Persuasive Writing Techniques

Being able to write a persuasive essay is an essential survival skill for students. Whether writing an essay for a standardized test or entrance exam, or a letter arguing for admittance into an elite high school or university, students will have to write many persuasive essays in their educational careers. Therefore, it is essential that students master this skill.  Some writers and educators believe that the five-paragraph,  “sandwich” method, which will be explained in this post, is a lower level of composition, but I believe that the structure learned in this approach is the corner stone of higher level academic writing.  To put it another way, the value of strong topic sentences transcends grade level and learning to structure a body of writing according to a simple formula is of greater worth than those fluffy purple prose pushers would have one believe.

The Introductory Paragraph

The introductory paragraph has a few purposes.  First, and perhaps most importantly, the introductory paragraph should capture the attention of the reader. It’s been said that the first and last ideas that a speaker expresses have the greatest chance of influencing his audience.  Therefore, a good persuasive essay writer will immediately attempt to influence the reader from the first sentence of the essay by using an attention catching technique.  After catching the reader’s attention, the writer should state his or her thesis, a statement clearly stating his or her position on the topic, and then the writer should preview his or her three arguments.   The three arguments should each be strong enough to create a paragraph while being different enough from each other that the writer does not repeat himself.   A thoughtful statement or question after this might help transition the reader into the body of the essay, but this is not required.


The Body

Many students mistakenly begin arguing their points in the introductory paragraph, and while the tone and position of the writer should be clearly revealed in the introductory paragraph, the actual arguing or each point should take place in the body of the essay. The body is actually three paragraphs: each paragraph is about one argument. A common mistake by inexperienced writers is to begin the paragraph by arguing one idea (i.e. girls should be allowed to play sports with boys because it would be good exercise) but ending the paragraph on a completely different point (i.e. some girls can be good at sports too).

Points should be developed or argued in the order that they were previewed. For example, if the writer says in the introductory paragraph that girls should be allowed to play sports with boys because circle, square, and triangle, the first body paragraph should be about circle, the second body paragraph should be about square, and the third body paragraph should be about triangle.

Each point should be elaborated and supported until its logical conclusion; however, my students always request a sentence count that will make a paragraph complete.  I tell them that I am looking for about six sentences in a body paragraph, but that I am more interested in the quality of the sentences than the quantity and I remind them that they should continue arguing a point until it is thoroughly explained and has reached a logical conclusion.

The Conclusion

Though some summary is expected and appropriate in a concluding paragraph, a concluding paragraph should not be all summary. The writer must make an attempt to add something to the argument in their conclusion, some sort of clinching statement. As I stated at the beginning of this post, many people feel that a speakers greatest chance of influencing their audience is with the first and last ideas expressed; therefore, it is important that writers attempt to finish with a bang. So while it might make sense to start your essay with, “In conclusion, I am (restate position). I have argued that (restate arguments)”– after all of that summary something fresh must be added to the end. I suggest an emotional plea. It’s almost like one more argument. After restating his or her points, the writer should describe how the world would be a better place if their position is adopted or a worse place if it is not. I call this dynamic the “better world” or “frightening scenario” technique. I find this to be an effective way to add something to the concluding paragraph, the more descriptive the scenario the better.

Though the “sandwich” technique to essay writing has received a bad reputation in some circles as of late, there are compelling reasons why it was and will continue to be an academic staple for many years. Though students will eventually have to shed the more cumbersome conventions of the formula and expand on the basics if they are college bound, the five-paragraph essay provides a solid foundation on which one can build their writing skills.



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2 responses to “Persuasive Writing Techniques

  1. dcS

    Thanks for sharing. This is a great post. I’ve won an essay writing contest when I was in grade school. No one taught me how to do it. I just wrote. I havent tried improving my writing skill after that, only when I started college.

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