Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

4.8: Persuasion

  • Page ID
    33585

    Persuasion

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.25.38 PM.png

    The Purpose of Persuasive Writing

    The purpose of persuasion in writing is to convince, motivate, or move readers toward a certain point of view, or opinion. The act of trying to persuade automatically implies that more than one opinion on the subject can be argued.

    The idea of an argument often conjures up images of two people yelling and screaming in anger. In writing, however, an argument is very different. An argument is a reasoned opinion supported and explained by evidence. To argue in writing is to advance knowledge and ideas in a positive way. Written arguments often fail when they employ ranting rather than reasoning.

    Most of us feel inclined to try to win the arguments we enter. On some level, we all want to be right, and we want others to see the error of their ways. More times than not, however, arguments in which both sides try to win end up producing losers all around. The more productive approach is to persuade your audience to consider your opinion as a valid one, not simply the right one.

    The Structure of a Persuasive Essay

    The following five features make up the structure of a persuasive essay:

    1. Introduction and thesis
    2. Opposing and qualifying ideas
    3. Strong evidence in support of claim
    4. Style and tone of language
    5. A compelling conclusion

    Creating an Introduction and Thesis

    The persuasive essay begins with an engaging introduction that presents the general topic. The thesis typically appears somewhere in the introduction and clearly states the writer's point of view.

    Acknowledging Opposing Ideas and Limits to Your Argument

    Because an argument implies differing points of view on the subject, you must be sure to acknowledge those opposing ideas. Avoiding ideas that conflict with your own gives the reader the impression that you may be uncertain, fearful, or unaware of opposing ideas. Thus it is essential that you not only address counterarguments but also do so respectfully.

    Try to address opposing arguments earlier rather than later in your essay. Rhetorically speaking, ordering your positive arguments last allows you to better address ideas that conflict with your own because it allows you to focus on countering those arguments. This way, you leave your reader thinking about your argument rather than someone else's. You have the last word.

    Acknowledging points of view different from your own also has the effect of fostering more credibility between you and the audience. Readers will know from the outset that you are aware of opposing ideas and that you are not afraid to give them space. It is also helpful to establish the limits of your argument and what you are trying to accomplish. In effect, you are conceding early on that your argument is not the ultimate authority on a given topic.

    Such humility can go a long way toward earning credibility and trust with an audience ("ethos"). Audience members will know from the beginning that you are a reasonable writer, and they will trust your argument as a result. For example, in the following concessionary statement, the writer advocates for stricter gun control laws, but she admits it will not solve all of our problems with crime:

    Although tougher gun control laws are a powerful first step in decreasing violence in our streets, such legislation alone cannot end these problems since guns are not the only problem we face.

    Such a concession will be welcome by those who might disagree with this writer's argument in the first place. To effectively persuade their readers, writers need to be realistic in their goals and humble in their approach to get readers to listen to their ideas. See Table of Phrases of Concession for some useful phrases of concession.

    Table of Phrases of Concession

    although

    granted that

    of course

    still

    though

    yet

    Bias in Writing

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.28.14 PM.png

    Everyone has various biases on any number of topics. For example, you might have a bias toward listening to music radio stations rather than talk radio or news programs. You might have a bias toward working at night rather than in the morning, or working by deadlines rather than getting tasks done in advance. These examples identify minor biases, of course, but they still indicate preferences and opinions.

    Handling bias in writing and in daily life can be a useful skill. It will allow you to articulate your own points of view while also defending yourself against unreasonable points of view. The ideal in persuasive writing is to let your reader know your bias, but do not let that bias blind you to the primary components of good argumentation: sound, thoughtful evidence and a respectful and reasonable address of opposing sides.

    The strength of a personal bias is that it can motivate you to construct a strong argument. If you are invested in the topic, you are more likely to care about the piece of writing. Similarly, the more you care, the more time and effort you will put forth and the better the final product will be.

    The weakness of bias is when the bias begins to take over the essay when, for example, you neglect opposing ideas, exaggerate your points, or repeatedly insert yourself ahead of the subject by using I too often. Being aware of all three of these pitfalls will help you avoid them.

    The Use of "I" in Writing

    The use of "I" in writing is a topic of debate, and the acceptance of its usage varies from instructor to instructor. It is difficult to predict the preferences for all your present and future instructors, but consider the effects it can potentially have on your writing. Be mindful of the use of "I" in your writing because it can make your argument sound overly biased. There are two primary reasons:

    1. Excessive repetition of any word will eventually catch the reader's attention--and usually not in a good way. The use of "I" is no different.
    2. The insertion of "I" into a sentence alters not only the way a sentence might sound but also the composition of the sentence itself. "I" is often the subject of a sentence. If the subject of the essay is supposed to be, say, smoking, then by inserting yourself into the sentence, you are effectively displacing the subject of the essay into a secondary position. In the following example, the subject of the sentence is underlined:

    Smoking is bad.

