key terms, who will do what, how it will be funded, what the timetable or stages are. Before you defend it, show the reader exactly what you propose. A complex plan may require several paragraphs to explain. Don’t skimp here!

The main supporting evidence should be arranged tightly, one paragraph or perhaps two for each main supporting idea, and the paragraphs filled out with examples, facts, appeals to value, and logic that support the idea. In papers of three to five typed pages, you should have room to develop three to four supporting ideas. In papers of one to two pages, two supporting ideas may be all you can support in depth.

To outline, list the main arguments and fill in support from brain teasers under each. Try several scratch outlines until your main headings are crisp and distinct. The Roman orators believed support should start strong and end strong and that the less strong arguments should be in the middle. Their rule of thumb: Second strongest argument comes first, strongest comes last, and the others in the middle. If you have a flimsy argument, put that in your wastebasket.

The refutation comes next in the paper. After raising your main supporting ideas, take time to consider one or two major objections someone might have against your views or proposal. Some people may ask, “Why should I attack my own case?” Why indeed? Well, in a written persuasive paper, as contrasted with a debate, you have total control over the presentation of ideas; no one can raise questions about your ideas—except the reader! And believe me, when someone is trying to persuade a person, he will raise objections. Most people love to find reasons why things cannot be done. Hiding weaknesses in your position won’t work with a good reader. So be honest. Also, by considering objections, you can modify and improve your ideas to be more convincing. It’s not only honest but in your best interest as an arguer and will help you improve your ideas. As John Locke once observed, “To judge other men’s notions before we have looked into them is not to show their darkness, but to put out our own eyes.”

In the refutation section, one strategy is to show how the objection is flawed. You must state opposition ideas with full honesty—so it would satisfy the opposition. Present these as valid questions, not as pesty troublemakers. Then, pinpoint fallacies in the objection, correct “facts” the objection may have mistaken, or question the values in the objection. In other words, the same brain teasers used to create support can also create refutations to an objection.

Suppose you have written an essay defending television, saying it contributes much to American culture and is a great educational tool. In your refutation section, you must consider objections people might have to your view. One objection would be that television watching has caused a decline in children’s ability to read. This contradicts your claim of television’s educational value. To be an honest arguer, you might point out that children do seem to watch television more than they read books; perhaps you might acknowledge that reading scores on standard tests have declined steadily in the past 15 years. How do you refute this now? Begin by seeing if the objection falls into a logical fallacy. Faulty cause and effect, for instance, seems to apply. Just because a decline in reading scores followed an increase in television watching does not prove one caused another. We have had Republican presidents most of the past 50 years; can we claim they caused a decline in reading scores? Of course not. In refuting, you should also suggest possible causes of the decline other than television. Perhaps the schools aren’t teaching reading the best way; perhaps school discipline problems disrupt the teaching of reading; perhaps the lack of family togetherness (reading aloud after supper, discussing the newspaper) has contributed.

Question the facts. Are the reading tests outdated? Do the lowest test scorers watch the most television, or do the best readers also watch television? You can get examples from your classmates or perhaps do some quick research. You can also question the values behind the objection. You might argue it’s too easy to blame a machine for our problems as a society when we ought to blame ourselves for not working hard enough to learn, support, and teach reading.

A second way of handling a refutation is to concede some truth to the objection. “Television has probably contributed somewhat to a decline in reading ability. However. . . .” Then writers usually say despite this drawback, there are too many good reasons to let this one objection stand in the way. This is often the only solution where there is no compromise possible, usually because of moral issues. If you were in favor of allowing abortions, for instance, you may have to concede that aborting a fetus really is the taking of a human or potentially human life. You might even acknowledge this would be wrong in a perfect world, but that the misery an unwanted or deformed child endures is worse yet.

Another type of concession offers compromises. People who are against abortions, for instance, might reluctantly agree that a woman in danger of dying in childbirth may be granted an abortion. But they should probably add that the principle of the sanctity of human life is still not compromised— that the taking of a life is to save a life.

The refutation section of a persuasive essay is perhaps the most important; it establishes your integrity as a writer, it forces you to consider your thesis more deeply, and it gives you the chance to make your argument even stronger. Refutation may be placed in a separate section of the essay, or you may handle it as objections might be raised against your supporting points.

