In this article, you will learn how to write a persuasive essay or article, what the basic methods of persuasion are, the classical structure of the persuasive essay, what rhetorical figures and literary tropes are, and we will analyze their types and, of course, consider examples.
Table of Contents
- How to Write a Persuasive Article or Essay: Where to Begin
- How to Write a Persuasive Essay: Three Modes of Persuasion
- How to Write a Persuasive Essay: Structure
- What Rhetorical Devices Can Be Used in a Persuasive Essay
- Rhetorical Figures of Speech: Types and Examples
- Rhetorical Devices: Literature Tropes
Why Persuasion Matters
Advertisements, movies, news… Everything around screams and calls: buy, listen, look, take, approve, support. Persuasive speeches are heard through the screens of TVs, computers, and smartphones. Social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become public forums where people can express any opinion and stand up for it.
Since eloquence and persuasion are indispensable these days, let’s figure out how to write and speak persuasively.
How to Write a Persuasive Article or Essay: Where to Begin
Before you start writing a persuasive essay or article, you need to follow these 3 steps:
- Decide on the topic of the article.
Before you get started and write a persuasive essay, the first thing you need to do is decide on a topic. Think about what you want to write about? Maybe you want to change something in the world or your country? Why is it important for you? What do you want to achieve, and what kind of response and reaction do you expect from society? In what ways can you convince?
The basis of any persuasive article and speech is the essence of the argument – the main idea that you want to convey to others, or the point of view that you defend and prove.
2. Write a thesis statement.
The second step in creating a persuasive essay is to write this idea in the form of a thesis statement – a sentence that summarizes the main idea.
Thesis statement example:
“Due to the construction of dams, the river ecosystem suffers.”
If you can express your idea in the form of a thesis, then you are ready to argue it.
3. Choose a writing technique.
The third step is to find the right strategy for your persuasive essay.
Try to find stylistic devices, figures of speech, literary tropes, modes of persuasion, sentence structure, and text rhythm that are suitable specifically for your text. This all will be discussed further in the article.
How to Write a Persuasive Essay: Three Modes of Persuasion
Each public speech is based on the modes of persuasion, which can be used as the foundation for any text.
Read also the article “The Rhetorical Triangle: Ethos, Pathos, Logos – Meaning and Examples”.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle identifies three methods of persuasion in rhetoric – ethos, logos, and pathos, comparing them with artistic techniques. After all, the use of these modes of persuasion, indeed, requires special skill and ability.
Let’s consider the first method – the logos. This technique involves persuading the audience with rational, logical arguments, and evidence:
During the construction of dams, it is important to identify all possible risks. Otherwise, the same scenario will be repeated again and again: flooding of vast areas of forest, the death of flora and fauna, and the disappearance of territories that are of historical and archaeological value. For example, the Tellico Reservoir in Tennessee flooded an ancient Cherokee Indian village, and the Aswan Reservoir in Egypt led to the spread of schistosomiasis, a severe human disease caused by the helminth Schistosoma.
This is an example of deductive reasoning (that is, from the general premises to the specific conclusions). I formulated the main, generalized argument: the risks in the construction of dams are great and they inevitably recur. Further, I revealed in more detail what consequences (risks) are possible and strengthened the argument with concrete examples.
In turn, inductive reasoning is the movement of thought from the specific to the general. If you use this method, then get something like this:
In some countries, the construction of dams has led to the flooding of forests, the death of animals and plants, and the deterioration of drinking water quality. The harm from dams and reservoirs is obvious – the risks are too great.
It is important to feel this fine line between a strong argument and a weaker one.
As you can see, there are a lot of variations in the use of logos in persuasive articles or essays. The main thing is that your logical chain should be 100% thought out.
The second method of persuasion is ethos. This method is expressed by arousing the trust of the audience:
For 15 years I have been studying the impact of hydroelectric power stations on the environment, and now I can say with confidence that there are always negative consequences from high dams.
With this statement, the writer or speaker makes it clear that he can be trusted because has many years of experience and knowledge.
The third method of persuasion is pathos.
Pathos is aimed at evoking reciprocal emotions from the audience. These emotions can be positive (joy or hope), and negative (fear or anger). An example of pathos on the topic of dam construction:
When will we finally say “Stop!”? Are the consequences not enough: flooded forests, dried-up rivers, estuaries, and destruction of animals and plants? How long will humanity take into account only its own interests and interfere with a finely tuned ecosystem?
The ability to use all three modes of persuasion, to do it appropriately and competently, is an art. No wonder Aristotle called these techniques artistic.
The method of application and effectiveness of logos, ethos, and pathos completely depends on the skill of the writer or speaker, in contrast, for example, to quoting, paraphrasing a source, statistics, etc.
The topic you have chosen for the text initially sets some features of the use of certain methods of persuasion, for example, what to focus on (emotions or evidence), and in what proportions to use logos, ethos, and pathos in the writing.
Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford graduates is considered one of the examples of how persuasion methods can be effectively applied in practice.
How to Write a Persuasive Essay: Structure
In classical rhetoric, the structure of any speech or piece of writing consists of 5 parts:
- Presentation of information.
- Refutation in the form of presenting a counterargument and establishing its falsity (unproven);
- Confirmation of the idea in the form of providing arguments and facts.
