How To Write A Persuasive Essay Plan
Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
I take my dog Oskar to work with me nearly every day. He rides in a trailer that I tow behind my bike 2.5 miles uphill to the Kibin office. I’m lucky that I work for a place that allows dogs.
Other dog companions aren’t so fortunate. Shouldn’t responsible dog owners be allowed to bring their beloved furballs anywhere they wish?
But, this post isn’t about teaching you to persuade your boss to let you bring your dog to work (although that would be cool). No, the goal of this blog post is to teach you how to write a persuasive essay outline.
In this post, I’ll break down the components of a good persuasive essay. I’ll also set you up with a downloadable outline template that you can use when you are ready to persuade your teacher to give you a better grade in English class this semester.
What is a Persuasive Essay Anyway?
The goal of a persuasive essay is to convince your readers that your viewpoint is the right viewpoint. In a persuasive paper, you pull out all the stops to say, “It’s my way or the highway!”
Unlike argumentative essays, where facts reign supreme, you don’t necessarily have to use researched, absolute facts to support your persuasive paper.
The goal of your persuasive paper is to persuade by any means necessary. If that involves including emotional anecdotes or stories instead of facts, that’s fine.
Don’t believe me? Ask any politician. When it comes to powers of persuasion, the facts don’t necessarily matter.
While including actual facts and evidence can be an effective way to persuade, it’s okay to play dirty in a persuasive essay. Make your readers laugh, cry, or quake in fear as long as it gets them to believe that what you are saying is true.
That said, you can’t go in and write your essay without any direction. To really persuade someone in your persuasive essay, you have to be smoooooth. You have to have finesse. To be smooth and finesseful (not a word, by the way), you should start with an outline.
Here’s an example of a persuasive essay outline:
Persuasive Essay Outline Intro
First, it’s important to select a topic that you can take a stand for.
Let’s say we’re writing about animal rights. I’m not talking about your typical “people shouldn’t hurt animals” essay. I’m talking about bestowing actual human rights on to my favorite animal: dogs.
1. Write a hook. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Always start your introduction with a strong hook. Make your audience want to read your essay.
For example, “Your dog is smarter than your baby, and more useful and loyal too. Plus, your dog will never, ever turn into an angsty teenager. If dogs are such good people, why don’t they have rights?”
Define your audience. This is a sentence or two that helps your reader define himself as being a member of your target audience. In my example, I’m specifically speaking to dog owners who live in Portland, Oregon.
For example, “For all Portland dog companions who have ever been turned away from a restaurant, disallowed access to transit, or rejected from a public park, it’s time to stand up for your pet’s rights—and your rights too!”
2. Present your thesis statement. Here is where you get to the meat of your persuasive essay and define the exact viewpoint that you want your audience to adopt.
Much as you would in an argumentative essay, you must take a stance on your topic. No wishy-washy “eh, I could go either way” stuff allowed.
Pick a side. Stick to it. Defend it to the end!
For example, “The dogs of Portland deserve the same rights and privileges as granted to our youngest humans, such as the right to visit restaurants, ride buses, walk off-leash, and go to the cinema so long as they are accompanied by a responsible human companion.”
Persuasive Essay Outline Body Paragraphs
The exact number of body paragraphs you include will depend on the parameters of your assignment and your topic. A bigger assignment and/or topic will require more reasons and paragraphs. A smaller assignment and/or topic will require fewer reasons and paragraphs. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m including three example reasons.
Each reason you come up with can be emotionally charged, logically irrefutable, or ethically binding—so long as it’s persuasive. In addition, each persuasive reason you offer should be supported by a fact or an example.
Body Paragraph 1
- Reason #1. Portland dogs are as smart as young children and often make for more polite companions.
- Fact or example 1: Dogs are capable of learning up to 250 words and can easily go with the flow of human interactions.
- Fact or example 2: Dogs are quieter and less disruptive than the average two-year-old human.
Body Paragraph 2
- Reason #2. Portland dogs should be able to walk leash-free if they are accompanied by their human companions; in most cases, wearing a leash is unnecessary.
- Fact or example 1: Dogs can be easily trained to walk alongside their human companions without a leash or restraint.
- Fact or example 2: In a recent survey, 65% of Portland dog owners said that walking a dog on a leash is more of a hassle than walking a dog leash-free.
Body Paragraph 3
- Reason #3. More rights for Portland dogs means more rights for Portland’s dog companions.
- Fact or example 1: Dog companions will have more choices of places where they can spend time with friends and family without having to leave beloved pets behind.
- Fact or example 2: Dog companions won’t have to deal with the trouble of hiring a dog-walker while at work or a pet-sitter for short weekend getaways.
Persuasive Essay Outline Conclusion
Now that you have outlined your reasons and supporting facts and examples, it’s time to seal the deal in your essay’s conclusion. Your conclusion should contain the following important components:
1. Brief summary. Remind your audience of why this topic is important.
For example, “Dogs all across Portland are being unfairly denied the basic right to accompany their human companions to public places. It’s time for Portland dog owners to stand up for their furry friends.”
2. Benefits to the reader. Explain how acting on this issue will benefit your audience.
For example, “Not only will taking a stand for your canine benefit dogs everywhere, it will also benefit you. Next time you want to take a weekend away, ride the bus to work, or enjoy a matinee, you won’t have to worry about who will take care of your dog while you are away. This issue is about your rights as a dog companion too.”
3. Acall to action. What do you want your readers to do now that they’ve (hopefully) subscribed to your viewpoint on the topic?
For example, “Vote ‘yes’ on Portland City Ballot initiative 14 this election. It’s time to stand up for the rights of our most loyal friends.”
Downloadable Persuasive Essay Outline Template and Additional Resources
Now that you have a better idea of what it takes to create a persuasive essay outline, go forth and persuade the world!
I created the above visual outline using the online mind-mapping app at text2mindmap. It’s a great resource to brainstorm your persuasive essay topic, or create a visual persuasive essay outline.
Here is another useful persuasive essay outline builder that I found during my research.
Finally, here is a Persuasive Essay Outline Template (Word doc) I created just for you.
Feel free to use it to get started.
Once your writing is complete, be sure to have an editor review your essay for you. After all, you don’t want all your preparation to be for nothing.
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