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Mastering Persuasion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Compelling Persuasive Essay

How to Write a Persuasive Essay

Convincing the Crowd

So, you’ve been assigned to write a persuasive essay for your college English class, or maybe you have to present an essay for your local civic group. You’re starting to get nervous because the deadline is fast approaching, and you don’t know where to start on what seems to be one of the most daunting tasks in your life! Don’t worry, I’ve been in the same position as you, and in the following blog, I’ll walk you through the process of creating an engaging persuasive essay that will make people listen. But before we get into the mechanics of crafting an excellent persuasive essay, let’s look at the background of what a persuasive essay is and some different techniques good writers use.

It’s important to know what a persuasive essay is before you write one. I’m going to use some ancient Greek terms in this article to explain things, but don’t worry, chances are you’re already familiar with some of them, and the ones you aren’t, I’ll define. A persuasive essay is a written form of rhetoric. You’ve probably heard the term rhetoric, and possibly in a negative context, but rhetoric is simply any form of writing or speech that is used to convince an audience of a certain viewpoint. Simple enough, right?

So, the important thing is that a persuasive essay appeals to your audience with the ultimate goal to win them over to your idea. In keeping with the ancient Greek theme, it’s important to know that all good persuasive essays have three key elements: ethos, pathos, and logos.


This should be the core of your persuasive argument. The modern word “ethics” is derived from this Greek term, so just remember that it implies your truthfulness in the argument. Remember to use language that is not condescending and free of bias, and always use proper English. You should also maintain a certain degree of objectivity by at least mentioning the other side of the argument. All of these points will help establish you as an authority.


For this element, think of the modern word “empathy,” which concerns how we relate to others. Don’t be afraid of appealing to emotion when crafting your persuasive essay! After all, emotions and the ability to empathize with others is one of the things that separates us from other animals.


The modern term “logic” is derived from this Greek term. As good as pathos and ethos may be, logos is what will win many people over to your argument. Always use facts over opinions and present them in a well-organized manner. If you have a set of verifiable facts to defend your argument, then your ethos and pathos will fall in line with that seamlessly.

Techniques to Consider Before You Get Started

Before we get into the steps to write a persuasive essay, it’s important to consider the technique you’ll use. There are generally four techniques that most essay writers choose, with repetition being the most popular. As the name suggestions, this is where you continually restate your position, usually with a paragraph supporting each of your points. This is the technique I prefer because it’s the most straightforward.

Somewhat similar to the repetition technique is the rebuttal method. With this method, you state your argument and then enumerate all the opposing views while arguing against each in a process that is known as dialectical discourse. This is a good technique to use if you’re trying to persuade an audience on more abstract ideas.

The call to action is popular in advertising and political persuasive essays. The goal is to get your audience to do something, usually by joining you. It’s important to note that this technique relies heavily on pathos (emotion).

Finally, if you’re more of a creative soul then you should consider using the storytelling method. With this method you relate your argument in the form of a story, utilizing an analogy or intricate metaphor.

Now that you know the background of what a persuasive essay is and some techniques to consider, let’s go through each step to craft an excellent persuasive essay.

How to Write a Persuasive Essay Step by Step

Step 1: Brainstorming

For this first step, it’s important to find a nice, quiet place where you can think of some different topics. Keep your audience in mind when doing this because you may have a narrow set of choices to begin with, but if it’s for a class assignment you’ll probably be given some latitude. Knowing your audience is extremely important because you’re ultimately trying to win them over to your side. So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume this is for a class assignment.

Take out a pen and a piece of paper, or open a blank Word document on your computer, and start listing out some potentially interesting topics. Remember, these have to be topics that can be narrowed down into a position that you’ll attempt to persuade your reader to adopt. It should be a topic you find interesting and one that has plenty available evidence to research. If this is for a class, you may want to avoid a topic that’s too controversial, but that’s ultimately your call.

So, let’s say you’ve chosen the topic of “toll roads.” You can begin your preliminary research by reading different internet sites, looking at atlases and maps, and maybe even taking a drive on one if there are toll roads in your area. It’s important to remember to research both sides. We haven’t yet taken a side on the topic so researching both sides will help you determine that, and objective research is also key to producing a good persuasive essay, especially if you are using the rebuttal method.

Step 2: Creating an Outline

Now that you’ve chosen a topic and done some preliminary research, the next step is organizing your thoughts into a coherent outline. A good outline is a vital step in writing a persuasive essay, and there are a few different ways you can do this. One way is to take notes as you go in a free-thinking “train of thought” type outline. If you’re a creative type who’s leaning toward the storytelling technique, this might work well for you.

A subject tree is another method, whereby you list the topic and then connect all related ideas to it through branches. The subject tree outline is similar to the cluster outline, which generally places the topic in the middle of the paper/sheet, with the pros and cons being connected to it through cluster bubbles.