The conclusion in persuasive writing can be a simple reaffirmation of your thesis, but it’s usually better to look forward. You might paint a picture of the world in which your plan is enacted, or you might paint a picture of how less effective plans than yours would affect people’s lives. Or you might end with a dramatic statistic or example.

  1. Get the readers attention by using a “hook.”
  2. Give some background information if necessary.
  3. Thesis or focus statement.

I. First argument or reason to support your position:

  1. Topic sentence explaining your point and reason
  2. Possible concession toward opposing argument
  3. Elaboration to back your point.
  4. Clincher

II. Second argument or reason to support your position:

  1. Topic sentence explaining your point and reason
  2. Possible concession toward opposing argument
  3. Elaboration to back your point.
  4. Clincher

III. Third argument or reason to support your position:

  1. Topic sentence explaining your point and reason
  2. Possible concession toward opposing argument
  3. Elaboration to back your point.
  4. Clincher

(This is optional, however highly recommended, so that the reader will know you have considered another point of view and have a rebuttal to it.)

  1. Opposing point to your argument.
  2. Your rebuttal to the opposing point.
  3. Elaboration to back your rebuttal.
  1. Summary of main points or reasons
  2. Restate thesis statement.
  3. Personal comment or a call to action.

Honest, ethical persuasion means bringing readers—through their own reason and emotions—to believe or act as the writer does. In this sense, readers willingly and consciously discover that it is in their best interest to agree. This type of persuasion, which will be required of you in many college assignments and in most persuasive writing done in business, professional, and technical careers, is an honest appeal to reason and feeling.

Advertising, political speeches, and barroom debates often imply the audience is so dumb or so bullheaded that it must be pounded into submission. Reasonable persuasion assumes your audience is uncommitted (unless you know for sure you are dealing with supporters or those holding opposite views). It assumes your audience is educated and will weigh your arguments reasonably. This audience wants facts and logic, expects you to be ethical, will be critical of shortcomings in your position, and will not fall for the gimmicks of advertising.

This means that you, as a persuader, must achieve a good persuasive tone. You do not have to be somber or dull. In fact, humor not only enlivens persuasion but can demonstrate the writer is broad-minded. Overall, strive for perspective and common sense. Sentences like “All people who support abortion are murderers!” or (from the opposing side) “Antiabortionists want to enslave women!” share the same hysterical tone. Wild, undisciplined language usually results from wild or undisciplined thinking, and smart, open-minded readers will be skeptical about writers who lose their tempers. Assume your readers are intelligent, present many facts and reasons for your position, and trust them to see the logic. If you try to bully readers into agreement with shouting, they won’t be convinced—they’ll only want to get away from you.

Before we agree with an argument, we must trust the arguer. Give readers reasons to trust you. Is the persuader ethical? Knowledgeable? Reasonable? Your credibility is damaged by using profanity, bullying, ranting, or threats, by twisting facts or calling rumors “facts,” and by relying on slogans, clichés, stereotypes, or other oversimplifications. The writer who calmly helps a reader sort through the complexities of a situation, who honestly shares the difficulties of right and wrong in the issue, and who respects the truth will open doors with a quiet knock. The persuader who approaches with a battering ram or who tries to sneak in a back window is the one against whom readers build barricades.

So before you begin persuading readers, try to put yourself in an honest, helpful frame of mind; open yourself to alternative viewpoints in the early stages especially, so the point you set out to prove is as reasonable and fair as it can be. Keep Joseph Joubert’s statement in mind: “The aim of argument should not be victory but progress.”

As long as you consider your audience’s reactions and are willing to modify your ideas to strengthen them, you will make honest progress. If you seek victory over a reader, ignore or hide facts that threaten your idea, or lose control of your emotions, your case will start to crumble.

To help achieve a good tone, write to real people for a real reason— actually send your ideas to someone. You can write to your student loan service center with suggestions, to your boss at the retail store about changing an exchange policy that costs the store thousands of dollars, to a local high school principal to persuade him to make driver’s education a required course, to the campus facilities director to add a bus route for the dorm in the woods, to a father to persuade him not to retire from racing, to the Hallmark Company persuading them to sell Christmas jewelry you designed, to Apple Computer proposing a software registration plan that will keep prices low and prevent others from duplicating the software. These are all recent papers my students wrote—and sent. Or, like other students, you can join 53 million bloggers who post their ideas on their websites. Some of these are personal journals, but many develop arguments and debate issues. Going “live” can give you some of the best education you will have in college. But do wait for peer and/or your professor’s reactions before sending out your ideas.

