How To Write a Persuasive Essay

Connecting with readers on an emotional level takes skill and careful planning.

A student works on a laptop.
A student works on a laptop. HeroImagesCLOSED/Getty Images

When writing a persuasive essay, the author's goal is to sway the reader to share his or her opinion. It can be more difficult that making an argument, which involves using facts to prove a point. A successful persuasive essay will reach the reader on an emotional level, much the way a well-spoken politician does. Persuasive speakers aren't necessarily trying to convert the reader or listener to completely change their minds, but rather to consider an idea or a focus in a different way.

While it's important to use credible arguments supported by facts, the persuasive writer wants to convince the reader or listener that his or her argument is not simply correct, but convincing as well.

There may be several different ways that you chose a topic for your persuasive essay. Your teacher may give you a prompt or a choice of several prompts. Or, you may have to come up with a topic, based on your own experience or the texts you've been studying. If you do have some choice in the topic selection, it's helpful if you select one that interests you and about which you already feel strongly.

Another key factor to consider before you begin writing is the audience. If you're trying to persuade a roomful of teachers that homework is bad, for instance, you'll use a different set of arguments than you would if the audience was made up of high school students or parents.

Once you have the topic and have considered the audience, there are a few steps to prepare yourself before you begin writing your persuasive essay:

Brainstorm: Use whatever method of brainstorming works best for you. Write down your thoughts about the topic. Make sure you know where you stand on the issue. You can even try asking yourself some questions. Ideally, you'll try to ask yourself questions that could be used to refute your argument, or that could convince a reader of the opposite point of view.

If you don't think of the opposing point of view, chances are your instructor or a member of your audience will.

Investigate: Talk to classmates, friends, and teachers about the topic. What do they think about it? The responses that you get from these people will give you a preview of how they would respond to your opinion. Talking out your ideas, and testing your opinions, is a good way to collect evidence. Try making your arguments out loud. Do you sound shrill and angry, or determined and self-assured? What you say is as important as how you say it.

Think: It may seem obvious, but you really have to think about how you are going to persuade your audience. Use a calm, reasoning tone. While persuasive essay writing is at its most basic an exercise in emotion, try not to choose words that are belittling to the opposing viewpoint, or that rely on insults. Explain to your reader why, despite the other side of the argument, your viewpoint is the "right," most logical one.

Find examples: There are many writers and speakers who offer compelling, persuasive arguments. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech is widely cited as one of the most persuasive arguments in American rhetoric.

Eleanor Roosevelt's "The Struggle for Human Rights" is another example of a skilled writer trying to persuade an audience. But be careful: While you can emulate a certain writer's style, be careful not to stray too far into imitation. Be sure the words you're choosing are your own, not words that sound like they've come from a thesaurus (or worse, that they're someone else's words entirely).

Organize: In any paper that you write you should make sure that your points are well-organized and that your supporting ideas are clear, concise, and to the point. In persuasive writing, though, it is especially important that you use specific examples to illustrate your main points. Don't give your reader the impression that you are not educated on the issues related to your topic. Choose your words carefully.

Stick to the script: The best essays follow a simple set of rules: First, tell your reader what you're going to tell them. Then, tell them. Then, tell them what you've told them. Have a strong, concise thesis statement before you get past the second paragraph, because this is the clue to the reader or listener to sit up and pay attention.

Review and revise: If you know you're going to have more than one opportunity to present your essay, learn from audience or reader feedback, and continue to try to improve your work. A good argument can become a great one if properly fine-tuned.