This classical structure for constructing oratorical speech can be used as the skeleton for the persuasive essay and article. At the same time, the structure of your essay may or may not include all 5 parts. You can also change their sequence.
What Rhetorical Devices Can Be Used in a Persuasive Essay
For 2,500 years orators and philosophers have been studying the art of oratory. It is hard to even imagine how much information has been studied over the years. Therefore, we will not stop and analyze all the existing rhetorical devices, figures of speech, and tropes, we will consider only the main ones.
Writing a Persuasive Article: Stylistics
The stylistics of the text is the correct choice of words to express thoughts.
The words that we choose to express some thought give the text a certain style (formal, colloquial, slang) and tone (emotional characteristics).
Thus, stylistics is a tool for applying such methods of persuasion as ethos, pathos, and logos.
For example, the abundance of technical terms in the persuasive article can serve as proof of your professional knowledge and experience (ethos) for the reader, or it can make your text hard to read and boring.
Complex metaphors, expressive epithets, and comparisons can sound beautiful and romantic (pathos), or they can turn the article into a “vanilla-flowery” mass, in which the reader will not understand the meaning.
Syntax and Rhythm of a Persuasive Article
You should pay attention to the sentence structure and the combination of words inside these sentences.
Depending on the structure and length of the sentences, an essay may be read and understood easily and quickly, or it may seem difficult and boring. Using syntax, the text is given rhythm.
Joseph Sugarman, an American copywriter, master of direct mail, resourceful marketer, and public speaker, says that there is no one particular pattern here, say a short sentence, then a long sentence, followed by a medium-length sentence, and then two short sentences and a very long one. You just need to vary the length of the sentences so that when you read them, they create a sense of variety and rhythm.
Sugarman suggests thinking about how the text would sound if all the sentences in it were very short or very long, or if all followed the same predictable pattern. This is the aim of the rhythm of the text.
So, vary your sentences, and change their length to give the text a certain rhythm.
Rhetorical Figures of Speech: Types and Examples
A figure of speech (from the Greek “schema“) is a syntactic construction that enhances the impact of speech on the audience. This is a way of combining and linking words.
Let’s analyze the following example: the sentence structure in which there is an enumeration (amplification). Usually, in such a sentence there are cohesive devices “and”, “or”, “also”. For example, I brought bread and cheese.
And this is how, in contrast, the asyndeton (non-union) looks like:
“… we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”John F. Kennedy
Read also article “John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: Rhetorical Analysis and Summary”.
Asyndeton speeds up the pace of the text, as if forming an increasing wave, while the sentence is read in one breath.
Polysyndeton causes the opposite effect, slowing down the enumeration:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.Martin Luther King JR. “I Have a Dream”
In addition to asyndeton, polysyndeton, and enumeration, the following rhetorical figures are distinguished:
- antithesis – opposition, contrast (“War and Peace”);
- oxymoron – combining two opposite concepts into one (eloquent silence);
- repetitions: “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. (Gettysburg Address)
- inversion – when the writer inverts the order of words to achieve greater expressiveness, to focus attention:
GLOUCESTER: Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.“Richard III” by William Shakespeare
- chiasmus is a cruciform permutation of words in the sentence: “The Sabbath was made for a man, and not a man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:17).
- ellipsis, syllepse, and aposiopesis – decrease, omission of words in a sentence, unfinished sentences:
Well, I lay if I get hold of you I’ll –
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat …”“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
Rhetorical Devices: Literature Tropes
The literary tropes are simple, like, for example, the comparisons and metaphors.
Comparison is a rhetorical device in which a writer compares two things, people, situations, etc.
“As a tree quietly drops its leaves, so I drop sad words.” (S. Yesenin).
Metaphor is also called a hidden comparison: a waterfall of stars, a wall of fire, a pearl of art, a bear of a problem.
There are also more complex types of rhetorical devices:
- Synecdoche is a literary trope in which the characteristic of the general is transferred to the particular (“Everything is sleeping: both man, and beast, and bird.” (N. V. Gogol). In this example, the singular is used instead of the plural: a person instead of people, etc.
- Metonymy is a rhetorical device that is based on the replacement of words by adjacency. For example: the White House instead the President of the United States and administration; Hollywood instead of the movie industry.
- Hyperbole is an exaggeration: “We haven’t seen each other for ages!”
- Litotes is an understatement: Life is one moment.
- Allegory is the use of a word in a figurative sense. For example: the biblical allegory – The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, where the lion, Aslan, represents a Jesus Christ character.
- Euphemism is a literary device that is used to soften, neutralize or replace rude, obscene words: prison – a place of deprivation of liberty, seniors is a euphemism for old people.
- Anaphora is the repetition of the same words or sound combinations. Martin Luther King uses this figure of speech repeatedly, we can say that anaphora is practically the basis of the speech “I Have a Dream”:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.“
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi…
“You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concerns,” said Darcy, in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.
“Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?”
“His misfortunes!” repeated Darcy contemptuously; “yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed.”“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.Mark Twain
- Personification is the transfer of the properties and qualities of a person to inanimate objects:
“Rays of sunshine danced through the trees.”
Among these stylistic devices, rhetorical figures, literary tropes, and modes of persuasion, it is important to find exactly those devices that will not be dissonant with the topic and main idea of the persuasive essay, but, on the contrary, will strengthen and reveal the author’s thoughts.
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