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By Johannes Helmold

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What is the type of essay that teachers in your college ask you to write most often? I bet it’s persuasive essays, or argumentative essays, as they are sometimes called. In my opinion, this is the simplest type of essay to write (after expository); but as practice shows, not all students can write one. Moreover, sometimes people make ridiculous mistakes—not just in terms of grammar, but also in style and semantics. I’ve browsed through a number of persuasive essays that passed through my hands some time ago, and I distilled the five most typical flaws that students make in persuasive essays. Here they are:

1. Not actually persuading

It is amazing how many students submit tons of persuasive papers that do anything but persuade. Commonly, such a paper contains of a list of random facts somehow relevant to the topic, and the conclusion written under the scheme, “Therefore, considering these arguments, X is Y.”

It is crucial you not just find relevant arguments, but also show how they are connected to your thesis statement, how they support or deny it. Each argument must lead to a small interim conclusion; the main conclusion, therefore, should be the synthesis of these smaller ones.

2. Not appealing to the audience

Persuasion is not about listing arguments on paper, but rather making other people change their opinion about your subject. The keywords are “make,” “people,” and “change their opinion.” So, you should know the opinion of your readers on your subject (or know the dominant opinion on the topic of your essay) to be able to argue about it; you should also know the audience itself, its interests and beliefs. If you are writing a school paper, then imagine this audience.

3. Ignoring emotional or rational arguments

There are three types of students writing persuasive essays: those who ignore the importance of emotional arguments and appeal to reason and rational; those who, on the contrary, appeal mostly to emotions; and there are those who understand the necessity of combining rational and emotional arguments. I hope you belong to the third category.

4. Not stating the thesis statement clearly

Sometimes an essay may have brilliant argumentation, appeals to reason and emotions, and so on… but still fails. Why? Because it is unclear what exactly it tries to persuade you in. A thesis statement that explicitly indicates the subject of discussion and your position towards it is a crucial part of any successful work, as can be seen in many pesuasive essay examples.

5. Digging into small details

This one is tricky. In a persuasive essay, it is important to pay attention to details when building your argumentation—use some statistical info or factual data, for example—but not too much. If you dig into small details, you will lose a forest behind the trees, as the proverb goes.

The best would be to find some weighty arguments, and then support them with smaller details. For example, if you are against smoking, one of the arguments could be built around the following scheme: “Smoking is one of the major reasons for getting lung cancer; according to WHO, X million people die of tobacco caused cancer annually.” The weighty topic here is lung cancer, and the smaller detail, the annual amount of smokers dying from it.

Try avoiding these mistakes, and your persuasive essays will become better instantly. Good luck!

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