How to Write a Persuasive Essay for College

In a persuasive essay, you seek to convince a reader that she should adopt and act on your opinion. To do this, your essay must build a chain of reasoning to the conclusion you want your reader to reach and offer evidence to support each link in the chain. Writing persuasive essays develops analysis, reasoning and communication skills.

Topic Choice

Sometimes the topic for your essay will be assigned; if it is not, choose a topic based on:

  • your interest in and knowledge of the topic
  • how easily you can develop a specific thesis and supporting arguments

Choose a topic you know and care about, but be sure you're able to be objective. Your topic should be controversial, but not so polarizing or timeworn that there's nothing new to say.

Thesis, Brainstorming and Outlining

Develop a thesis around the conclusion you want your reader to reach or the action you want her to take. For example, climate change is a topic, but "state governments should reduce the number of coal-fired power plants" is a thesis. Brainstorm the specific arguments you will use to prove your thesis.

Set a timer for three to five minutes, and jot down every argument you can think of that supports your thesis. Choose the points you will find easiest to argue convincingly. Make a quick outline showing the order in which you will make your arguments and the evidence that supports each.

Writing and Argument

As you draft your persuasive essay, every sentence you write should use reason and evidence to show the reader why your thesis is true. Your introduction presents the thesis you will defend and the evidence you will offer to support it. Your body paragraphs make specific claims that build on one another to support your thesis and offer evidence to back up those claims. Your conclusion summarizes your arguments and presents the response you want from your reader.

Evaluating Your Argument

Before submitting your persuasive essay, make sure your argument is strong and sound. Review it and correct:

  • "loaded" or emotional language used in place of factual statements
  • statements that lack supporting evidence
  • redundant statements

Be sure the essay uses transitional words and phrases such as "so," "however," and "on the other hand" to clarify the connections of your argument. It's stronger if it anticipates and addresses challenges a reader might make to your claims. University of Illinois English professors, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, advise "planting a naysayer in your text" to strengthen your argument by demonstrating that you have already considered opposing viewpoints.