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Techniques for Improving Persuasive Writing Skills in High School


By high school, most students have wrestled with enough persuasive writing assignments to learn the basics of writing thesis statements and organizing a paper into an introduction, body and conclusion. However, a well-organized essay isn’t necessarily the hallmark of good persuasive writing at the secondary level. High school students need the skills to write papers that hold reader interest. They can improve even more with essays that use rhetoric and evidence convincingly.

Strong Leads

A strong opening, also known as a lead, is the most important component in a persuasive essay, according to persuasive writing expert Karen Caine. The best leads, Caine believes, will whet the reader's appetite to learn more about what the writer has to say on the topic. In the best persuasive leads, the reader should know the main idea of the piece by the end of the first or second sentence. She suggests students open the paper by offering a unique fact related to the topic or asking a thought-provoking question and presenting a hypothetical situation that illustrates the problem discussed in the paper.

Better Word Choice

Well-written papers hold a reader's attention longer than dry prose. Choosing vivid vocabulary and employing cleverly written phrases can encourage readers to pay close attention to the ideas in the paper, according to Penny Kittle, a literacy consultant and high school teacher from New Hampshire. In her book “Write Beside Them,” Kittle shows the positive effects of using concrete nouns and strong verbs in a model student essay. To use this technique in an essay about pollution, a writer might use words like “rubbish” or “refuse” in place of the less expressive noun “garbage.” Similarly, “dispose” serves as a stronger verb choice than “throw out. The phrase “toxic heap of refuse” demonstrates more rhetorical sophistication than a “pile of trash.”

Compelling Evidence

Persuasive essays also improve when the quality of evidence used to support the thesis becomes more compelling. Students can find evidence through research and interviews, or they can use personal experience. For example, a startling or dramatic statistic about the amount of garbage dumped in the oceans each year could lend weight to a student’s thesis and sway the reader’s thinking about the need for conservation. Students might also use literary examples, historical details and scientific facts as effective types of evidence. Writers can gather quotes from experts by conducting interviews and use them to support the thesis. Finally, readers might enjoy a compelling personal anecdote that illustrates the writer’s experience with the topic.

Sound Reasoning

Students frequently fall into the trap of using improper reasoning in their essays. Fixing logical fallacies can also improve persuasive writing. For example, students should take care not to overgeneralize. Writers should use words likes “all” or “every” sparingly and only if they are sure what they are saying is true in every case. Adolescents are often prone to exaggeration. However, hyperbole can weaken an argument rather than strengthen it. High school students also need to avoid stereotypes. It may not be fair, for example, to assume that all thin people are physically weak or girls wouldn’t be interested in reading about football.

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About the Author

David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.

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