    I think smoking is bad.

    In this sentence, the rightful subject, smoking, is in the subject position in the sentence. In this sentence, the insertion of "I think" replaces smoking as the subject, which draws attention to I and away from the topic that is supposed to be discussed.

    Remember to keep the message (the subject) and the messenger (the writer) separate. Indeed, your argument will be stronger if you remove the I think and simply assert "Smoking is bad." For more information about pronoun focus in an essay see Chapter 1 Introduction to Writing.

    Facts and Opinions

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.33.52 PM.png

    Facts are statements that can be definitely proven using objective data. The statement that is a fact is absolutely valid. In other words, the statement can be pronounced as true or false. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. This expression identifies a true statement, or a fact, because it can be proved with objective data.

    Opinions are personal views, or judgments. An opinion is what an individual believes about a particular subject. However, an opinion in argumentation must have legitimate backing; adequate evidence and credibility should support the opinion.

    Consider the credibility of expert opinions. Experts in a given field have the knowledge and credentials to make their opinion meaningful to a larger audience; this credibility is sometimes called "ethos" and is one way that we make our arguments persuasive.

    For example, you seek the opinion of your dentist when it comes to the health of your gums, and you seek the opinion of your mechanic when it comes to the maintenance of your car. Both have knowledge and credentials in those respective fields, which is why their opinions matter to you. But the authority of your dentist may be greatly diminished should he or she offer an opinion about your car, and vice versa.

    In writing, you want to strike a balance between credible facts and authoritative opinions. Relying on one or the other will likely lose more of your audience than it gains.

    Using Visual Elements to Strengthen Arguments

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.34.57 PM.png

    Adding visual elements to a persuasive argument can often strengthen its persuasive effect. There are two main types of visual elements: quantitative visuals and qualitative visuals.

    Quantitative visuals present data graphically. They allow the audience to see statistics spatially. The purpose of using quantitative visuals is to make logical appeals to the audience.

    An appeal based on logic is called "logos," and it persuades the reader using reasoning. Often we can provide information in data form to persuade the reader through logic.

    Quantitative visuals help display the information clearly. For example, sometimes it is easier to understand the disparity in certain statistics if you can see how the disparity looks graphically. Bar graphs, pie charts, Venn diagrams, histograms, and line graphs are all ways of presenting quantitative data in spatial dimensions.

    Qualitative visuals present images that appeal to the audience's emotions. Persuading your reader based on an emotional appeal is called "pathos." Photographs and pictorial images are examples of qualitative visuals that can create an emotional appeal. Such images often try to convey a story, and seeing an actual example can carry more power than hearing or reading about the example. For example, one image of a child suffering from malnutrition will likely have more of an emotional impact than pages dedicated to describing that same condition in writing.

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.36.46 PM.png You will find that many of the rhetorical devices used in writing are the same ones used in the workplace. When making a business presentation, you typically have limited time to get across your idea. Providing visual elements for your audience can be an effective time-saving tool. Quantitative visuals in business presentations serve the same purpose as they do in persuasive writing. They should make logical appeals by showing numerical data in a spatial design. Qualitative visuals should be pictures that might appeal to your audience's emotions.

    Writing a Persuasive Essay

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.40.26 PM.png

    Choose a topic that you feel passionate about. If your instructor requires you to write about a specific topic, approach the subject from an angle that interests you. Begin your essay with an engaging introduction. Your thesis should typically appear somewhere in your introduction. Be sure to have a clear thesis that states your position and previews the main points your essay will address.

    Start by acknowledging and explaining points of view that may conflict with your own to build credibility and trust with your audience. Also state the limits of your argument. This too helps you sound more reasonable and honest to those who may naturally be inclined to disagree with your view. By respectfully acknowledging opposing arguments and conceding limitations to your own view, you set a measured and responsible tone for the essay.

    Make your appeals in support of your thesis by using sound, credible evidence. Use a balance of facts and opinions from a wide range of sources, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and personal anecdotes. Each piece of evidence should be fully explained and clearly stated. See Chapters 1 and 4 for information on how to correctly incorporate outside sources into your writing.

    Make sure that your style and tone are appropriate for your subject and audience. Tailor your language and word choice to these two factors, while still being true to your own voice.

    Finally, write a conclusion that effectively summarizes the main argument and reinforces your thesis.

    Key Takeaways

    Does my essay contain the following elements?

    • An engaging introduction
    • A reasonable, specific thesis that is able to be supported by evidence
    • A varied range of evidence from credible sources
    • Respectful acknowledgement and explanation of opposing ideas
    • A style and tone of language that is appropriate for the subject and audience
    • Acknowledgement of the argument's limits
    • A conclusion that will adequately summarize the essay and reinforce the thesis

    Sample Persuasive Essay

    Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.41.41 PM.png

    In this student paper, the student makes a persuasive case for the value of technical high schools in Georgia. As you read, pay attention to the different persuasive devices the writer uses to convince us of her position. Also note how the outline gives a structure to the paper that helps lead the reader step-by-step through the components of the argument.

