The art of persuasion

Let’s talk about how to write a persuasive paper. This is a common assignment for first year college students, but sometimes writers are not sure how to approach this type of paper. Here are some tips for writing/revising persuasive papers:

First, pick a side. It is essential to know what you are trying to persuade your reader to believe and why. It’s good if your opinion is somewhat controversial; the point of a persuasive paper is not to reiterate an opinion that everyone believes.

It’s also important to watch your tone. You want to be sure of yourself, but not overly argumentative. Have your ideal audience in mind and write (or revise) in ways that will appeal to this audience. This can be a balancing act: you don’t want to turn your readers off with an abrasive or condescending tone, but you also don’t want to sound too tentative. Many writers hedge their opinions with phrases like “I think” or “In my opinion,” but you should avoid these. Your audience knows your paper expresses your opinion; what you need to do is give them the reasons you think the way that you do on the subject.

To do this, you must back up your points with creditable facts. You may have personal experience that relates to the topic of your paper, but remember that you cannot base a persuasive paper on personal anecdotes. While it may sometimes be appropriate to include this element, your paper needs a solid foundation based on facts and information from people who are experts in the topic. Remember that you are writing to an audience who is either undecided or disagrees with you entirely. You need to anticipate the reasons that someone could disagree with you and answer their concerns. Professors often refer to this process as “including counterarguments.” It’s important to do this in order to create a persuasive paper.

Try to put yourself in the audience’s position and think “What would I find persuasive if I held the opposite point of view?” It’s helpful to find someone (such as a writing tutor) to play devil’s advocate. As the writer, it can be difficult for you to catch faulty logic or facts that aren’t sufficiently persuasive, but having someone question you and take the opposing side can help reveal these gaps.

As a tutor, keeping this points in mind will be helpful when working with a persuasive paper. Playing devil’s advocate can help writers see when they are using fuzzy logic or including insufficient support for their points. Tutors can also help writers to develop and maintain an appropriate tone for the paper.


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