Most forms of writing have a persuasive element. Whether you are listening to a politician give a speech on television, reading patient information about a medication, or reading a letter to the editor, the goal of most forms of writing is to convince the audience to accept the author's opinion. As a result, it is important to understand how to construct a persuasive essay, which is the most basic form of persuasive writing.
Choosing a Topic
Selecting a topic for your persuasive essay can be the most difficult part. Choose a topic for which you have an opinion, but that you do not feel so passionately about that you can't write a balanced argument for it or that you can't consider the opposition's viewpoints. In addition, you must choose a topic that is debatable. For example, it does not do any good to argue that pollution harms the environment because this is an established fact that few people would disagree with.
Using sources to back up your points is an important aspect of your credibility when trying to persuade an audience. Look for reputable sources, such as articles written by experts in the field, Internet sources that end in .gov, .org. or .edu or published books. Avoid sources that are from an undetermined or non-expert author, such as blogs written by a layperson or wikis. Gather several sources and write notes about the points that you may be able to use in the paper.
Audience Analysis and Prewriting
Audience analysis is the key to writing a compelling persuasive essay. Think carefully about your audience before you set anything down on screen or on paper. Consider the types of evidence and support your audience would find credible, as well as the persuasive strategy that would best convince the audience. After you feel that you understand your audience and have their needs in mind, begin jotting down ideas and key points that you may be able to use in the essay. Some writers prefer to freewrite their ideas, whereas others like to work in an outline format before they begin their essay. There is no right or wrong way as long as it helps you to organize and develop your thoughts.
Drafting and Revising
The best way to begin drafting the persuasive essay is to simply start writing. Many beginning writers find it helpful to sit down and write the entire draft of the persuasive essay before they revise. Writing a complete draft allows writers to get all of their thoughts down and prevents them from getting bogged down in details. Be sure to incorporate the evidence and key points you have developed as you write. When the draft is completed, revise it carefully. There are several revision strategies that are helpful for a persuasive paper, including showing it to someone who represents the audience that you are trying to convince, having a peer critique the draft and putting the essay down and revisiting it a few days later.
Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.