    Outline

    Elizabeth Lamoureux
    Dr. X
    English 1101 Honors
    April 25, 2019

    Outline

    Thesis: Technical high schools should be established in every county in Georgia because they can provide the technical training that companies need, can get young people into the workforce earlier, and can reduce the number of drop outs.

    1. Technical high schools can provide the technical training that companies in
      Georgia need.
      1. Businesses can provide input regarding jobs needed in specific technical fields.
        1. Education can focus on these specific technical fields.
        2. Education can work with business to fill these positions.
      2. Businesses can provide apprenticeship programs.
        1. Apprenticeship programs can be a vital part of a student's education.
        2. Apprenticeship programs are integral to Germany's educational program, providing a realistic model for technical high schools in Georgia.
    2. Technical high schools can prepare students to enter the workforce earlier.
      1. Students not interested in college can enter the workforce upon high school graduation.
        1. Students train during their high school years for their chosen profession.
        2. Students begin to work in a profession or trade where there is a need.
      2. Students can begin to earn a living upon graduation.
        1. Students will become independent and self-supporting at the age of eighteen when many of their peers are still dependent upon their parents.
        2. Students can make more money over the course of their lifetimes.
    3. Technical high schools can reduce the number of drop outs.
      1. Students would stay in school because they take courses that they enjoy.
        1. Students are more motivated to take courses in which they have an interest.
        2. Students will find both core and specialized classes more interesting and valuable when they can see the practical application of the subjects.
      2. Students would no longer need to drop out to support their families.
        1. Students would be able to earn a living wage while still taking classes that would eventually lead to full-time employment.
        2. Students would learn financial skills through experience with money management.

    Student Essay

    Elizabeth Lamoureux
    Dr. X
    English 1101 Honors
    April 25, 2019

    The Value of Technical High Schools in Georgia's Business Marketplace

    Businesses need specialized workers; young people need jobs. It seems like this would be an easy problem to solve. However, business and education are not communicating with each other. To add to this dilemma, emphasis is still put on a college education for everyone. Samuel Halperin, study director of the Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship for the W. T. Grant Foundation, co-authored two reports: "The Forgotten Half: Non-College Youth in America" and "The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America's Youth and Young Families." Halperin states: "While the attention of the nation was focused on kids going to college . . . the truth is that 70 percent of our adults never earn a college degree" (qtd. in Rogers). According to an article in Issues in Science and Technology, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be more need for skills obtained through "community colleges, occupational training, and work experience" (Lerman). As Anne C. Lewis points out, although the poor job situation is recognized as detrimental to American youth, President Bush tried to get rid of career and technical education (CTE) and "promote strictly academic programs." Luckily, Congress did not support it (Lewis 5). The figure for U.S. teen joblessness in October 2009 was 27.6 percent, the highest since World War II (Karaim). According to Thomas E. Persing, Americans are "disregarding the 50 percent who enter college and fail to graduate. . . ." Since everyone does not want or need to go to college, young people need an alternative choice, namely, technical high schools. Technical high schools should be established in every county in Georgia because they can provide the technical training that companies need, can get young people into the work force earlier, and can reduce the number of drop outs.

    Technical high schools provide students with the technical training that companies need. By getting input from businesses on exactly what their specialized needs are, school systems could adapt their curricula to accommodate the needs of businesses. According to an article in Issues in Science and Technology, "employers report difficulty in recruiting workers with adequate skills." The article goes on to say that "the shortage of available skills is affecting their ability to serve customers, and 84% of the firms say that the K-12 school system is not doing a good job preparing students for the workplace" (Lerman). Education can work with businesses to provide them with the workforce they need, and students can learn the skills they need through apprenticeship programs.

    Business can be further involved by providing these apprenticeship programs, which can be a vital part of a student's education. Currently, Robert Reich, economist and former Secretary of Labor, and Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, have spoken up for apprenticeship programs (Persing). In these programs, not only do students learn job-specific skills, but they also learn other skills for success in the work place, such as "communication, responsibility, teamwork, allocating resources, problem-solving, and finding information" (Lerman). Businesses complain that the current educational system is failing in this regard and that students enter the workforce without these skills.

    The United States could learn from other countries. Apprenticeship programs are integral to Germany's educational program, for example. Because such large numbers of students in a wide array of fields take advantage of these programs, the stigma of not attending college is reduced. Timothy Taylor, the Conversable Economist, explains that most German students complete this program and still have the option to pursue a post-secondary degree. Many occupations are represented in this program, including engineering, nursing, and teaching. Apprenticeship programs can last from one to six years and provide students with a wage for learning. This allows both business and student to compete in the market place. According to Julie Rawe, "under Germany's earn-while-you-learn system, companies are paying 1.6 million young adults to train for about 350 types of jobs. . . ."