Supporting Evidence in a Persuasive Essay

A reasonable person expects reasonable evidence before believing something. In the previous examples, you’d want to be convinced that cash motivation would work for grades: that it would be fair, that the specific economics of the plan would fly, and that it would be good for students and teachers.

Can you imagine three or four questions you’d want answered before investing in shuttle buses if you were the store’s manager? Always anticipate your audience’s barriers to belief.

When you argue persuasively, pack in as much supporting evidence as possible. Think of yourself as a lawyer convincing a jury. There are three types of evidence:

These are new brain teasers for persuasive writing. Make a list of all the facts you know (or need to know so you can research them later), all appeals to value you can use, and all logical arguments you can use.

Using Facts in a Persuasive Essay

Statistics are one type of fact you can use to support a thesis. A proverb says, “There are two kinds of lies: regular lies and statistics.” It means that statistics can be twisted to bolster weak arguments. Maier’s law even says, “If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.” This attitude may be held by less reputable advertisers or politicians, but in honest, ethical persuasion, you must be especially careful to handle your statistics fairly and accurately. If we say, for instance, “A recent study found that 94 percent of people surveyed believe the ban on television advertising for cigarettes is unfair,” our reaction to this statistic changes if we learn it was conducted by a tobacco company in the town where its factory is located. An ethical arguer must reveal such information or not use the statistic.

The source of your fact strengthens or weakens its impact. Generally, your facts will be more credible if they are based on recent research conducted by an expert and published in a reputable journal, web site, or book. Material from The National Enquirer, material assembled by astrologers, or work done 30 years ago in fast-changing fields such as psychology or physics is generally not considered reliable. Even experts are not absolutely trustworthy. Lord Kelvin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sigmund Freud all made whopping errors in their fields.

Another problem with statistics is simply making the reader see them clearly. Today we are bombarded with numbers: billions of dollars, millions of highway deaths, thousands of recalled products. Despite our modern sophistication, big numbers seem unreal for most people, and the writer must help the reader see what the number means in a concrete way. When the United States went past the $1 trillion mark of indebtedness, for instance, most people simply shrugged until one representative of Congress visualized the statistic. He calculated that if we stacked 1 trillion $1 bills on top of each other, the pile would reach the moon! That gave people an image of $1 trillion they could visualize, and it persuaded many people to demand government action, as the representative had hoped. 2006 debt is $9 trillion.

Here are three facts. Which is the most visual?

  • 200 million tons of dirt/rocks were dug to create the Panama Canal.
  • A typical hurricane releases 50 times the energy of the first atomic bomb.
  • Hoover Dam holds back 10 trillion gallons of water.

Some statistics can come from your own observations. In a letter to the Vice President for Facilities Management at the State University of New York at Buffalo, a student proposed that the college expand its parking facilities. At one point, she produced her own statistics by driving around campus counting spaces:

—–It may also be possible to turn parts of faculty lots into student parking, since faculty lots are seldom full. There are 27,000 students and 4,000 faculty members at UB. All 19,000 commuter students, and, I estimate, one quarter of the 8,000 who live on campus drive to class. There are eight student lots on North Campus, three of which hold approximately 300 cars, five of which hold 200 cars, for a total of 1,900 spaces. Yet there are five faculty lots with a total of 1,000 spaces. On the South Campus, there are four student and two faculty lots, each accommodating 200 cars. I calculate the ratio of faculty to parking spaces is three to one and of students to student parking spaces is eight to one. After viewing the parking lots throughout the semester, I believe you can afford to transfer at least several hundred spaces to students.

There’s a second kind of fact, one handy for all of us: examples. Use examples from (1) what you’ve seen; (2) what your friends and families have seen; (3) historical or current events; and (4) hypothetical cases.

