What is a Persuasive Essay Anyway?
The general goal of an argument is to persuade a target audience to understand a position or take action. While arguments are often thought of as hostile interactions, attempts to persuade misguided or foolish people of their mistakes, or yelling matches, a formal academic argument presents a single perspective in an objective manner, supported by thoughtful research, in an attempt to engage in a productive academic conversation that is attempting to reach a greater understanding of the truth.
For our persuasive essay, you are going to pick a local concern (something that is happening either near the school or near your home) and persuade the local community to take a first step (or next step) in fixing the problem. This requires that you both establish the concern as a problem that needs to be addressed and that your solution is the right course of action. You don’t need to solve the problem, just start the community on the right path.
A word of caution about arguments: it is easy to assume that you should choose an argument that you feel very strongly about. While this can, no doubt, help you be interested in the subject matter and enthusiastically support your claim, it can also make it difficult for you to empathize with an audience who doesn’t currently agree with you. Since your subject is someone who currently disagrees with you, make sure to choose a topic where you can see both sides clearly.
The Basics
This is the master list of requirements for the essay to not earn a F. If these elements are present, you are guaranteed to make a 50 or higher.
Clearly identify a topic (see Selecting a Topic below)
Make a claim
Build a 3-point academic argument
Be free of logical fallacies
Utilize an objective tone throughout
Support the claim logically
Incorporate three scholarly database articles or library e-books
Demonstrate an understanding of and counter the opposing viewpoint in a separate body paragraph directly before the conclusion
Present a call to action in the conclusion (see Call to Action below)
Be 1500-words long
Thing to watch out for
You may not use first person (I, me, my, mine), first person plural (we, us, our), or second person (you, your, you’re). Only third person should be used throughout the entire essay. However, there is one exception! In this essay, you may use second person once in the call to action.
Call to Action
In the conclusion, you must present a call to action – a single action that an individual reader can take after reading the essay if your persuasion was successful. The call to action should be a single sentence that presents the audience with an action that is small (requires little time commitment, cost, or preparation) and actionable (something the reader can do the second they are done reading the essay) while still requiring a first step (or next step) of commitment from the reader. Below are five common calls to action that you should avoid (with small, actionable, commitment-focused alternatives that work!):
writing a letter (use engaging in a discussion instead)
thinking (use attending a lecture or meeting instead)
passing a law (use voting instead)
imposing taxes (use researching current funding instead)
providing funding (use donating instead)
What Is the Subject?
You should select a topic that you are able to discuss in an academically objective manner since you must first acknowledge the complexity and nuanced nature of the issue and fully empathize with the perspectives, ideals, and morals of the person you are trying to persuade. This means that you must be able to respect and understand people who disagree with your position. You should watch out for topics that can create pathos-heavy essays. Topics that you are very passionate about, that evoke overwhelming emotions in you, or that you often find yourself avoiding because it creates a lot of stress for you are usually topics that make it hard for you to avoid an overabundance of pathos in your essay. However, attempting to wrangle with delicate, current, and “hot button” topics can often be the enjoying and engaging if you decide to take on the challenge.
You are free to select any topic that can reasonably be discussed with your classmates as long as it is locally focused. This means that if you want to persuade your audience that global warming is a concern and offer a first step for tackling the issue, you must do so from a Ft. Worth perspective, not a global one. How does global warming impact Ft. Worth? What is a next step that a person in Ft. Worth could take right now, by themselves, the second they put down your essay?
Who Is the Audience?
Your primary audience for this argument disagrees with you, either your claim or your action, but is willing to be persuaded by your argument. They could also be put off if you strongly insult their current position.
And You? Who… are You?
As the writer, it is your job to dive in headfirst as an expert on your subject. You must be empathetic and unbiased but hold a clear and consistent view, supported by facts and logic, about the best course of action.
You will need to use three secondary library sources. This source should be about your subject. Only one block quotes (quotes longer than 4 lines) may be used, but it cannot be longer than 8 lines. Source material should not make up more than 30% of the total words in the essay. Incorporating secondary source material into the draft will be a significant focus of the grading for this draft.
Last, you need to be a professional in your research, organization, and writing. This doesn’t mean you can’t be funny (that often helps, depending on your audience), it means that you cannot be sloppy. Poor paragraphing, typos (especially in the product name), guessing about things (no, really, don’t do this), and using overly casual or chatty language are all things that will kill the reliability of your evaluation. This is a dangerous spiral to fall into, because, in the end, all of your argument relies on you being dependable and professional. If you lose that, your analysis becomes a salvage operation with the reader trying to pick and choose what to believe, what to trust, and what to toss aside. The reader should never have to decide this. Even if they disagree with you, the reader should be able to respect your analysis and chalk the disagreement up to different perspectives on the importance of the success of the elements or bias in the ad itself.
A Note About Organization
Your argument will begin by introducing the topic, establishing the context of the topic being argued, and establishing your claim in the thesis statement. The thesis must be the last sentence of the introduction
Each paragraph should address one point of support for the thesis each, establishing the idea for each point of support and using secondary source information. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that links the paragraph to the introduction, and incorporates both your own logic and source material to support the topic sentence. The last body paragraph must establish an empathetic understanding of the opposing viewpoint, while also countering that argument.
Finally, you will conclude with a clear reminder about the claim made at the beginning of the essay, discuss the topic briefly with the reader now that they have a greater understanding of your argument, and present the call to action.
Alright, how do I get an “A”
Every essay starts at 75 if they meet “The Basics” listed at the top. That’s average. To get an “A” or a “B,” you need to display:
Exceptional writing
spot-on word choice (this means accuracy, not showy vocabulary; clear is best)
phrasing (easy to follow, clever, clear without being blunt)
fluid flow of ideas between each sentence (logically move the reader along the essay path)
narrow and purposeful sentence-by-sentence focus
the reader is never left
trying to figure out what something means
guess about the idea
or getting whiplash from a sudden or artificial transition… and that includes slapping in transition words
Mastery of the material
thorough investigation of the subject
thorough understanding of the category
thorough understanding of the assignment (above)
clear understanding of the previous material in the course
These two things can earn you the extra 25 points necessary to take your 75 to a 100.
You should also be sure that your essay is free of any higher and lower order concerns. Higher order concerns are issues with your thesis, paragraphs, topic sentence, and organization. Lower order concerns are issues with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage. Both of these can tank your grade the extra 25 points necessary to hit 50 (at which point I stop).
Overall, what you are aiming at is something that is professional and without bias. Your final draft should be useful to a person who is interested in understanding persuasion in ads in general. Don’t forget the primary audience in the chase for the “good read,” however. An entertaining analysis that doesn’t help someone understand how the persuasion in the ad works isn’t an analysis.