What are the most effective methods to use when writing an argumentative or persuasive paragraph or essay?

Persuasive Papers: Writing Rhetorically

(There is a second answer below that focuses on mechanics for writing a persuasive essay in an educational environment.)

Wow... this takes me back to my days as a Rhetoric major at U.C. Berkeley!

Rhetoric, btw, is the "art of persuasion"... basically trying to convince someone of something for some reason. So... the first thing you really need to know is "who is your audience?" It doesn't take much to convince a kid to eat a candy bar, but it will be slightly more problematic to convince their parent that their kid *should* eat a candy bar! The style of your essay, the words you use and the tactics taken all depend on whom you are trying to convince.

That being said, know that there are three general areas to address in making your argument, and indeed, when you are trying to persuade someone, you're making an argument.

1. Ethos-- This is who you are. Why should I believe you? If you're trying to convince someone that global warming does or doesn't exist, it helps to have credentials as a scientist. However, that's not enough in and of itself. Indeed, there are scientists who have "blown their ethos" within their own community by refuting widely accepted theories on the causes of global warming. If you are not an expert on the subject matter, you should say so (this is known by the rhetorical term "litotes"), in other words, underplay your hand a bit (but not too much), while simultaneously quote and use experts in your paper to back up whatever points you are making. This will help make the reader aware that you have considered the topic and looked to experts for their opinions.

Now, if you *are* an expert, you want that to be known... because people are more likely to believe you. However... you don't want to overplay your hand and be too strident in the tone of your paper. Strident means "I'm an expert and here's the truth... if you don't believe me then you are a blithering idiot." This basically will have the effect of persuading *no one*. Remember to always reflect back on your audience. People are almost impossible to shift their views 180 degrees. As a lifelong democrat, you'll have a hard time convincing me to vote for Bush, no matter how expert you are in politics.

2. Pathos-- This appeals to people's emotions. Again, consider your audience. I don't know if you're a baseball fan or not, but at a recent Indians--Yankee's game, basketball player LeBron James showed up wearing a Yankee's cap... he's a Yankee's fan. Now... this has a lot more to do with ethos than pathos... but consider how all the Cleveland fans felt watching their star basketball player show up to a baseball playoff game wearing a Yankee's cap!? That's right... they all probably had really mixed, and mostly angry feelings. You want to make your audience feel comfortable, and most importantly, *on your side*. Don't alienate them with ideas, thoughts, indeed facts that will take them away from wanting to support you.

3. Logos-- The logic of an argument. Don't try and go from A to Z in one step. There are a lot of letters in between! You need to persuade people in small increments... getting them to believe smaller arguments that lead up to your big one. In rhetoric class we created what was called a "thesis statement" followed by a "because clause." You need to show relationship between the two. The because clause supports the main thesis statement, and is *less controversial*. Once you get people to believe your smaller points you'll be better suited to get them to be on your side for the bigger points.

Use active verbs and avoid "to be" or passive verbs. Show causality rather than simply saying the "grass is green" (which takes you nowhere) say "grass contains a pigment known as chlorophyll that absorbs all the colors of the rainbow *except* for green!" Wow... now you've said something and of course people will want to know more. If you just tell them "something is something" your paper won't "move" and your audience may become disinterested.

A bit of humor may embellish your paper and if you use it properly, keep your audience's focus and help get them on your side. This goes to both ethos and pathos... but be careful with it! Your classmates might roll on the floor, but if you have a stodgy teacher with no sense of humor (they should all be fired!) then you might lose your most important audience member.

Also, remember to encounter your opposition. What this means is you have to know what the other side of where you want the audience to go is and deal with them. Remember the kid with the candy bar? He didn't need any convincing, but his parents did. They'll have arguments along the lines of "It will ruin his teeth! (OK... we'll have the kid brush immediately after)" and "It will ruin his appetite!" (OK... we'll have him eat the candy bar after dinner.) etc. You don't have to go deeply into engaging counter-arguments, but you at least need to make your audience aware that you've thought about other points of view, and have an answer for them.

I hope this gives you some things to think about.

An argumentative or persuasive paragraph or essay is one in which you try to persuade the reader to agree with you. The best way to do this is to first make a list of all the reasons why your opinion is correct - make each one into a complete sentence.

Next, for each reason, write two or three sentences explaining the reason. You now have a good persuasive argument!

Joe-Sixpack portion begins.

Persuasive Essays in an Educational Environment:

If you are writing an essay for class, your opinions do not matter. Your emotions do not matter. Your qualifications do not matter. You don't matter.

What does matter is your thesis. Your thesis is the reason your essay exists. The only thing you should include is arguments for and proof of your thesis. If you need to address opposition arguments to prove your thesis, feel free to include those, as well.

Step 1: Examine the assignment.

Find out exactly what you are supposed to be writing about. Your whole essay is irrelevant if you write about the wrong thing. If possible, verify with an instructor/judge that the topic/thesis you have picked meets their requirements.

Step 2: Consider your audience.

Who is going to be reading this essay? Are they experts on the given topic? If so, try to focus on facts and logic. Experts are going to recognize emotional arguments for the nonsense that they are. Talking about yourself might be acceptable here if you are genuinely an expert in the field. Otherwise, stick to facts. Niche audiences, or audiences that are composed of small portion of the population that share some common factor, are going to want to hear more about the aspects of the topic that affect them. Emotional appeals work better when they are targeted at an audience's specific concerns, so try to tailor these to the audience you are addressing. Finally, it is probably a bad idea to try to persuade an audience of something that is going to cause them to erupt in irrational hatred for you. If your professor absolutely hates George W. Bush, there is no point in trying to persuade them that the Iraq war was legitimate. If you have a choice in topic, pick something your professor will agree with, and enjoy the favorable grading you get.

Step 3: Write a thesis.

Your thesis tells the audience exactly what you are trying to prove, and defines the boundaries of your paper. Do not include anything that is not directly related to proving your thesis. The thesis should be brief and limited in scope. Don't go beyond what you can actually prove.

Step 4: Define your terms.

You need to tell the audience what your thesis actually means, and what you will have to show to prove it. Important phrases in your thesis need to be defined clearly, so that the audience knows exactly what you mean. You need to lay out your criteria for proving your thesis in this section.

Step 5: Write an outline.

Seriously, don't skip this. Outline the essay, make sure you know where each section goes, and stick to it. This is the easiest way to make sure you don't waste time on irrelevant topics. Introduce each new section with a brief sentence or two that describes what you are going to discuss, and how it relates to the thesis. At the end of each section, tell the audience how what you just said goes to prove the thesis.

Step 6: Actually write it.

Outlines are great, but most people will not accept them in lieu of an essay.