If you’re writing about the law that forbids those under a certain age from drinking alcohol, for instance, you probably know a dozen cases that could support either side—from firsthand experience, from what others have told you, and from the news. Everyone can dig up a couple of examples of drunken teenagers causing fatal accidents—or of drunken middle-aged people killing sober teenagers; of teenagers bribing an adult to buy illegal liquor—or of responsible teenagers arranging a designated driver who will not touch alcohol during the evening.

Historical and news stories carry more weight with a reader—she can think, “Oh yes, I remember that.” It is verifiable. Personal examples may make the reader wonder if you’ve colored the facts; however, your own examples give you the chance to write vividly. You can describe the accident scene, quote dialogue from the beer party, build narrative conflict, and write with a freshness you can’t with historical cases—and you should. Examples you heard from your friends are less satisfactory because, as lawyers say, it is “hearsay” testimony. It is one step further removed from the reader and hence less reliable. We all know truth has a way of getting watered down (or spiced up!) as it gets passed along.

Hypothetical examples are necessary to fill in gaps when facts are not available or to project future events for which there are no facts. Hypothetical examples are simply made-up cases of things likely to happen. In the abortion debate, for instance, several hypothetical cases are usually raised: “Suppose a woman gets pregnant through rape” or “Suppose a pregnant woman discovers the fetus is badly deformed.” Both scenarios are likely to happen sometime in our society. We might be able to track down facts about actual women in these cases, but if we can’t, a hypothetical example can appeal to the reader’s common sense. The reader will test your common sense in explaining the hypothetical case as well. You would be on shaky ground, I think, to portray a woman pregnant through rape as a person who should forget how she became pregnant and within months develop normal maternal tenderness, or look forward to the experience of childbirth the way an intentionally pregnant woman would. There are noble people who can do this—but wouldn’t you agree that they are rare? It would be equally rare for normal women, even under such stress as this, to be driven to suicide should they not be allowed to have an abortion.

Facts and examples are important support for most arguments; pack plenty in your essay, and use them fairly and vividly. Rely most on firsthand experience and reliable sources. Secondhand and hypothetical examples should be used as last resorts.

Appeals to the Reader’s Values in a Persuasive Essay

People are persuaded not only by facts but by realizing that your proposal supports values they believe in. Facts without a context of values seem meaningless much of the time. Amory Lovins, an energy expert, calculated in 1980 that if the United States were to take all cars off the road with gas mileage of less than 15 miles per gallon and were to replace them with cars with gas mileage of at least 35 miles per gallon, the United States could reduce its gasoline consumption by 15 percent. Ho-hum, right? Well, it becomes more interesting when Lovins reminds us today that if we reduced oil consumption 15 percent, we would have needed to import no oil from the Mideast, need station no ships in the Persian Gulf, risk no soldiers’ deaths, perhaps have fewer diplomats, reporters, or businesspeople there taken hostage. This puts the fact about gas mileage into a values context.

Some values that writers consider in persuasive writing are economics, fairness, health, safety, love, environmental impact, freedom, beauty. As Abraham Maslow showed in his hierarchy of needs, certain basic needs must be met before people are willing to consider others. We are, therefore, unlikely to consider an appeal to our sense of beauty (put up a gorgeous city sculpture that will delight our minds) if the project will bankrupt us or be dangerous for children to play on. Maslow said we must have safety and basic physical needs met before we strive for “higher” values such as fairness and freedom. After we achieve basic needs, Maslow argued, humans give priority to love, beauty, and spiritual matters. Here is a simplified list of Maslow’s values, starting with the most basic:

  • Physiological (food, shelter, water, health)
  • Safety (security, order, stability)
  • Belongingness and love (family, friends, social groups)
  • Esteem (status, power, recognition, money)
  • Self-actualization (reaching your individual potential; for example, oneness with God, nature, or lover; creativity, justice, beauty, and freedom)

Maslow was being descriptive of how people behaved, not how he thought they ought to behave. By contrast, most philosophies and religions insist spiritual values are more important than, say, status, recognition, or even safety. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi, as well as thousands of unknown people, have put justice, freedom, creativity, or love above personal health, safety, and status.

You will have to decide for yourself if Maslow is right about what values motivate people the most. Would you, for instance, bulldoze a beautiful neighborhood park for an industrial plant if it meant secure jobs for your family? Would most people? Germany, where most wilderness has been devastated, values nature preserves more than Brazil, which is burning down its vast tropical rain forest for industry in hopes of improving its people’s standard of living. One of the more interesting aspects of persuasive writing is dealing with the changing, conflicting values of people and groups.