A simple bullet point list also works for some people. This method is good if you plan to use the rebuttal technique. List your topic at the top of the sheet and then have two columns: one for pros and one for cons.

Finally, my favorite is the traditional outline. The traditional outline can be used for any of the persuasive writing techniques, but I’ve found that it’s especially well-suited for the repetition method. When I write outlines, I start with what I believe will be each major section of the paper, marking each with a Roman numeral “I”. Every subpoint then gets an uppercase letter starting with “A” and then subpoints of those start with the Arabic numeral “1” and then its subpoint starts with a lowercase letter “a” and so forth. The precise numbering and lettering of the outline are less important than its organization. Once you have a working outline, you can add or eliminate points. As you develop your outline, your thesis should start taking shape.

Step 3: Developing Your Thesis Statement

Once you’ve done most of your research, you can take all that information and create a thesis statement. A thesis statement is the core of your persuasive essay and should clearly tell your readers what you’re arguing and where the paper is headed. A good thesis statement should answer important questions like “how,” “what,” and “why.” So, let’s return to the topic of toll roads and craft a thesis statement.

After doing research on toll roads, you’ve decided that they’re a good thing. “Toll roads are good” wouldn’t be a very good thesis statement because it’s too vague and doesn’t answer any questions. A much better thesis statement would be: “Toll roads are a benefit to America because they reduce traffic congestion, are good for the environment, and pay for themselves.” This thesis statement is good because it clearly states the position – toll roads are good – and enumerates why that’s the case.

Step 4: Writing the Introduction

With your thesis statement and supporting evidence in place, you can finally start writing your persuasive essay. It’s important to start your essay off on a good note by making the first sentence engaging, but also letting the reader clearly know the topic and its importance. For our example, a good first sentence can look something like this: “You’ve no doubt driven on or at least seen a toll road somewhere in America, and chances are you’ve been annoyed by having to slow down to pay the fee, but have you ever considered their benefits?

In this sentence, you connect personally to the reader, establish that toll roads are significant, and hint at where you plan to take the essay. Depending on the assigned word count of your essay, you can then expand on the importance/significance of your topic for another one to three sentences. I would add that toll roads are common in the Northeast, Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas, and are growing in number in California and Texas.

Then, after expanding on the significance of the topic, you write your thesis statement. The thesis statement should either be the last or the second to the last sentence, or sentences, of the intro paragraph. If you choose to make it the second to the last sentence(s), then your final sentence of the intro should be a transition into the main body of your essay. “The following essay demonstrates why toll roads are so beneficial to America,” would be a good transition sentence if you are using the repetition technique.

Step 5: The Main Body of Your Essay

For this part of your essay you have some room to be creative, but there are generally a few rules you need to follow. Each paragraph should be a supporting piece of evidence of your thesis. So, for the thesis we’ve been using in this example, one paragraph describes how toll roads reduce traffic congestion, another paragraph details how they’re good for the environment, and the third supporting paragraph (fourth paragraph overall in the essay) will explain how they pay for themselves. Each of these paragraphs will include specific facts you’ve uncovered in the form of studies, statistics, and other relevant evidence.

Many persuasive essays properly format each supporting paragraph but leave out two important details – a topic sentence and a transition sentence. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence before enumerating the supporting evidence. The paragraph should then end with a transition where you segue into the next paragraph. “Studies have shown that toll ways reduce traffic congestion,” is a good, simple topic sentence for our first supporting paragraph. A good transition sentence into the next paragraph could be: “The reduced traffic congestion of toll roads has helped improve the environment.”

The Final Step: The Conclusion

A solid conclusion in a persuasive essay is just as important as a good introduction. When you write your conclusion it may help to think of it as a mirror of your introduction. I don’t mean that you should rewrite your intro word for word, but follow the same format. Restate the significance of the problem in the first sentence and summarize what you discussed in each of the supporting points before restating your thesis. “The evidence clearly demonstrates that toll roads are a beneficial part of the American highway system because they reduce congestion, are good for the environment, and pay for themselves,” is a good way to wrap up our hypothetical essay.

With that said, there will be slight variations depending upon what technique you use. If you use the storytelling technique you’ll want to reiterate the important points of your story, but you’ll still have a thesis that you must restate. The same is true of the call to action approach, although with that technique you should clearly restate the call to action. “Get involved, call your senator or representative to request more toll roads” or some other similar statement would be needed.

You’re Ready to Write!

Now that you have a roadmap for writing a persuasive essay, it’s important to set aside some time for each step. As you embark on this process, don’t get discouraged if you get “writer’s block” because even the best writers in the world have that problem from time to time. Relax, take some time off, and when you return to the process chances are things have already worked themselves out.

Once you’ve written your persuasive essay, remember to edit your work before submitting it. After you’ve done that your work should be polished and ready to be graded.

Good luck and have fun writing!

Elissa Smart Elissa Smart
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