The ancient art of rhetoric dates back to the Classical period of ancient Greece, when rhetoricians used this persuasive form of public speaking to address their fellow citizens in the Greek republics. As time went on, rhetoric remained at the center of education in the western world for nearly 2,000 years. In our modern world, rhetoric is still an integral part of human discourse, utilized by world leaders and students alike to argue their points of view.
The definition of rhetoric is the “art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing,” where language is used to have a convincing or impressive effect on the audience being addressed.
At some point in every student’s academic career, instructors will deliver the assignment to write a persuasive essay that argues for or against a certain topic. Whether or not you’ve taken a course in rhetoric, students can apply the principles of rhetoric to write an effective persuasive essay that convinces the audience to accept a certain viewpoint.
To be as convincing as Aristotle on the stand, your persuasive essay must be based on sound logic and factual evidence that support the overall argument. As you begin to think about writing a persuasive essay, here are several tips that will help you argue your topic like a true rhetorician.
Choose a position you’re passionate about
The first step in writing a persuasive essay is choosing a topic and picking a side. If the topic is something you believe in, it will make the entire experience of researching, writing, and arguing your perspective more personal. Choosing a topic that appeals to you on an emotional or sentimental level will make its defense easier. Plus, chances are you’ll already know a good deal of information about the topic, so you won’t be left scrambling when it’s time to start your research.
Thoroughly research both sides
Every argument has a counterargument—this is one of the staples of rhetoric. To convince your reader to agree with you, you must be knowledgeable of the opposing side. As important as it is to thoroughly research your topic, identifying and studying both sides of the argument will help you develop the strongest supporting evidence possible. During the research process, gather as much information as you can about the topic at hand. Use your school’s resources like the library, academic journals, and reference materials. With a full understanding of your topic, you’ll be able to readily counter the opposition and assuage any follow-up questions that might cast doubt on your claims.
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Draft your thesis statement
One of the most important elements of your persuasive essay is your thesis statement, which should tell readers exactly what your stance encompasses. Without a forceful thesis, you won’t be able to deliver an effective argument. The construction of your thesis statement should include the “what” and the “how” of your argument—what is the argument you are trying to convince your readers to accept? And how will I convince my readers that the argument is sound? While the “how” may become clearer as your essay progresses, your thesis statement should set up the organizational pattern of your essay while presenting your position.
Create a working structure or outline
Outlining your paper will give you a clear view of your argument and the way it develops. Think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of your argument—where would it be most effective for you to introduce your strongest supporting evidence? For rhetoric’s sake, it’s probably not wise to save the best for last. Instead, use your outline to get organized from the outset, anchoring each point in evidence, analysis, and counterargument. List out all of your major claims and the research that supports each point. Creating a working structure will allow you to break down your argument in a logical and concise order, which will make the writing process more straightforward.
Write with integrity and empathy
The most successful rhetorical arguments draw on three main elements: ethos (ethical reasoning), logos (logical reasoning), and pathos (passionate reasoning). If amassed perfectly, these three components will make your argument so powerfully robust that nobody could disagree. However, this is easier said than done; even master rhetoricians struggle to find a balance of these three elements. Ethically, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t misleading or manipulating your argument. Logically, your points must be based in fact and progress in a way that makes sense. Passionately, you should emphasize your evidence and use strategic repetition to compel your audience. The key is to find a harmony or balance among these three elements, writing with integrity and empathy.
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As Eben Pagan said, “You can’t convince anyone of anything. You can only give them the right information, so that they can convince themselves.” In the spirit of the ancient Greek rhetoricians, knowing how to write a persuasive essay is an essential function of human discourse—and a true art form when done correctly.