In practical terms, the persuasive writer might generate ideas to defend a proposal by going down a checklist of values, asking how each value can suggest new arguments to support his position. Suppose I am proposing that my state outlaw legal gambling and close betting parlors. The list of values below is written so you can use it as a brain teaser to think up support for many topics.

  • What economic benefits will my position have? For whom? How much?
  • Will it increase people’s security or satisfy basic needs?
  • Is it fair to all parties involved? Think through—one at a time—how various people might see it.
  • Will it enhance or limit anyone’s freedom?
  • How will my plan affect families?
  • Will my plan appeal to the reader’s concern for beauty?
  • Will my plan affect the environment?
  • Will my plan build self-esteem or status for anyone? Who? Why?
  • How might this help people actualize their potential?
  • List other values of importance to yourself. How can they be appealed to by your proposal?

Using Logic in a Persuasive Essay

Strange as this may sound, logic alone rarely makes readers shout “Amen!” or write checks to support your cause. We tend to agree with ideas partly based on our trust of the writer (how well she connects to us and how fair her tone is), and also partly on our emotional response to the values and feeling behind the proposal. These are seldom totally logical. While good logic may not win agreement, bad logic can kill the deal. Logic draws together facts and appeals to values, and if you do not make a tight connection, the reader will have a good reason to reject your thesis. In its simplest form logic takes one fact (the minor premise) and one value (the major premise) and shows that if they both are true, a reasonable conclusion drawn from them must also be true. Let’s take an example.

Suppose I want to persuade people that abortion is morally wrong and ought to be illegal. To do this I present a value—killing a human being is morally wrong and illegal. Then I present a fact—that a fetus is a human being. If these two are true, then the conclusion is inevitable: Killing a fetus is wrong and should be illegal. My logic (the connection between the two premises) is valid. Someone who disagreed with me, however, might argue that one or both of these premises are not true. With the abortion issue, people usually question whether a fetus is really a human being. Do you see how the logic of my claim disintegrates if that “fact” is proved false? The opposition might also question my other premise by pointing out that killing humans is morally or legally acceptable in a number of circumstances. Can you name some?

Logic, then, is rarely perfect. One or both of the premises can be questioned. The flaws writers fall into when using logic are called “logical fallacies” because they make any argument that uses them invalid. They are forms of dishonest persuasion. Here are nine of the most common logical fallacies.

