Writing a persuasive essay is at once the easiest and most difficult writing task of all. The persuasive essay is easy to write because you are surrounded by so many examples. For instance, most newspapers and news magazines include editorials that try to convince you to support a particular opinion, vote for a certain candidate, or take a particular action in your own life. In addition, those same newspapers and magazines are full of advertisements that are trying to persuade you to purchase various products or services. Finally, if you watch television, you are constantly bombarded by mini persuasive essays called commercials.
The difficult part, however, of writing a persuasive essay has to do with the approach. When you write a persuasive essay, you can’t rely on persuasion alone; you must also choose one or more writing techniques to structure your argument. Generally, you will use one of the following eight techniques as your primary approach, and your choice will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Description — If you’re trying to convince someone that a particular place is special, you may want to use description to vividly paint that particular setting: the sights, the sounds, the smells, etc. This technique is used often in autobiographical essays that describe the views from country homes, the sounds of city streets, or the smells of ethnic kitchens. You may even see this approach used in the promotional materials of four-year colleges as you consider your future educational options.
Narration — If you’re trying to sell a product, a service, or an idea that has a long history of success and satisfied customers, you may want to use narration. For example, one local moving company tells the story of how the business began by shipping apples. Their key selling strategies are experience and great care for your valuable possessions. After all, if the company’s employees can move apples without bruising them, those same employees can certainly transport your family treasures in the same way.
Examples — If I said that the best movies ever made came from the 1970s, you might think I’m crazy. After all, how can the cinematography of almost 40 years ago compete with today’s technology? Yet, if I could provide you with three or four strong examples of classic films from that decade, I might be able to convince you. You, too, can use strong examples to support opinions that on the surface may appear hard to believe.
Compare and Contrast — With comparison, you point out similarities, and with contrast, you point out differences. This technique is useful when you are trying to choose between two (or more) options, whether they are political candidates, plans of action, or even choices of restaurants. As you use this technique, though, make sure you evaluate the same characteristics for each possible choice. For instance, if you’re contrasting two products, you can’t compare the cost, the features, and durability of one without also mentioning the cost, the features, and the durability of the other. Consumer Reports is a monthly magazine that uses this approach regularly to allow its readers to make educated decisions about their purchases.
Division and Classification — When you divide and classify, you’re trying to bring order and organization to a topic that might otherwise appear disjointed and overwhelming. One modern example is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In this book, Chapman says, “there are five emotional love languages — five ways that people speak and understand emotional love” (15). Those languages include the following: “words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch” (202). Chapman’s main message is that for a successful relationship, each person needs to “identify and learn to speak” (16) the other person’s primary love language.
Cause and Effect — This type of writing is used often in history courses when you’re trying to explore the reasons why a certain event occurred, or you’re trying to analyze the eventual consequences of that particular event. To write this type of essay, you need a strong starting point or focus such as the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. To help you visualize this task, you might want to draw a timeline with the starting point in the center of your page; then, to the left, add the causes that preceded the event, and to the right, the effects that followed. For shorter assignments, you may want to focus solely on causes or effects, but if space permits, you may be able to cover both. Note, too, that you may want to argue that one cause or effect is more significant than the others, or you may want to highlight certain causes or effects that have been underreported or ignored altogether.
Definition — When you’re expressing an opinion on an extremely complicated subject, such as global warming, or on a relatively new phenomenon, such as blogging, you may have to define the subject first before you can make your persuasive point. For example, Karen L. King, a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School, wrote a book called What Is Gnosticism? In the book, she uses recently discovered ancient writings to clarify the beliefs of this pre-Christian religious doctrine.
Process Analysis — This type of essay not only encourages you to perform a particular task but also shows you exactly how to do it. For example, you have probably seen numerous stories that emphasize the importance of regular exercise. These essays usually explain how to set up and maintain a regular routine — such as walking, swimming, or jogging — and also describe the benefits of adhering to the routine.
This particular essay is primarily an example essay because it features the eight techniques you can use with persuasion. However, the essay also uses process analysis and persuasion because the essay shows you how to write the persuasive essay, and the “how-to” advice is intended to convince you that you can write the persuasive essay. Now, all you have to do is get started.
Chapman, Gary. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Northfield, 2015.
King, Karen L. What Is Gnosticism? Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.