12 Ingredients of a Great Persuasive Essay, Argument, or Blog
#1 Make a Fabulous Claim
You can’t write about the whole world in 1000 words, which is about the right length for a crisp essay or blog. So focus in on a fantastic thesis. Make a really strong statement, such as this: “President Obama is the worst (or best) President in history.” Or this: “The U.S. is still (or no longer) the greatest country in the world.” Get the gist? Why bother to write if you don’t stake a strong position? Your powerful claim will announce to the world that you’re a player in the debate, grabbing everyone’s attention from the get go. A force to be reckoned with.
#2 Gather Your Evidence
Think like a judge or lawyer: you’ve got no case without evidence, aka facts. So inventory your facts. Go through the somewhat painful process of listing every single point you can come up with that supports your thesis. If you have no facts at all to support your thesis, not only will your argument be weak, you may not have an argument at all.
#3 Assume Your Audience Disagrees With You
Most people are jaded and skeptical—probably due to having been exposed to so many lies and liars in their lifetime. As a result, they often refuse to believe even concrete, supported, absolute facts that in some way dispute or are at odds with their own beliefs.
#4 Face the Facts: It’s a War Between Knowledge & Ignorance
Merely presenting what you know to be facts—no matter how solid they are and how much support you offer for them—will not convince an audience that’ been brainwashed, indoctrinated, fooled, misled, or otherwise convinced that their views are, themselves, facts—even though you know in your heart and mind you’re right and they’re wrong. I’m regularly confronted by people whose views are completely unsubstantiated and utterly disproven by the facts of reality, and yet they cling to those false beliefs, staunchly denying the absolute facts I present to them. It’s partly sheer ignorance, partly stubbornness, partly embarrassment at being proven wrong, and partly a “me against you” attitude. You know what I’m talking about. It’s happened to us all.
#5 Now Turn the Guns on Yourself: What Do You Know?
Now that we’ve put the audience in their place, so to speak, let’s put ourselves in our place. We, the writers, don’t know that much either. It’s important not to be seduced by hubris, or pride in our knowledge or positions. If you think you know it all, you’ll write an essay or blog that exposes your arrogant, absolutist point of view. And you’ll fail to construct a sound argument. And fail to persuade your audience.
#6 Perform Some Self-Analysis
So analyze your opinions. Tear apart your thesis. Rip into yourself as if you’re the opposition. Why do you believe your thesis is correct? Have you considered the opposite thesis? Why do you have your ideas and opinions? Where did they come from? Do you believe them simply because they’re yours and you’re comfortable with them? Is there a socio-economic or otherwise vested interest in arguing your thesis? Really probe your own underlying assumptions, beliefs, and values. Examine your reasoning. Look for flaws in your own logic and gaps in your evidence.
#7 Improve Your Knowledge Through Research
Open up your mind to the full spectrum of viewpoints on the subject. Read everything you can find. Try to get outside your own paradigm and evaluate the various positions as objectively as possible. Play the devil’s advocate. Don’t become complacent or self-satisfied. Really know not just what you’re talking about, but why.
#8 Get Rhetorical: Logos, Ethos, Pathos
Construct your argument like the Greeks did 2500 years ago—with logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos = being logical in supporting your thesis clearly and directly. Ethos = being ethical: honest and authoritative. Establish your credibility by being fair to the opposition. Build bridges to the audience by stressing shared values. Be measured in tone and don’t exaggerate. Pathos = the emotional element. Put a human face on the issue. Give the audience a reason for caring. Let them know what’s in it for them.
#9 Get Organized
Lead strong: state your thesis in the first paragraph. Then give the audience whatever necessary background information that they need to understand the subject. Follow that up with your case, your evidence, either starting with the most compelling or ending with the most compelling. Make an outline and decide how best to build your case before writing. However, don’t become so rigid that you can’t allow your writing to flow naturally. The organic approach is best: allow your points to grow out of each other naturally, as you write. You will only discover that natural order by and during writing.
#10 Note and Refute Opposing Views
Strategically, it’s a sign of strength to mention and quickly rebut the opposition’s key points. Decide what aspects of the counterargument to simply ignore, which ones to summarize and refute by showing their weaknesses, and which ones, if any, to concede as being valid, perhaps suggesting compromise and reconciliation. At all times, follow the principle of charity: be fair and honest about the opposition. The best place for this refutation of opposing points is in the second paragraph—before you launch into your case—or the second to last paragraph, before you give your concluding summation.
#11 Your Conclusion Should Conclude
In your conclusion, you should reach a conclusion, not merely a summary of what you’ve already said. You could, perhaps, play your ace in the hole in your last paragraph. Or you might explain why this is such an important issue, by noting its broader implications and possible consequences. Perhaps you could relate it to other or larger issues, suggesting the implications for humanity or the future of civilization. Be dramatic, but not melodramatic: always ground your statements in facts and reality.
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