  1. Endorsement. A basketball star likes a certain hamburger. The commercial claims you will like it too. A doctor on a TV show recommends a particular kind of coffee. Are you persuaded to buy it? Obviously we suspect that these people’s recommendations are strongly influenced by what they are paid. But the endorsement’s fallacy isn’t really lying, but logic. There is no necessary connection between the tastes of one person and another. Had a genuine doctor recommended a coffee for its health effects, we might have had a stronger case. An athlete endorsing a hamburger is far less effective than an athlete endorsing sneakers. In such cases there should also be an explanation of why the product or viewpoint is correct. Does the hamburger use the highest quality meat, cost less, or avoid dangerous preservatives? These are the real issues. This applies to experts you may quote in your papers as well. It’s not enough to say Abraham Maslow or Rachel Carson believed something. For the reader’s understanding you also need to explain how the theory works or what the facts are.
  2. Hasty Generalization. I hate Professor Smith. My friends in the class hate him. Therefore, Professor Smith must be an unpopular teacher. Sorry. You need more evidence. Several students from a class of 25 are too few to support such a claim. Perhaps your group is on Professor Smith’s bad side because of poor performance or attitude. How about this: The Democrats always start America’s big wars—Democrats were presidents when Vietnam, Korea, and World Wars I and II started. This is also hasty generalization— can you explain why? A hasty generalization means you base a conclusion or claim on too few examples or oversimplified evidence. You can overcome this in your essays by deluging your reader with cases and examples.
  3. Bandwagon. This is similar to the endorsement, except that instead of picking a prominent person who supports your claim, you say your position must be right because many people support it. There’s a quick cure for this fallacy: Just remind yourself how many millions of people thought Hitler and Mussolini were saviors. Closer to home, remind yourself how President Richard Nixon won a landslide election and resigned a year later for dishonest and illegal activities. Was his presidency justified because so many people supported him? No. What makes an argument right is that it is right, not that millions of people believe it’s right. Your job is to show how it’s right, not how it’s popular. Robert Frost summed this up neatly: “Thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing—that’s voting.”
  4. Tradition. “It’s always been done this way” or “My parents taught me to believe. . . .” This is a cop-out from thinking. You’re hiding behind someone else’s thinking instead of walking the reader through the arguments themselves. There’s a quick reminder you can use if you’re tempted to rely on this fallacy: Suppose the first human beings one million years ago had latched onto this principle: “We’ve always eaten our meat raw and slept in trees. No fire, no caves!” Traditional beliefs prevent people from rushing to each wild, untested idea that floats along, but just because a belief once may have been valid does not mean it still is. Tradition fights good new ideas as well as bad ones.
  5. Unqualified Generalization. In our enthusiasm for a claim we sometimes exaggerate: “Television reality shows are the worst thing for our children’s minds today.” Really? Worse than pornography? Worse than fighting parents? Worse than an abusive teacher? A statement like the previous one shows the person has simply not thought through the idea. Qualifying makes it more acceptable. “Television reality shows are bad for children’s minds.” It is now no longer at the head of a list of everything bad. You could also say, “Some TV reality shows may harm a child’s mind as badly as pornography.” The reader cannot toss these away at first reading—she must first see how you support such a view. Avoid words like “all,” “always,” “never,” “nobody in her right mind,” or “everyone.” Use considered words like “most people,” “usually,” or “under normal circumstances.”
  6. Faulty Cause and Effect. This means claiming one thing caused another to happen when the only tangible relationship between the two things is that one preceded the other. You may be able to prove the one did indeed cause the other, but a simple time relationship alone does not. “My parents got divorced after I was born. Therefore, I broke up their marriage.” Or, “Every time I get a day off, it rains.” Or, “The family has deteriorated in the past 20 years—since feminism became strong. That proves how harmful feminism has been to America.” None of these holds water as complete arguments. In the first case you need to prove that your parents’ marriage was solid before you came along and that you were the key problem in arguments your parents might have had. In the second, you’d have to establish that meteorological powers infuse your body on a day off. With the antifeminist statement, think of all the competing explanations for why the family has deteriorated: decline in church-going, increased violence, increased sexual activity outside of marriage, increased drug use, increased materialism, worse public morals, a more highly mobile society. All three cases need to show a connection between cause and effect.
  7. Sentimentality. This means pleading a cause based on your feelings (usually misery) rather than on its merits. “You’ve got to give me a ‘C’ in this course or I won’t graduate”; “You can’t withdraw me for absences; I’ll lose my state aid.” Sorry. The grade in a course says you have performed at a certain level, and your misery at not doing well should not persuade a professor your merit is greater than it is. Your state aid is given assuming you will attend class; you earn it by attending and performing at an acceptable level. “A promotion will make me so happy!” By itself, not good enough. The logical questions are: Did you earn it? Do you show potential?
  8. Attacking Your Opponent. Instead of attacking a position, value, or fact to advance your case, you attack the person who made the proposal. “Don’t support President Bush’s plan to reform business ethics; he did the same corrupt things before he was president.” To a fair-minded reader, this is con artistry. The bill and its sponsor are two separate issues, and the plan should be discussed on its own merits. How about these cases; are they valid criticisms?
  • “We shouldn’t elect Hilary Clinton president; she is married to Bill Clinton.”
  • “We shouldn’t do business with the Captain Computer Company; its head salesman smokes pot.”
  1. Either . . . Or. “Either we enact the president’s plan or the economy will not recover.” “We should either marry or break up.” The “or” part of these statements may happen if we don’t do the first part, but there are lots of other possibilities, too. We can compromise on the president’s plan and on dating less seriously. The economy (and our love life) may go downhill for a while, then recover on its own. There may be several creative alternatives. “Either . . . or” limits the possibilities to only two choices when there are many. People who want you to be either for or against gun control, drug legalization, or human cloning and who refuse to notice gray areas, and alternatives falsify the issue to make it a choice between good and evil. Most of the time, things are just not that way.
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