    A second important reason technical high schools should be promoted in Georgia is that they prepare students to enter the work force earlier. Students not interested in college enter the work force upon high school graduation or sooner if they have participated in an apprenticeship or other cooperative program with a business. Students train during their high school years for their chosen profession and often work for the company where they trained. This ensures that students begin to work in a profession or trade where there is a need.

    Another positive factor is that jobs allow students to earn a living upon graduation or before. Even though students are considered adults at eighteen, many cannot support themselves. The jobs available to young people are primarily minimum wage jobs which do not provide them with enough resources to live independently. One recent study indicates that the income gap is widening for young people, and In March 1997, more than one-fourth of out-of-school young adults who were working full-time were earning less than the poverty line income standard of just over $16,000 annually for a family of four" ("The Forgotten Half Revisited"). Conversely, by entering the work force earlier with the skills businesses need, young people make more money over their lifetimes. Robert I. Lerman considers the advantages:

    Studies generally find that education programs with close links to the world of work improve earnings. The earnings gains are especially solid for students unlikely to attend or complete college. Cooperative education, school enterprises, and internship or apprenticeship increased employment and lowered the share of young men who are idle after high school. Young people can obviously profit from entering the work force earlier.

    One of the major benefits of promoting technical high schools in Georgia is that they reduce the number of dropouts. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the figure for dropouts for the Atlanta metro area is about thirty-four percent (McCaffrey and Badertscher A16). The statistic for Germany's dropout rate is less than nine percent (Rawe). As Rawe maintains, students stay in school because they cannot get the job if they do not have the diploma. Beyond the strong incentive of a job, students are more motivated to take courses in which they have an interest. In addition to the specialized career classes, students are still required to take core classes required by traditional high schools. However, practical application of these subjects makes them more interesting and more valuable to the students.

    Another reason students drop out is to support their families. By participating in a program in which they are paid a wage and then entering that job full time, they no longer need to drop out for this reason. It is necessary for many students to contribute financially to the family: by getting a job earlier, they can do this. Joining the work force early also provides students with financial skills gained through experience with money management.

    The belief of most Americans that everyone needs to have a college education is outdated. The United States needs skilled employees at all levels, from the highly technical to the practical day to day services society needs to sustain its current standard of living. Germany is doing this through its apprenticeship programs which have proven to be economically successful for both businesses and workers. If the State of Georgia put technical high schools in every county, businesses would get employees with the skills they need; young people would get into good paying jobs earlier, and schools would have fewer dropouts.


    Works Cited

    "The Forgotten Half Revisited: American Youth and Young Families, 1988-2008."

    American Youth Policy Forum. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

    Karaim, Reed. "Youth Unemployment." CQ Global Researcher 6 Mar. 2012: 105-28.

    Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

    Lerman, Robert I. "Building a Wider Skills Net for Workers: A Range of Skills Beyond

    Conventional Schooling Are Critical to Success in the Job Market, and New Educational Approaches Should Reflect These Noncognitive Skills and Occupational Qualifications." Issues in Science and Technology 24.4 (2008): 65+. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

    Lewis, Anne C. "Support for CTE." Tech Directions 65.3 (2005): 5-6. Academic Search

    Complete. Web. 11 Apr. 2019.

    McCaffrey, Shannon, and Nancy Badertscher. "Painful Truth in Grad Rates." Atlanta

    Journal-Constitution 15 Apr. 2012: A1+. Print.

    Persing, Thomas E. "The Role of Apprenticeship Programs." On Common Ground.

    Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Fall 1994. Web. 16 Apr. 2019.

    Rawe, Julie. "How Germany Keeps Kids From Dropping Out." Time Magazine U.S.

    Time Magazine, 11 Apr. 2006. Web. 16 Apr. 2019.

    Rogers, Betsy. "Remembering the 'Forgotten Half.'" Washington University in St. Louis

    Magazine Spring 2005. Web. 21 Apr. 2019.

    Taylor, Timothy. "Apprenticeships for the U.S. Economy." Conversableeconomist.

    blogspot.com. Conversable Economist, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2019.

    <http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2011/10/apprenticeships-for-us-Economy.html>.

    Online Persuasive Essay Alternatives

    *Note: Links to these articles may change or break. However, access to them may be free of charge if accessed through your college/university library database.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. writes persuasively about civil disobedience in this letter published in the Atlantic, "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

    Michael Levin argues "The Case for Torture."

    Alisa Solomon argues in this article in the Village Voice, "The Case Against Torture"

    • Was this article helpful?