THE ART OF PERSUASIVE WRITING
A paper is a powerful thinking tool. If you do it properly, you will
realize at the end of it that you now understand something you didn't
understand before. Also, you will understand more of what knowledge
is, and how to get it. Your grader knows this about the paper and
your grade will come from how clearly you show this process in your
writing. Now, here are tips and strategies to make sure the grader finds
all he or she is looking for in your paper and gives you the best possible
You may be given a title or question which you cannot change. If so, stick to it. But if the title is up
to you, you want to get the reader interested and alert. So think about it carefully:
- Try not to generalize
- Get the key terms into the title
- Give a specific indication of subject matter
You have caught the reader's interest with the title. Now you want to get him or her on your side. So
be helpful! Readers are busy. Explain at once what he or she needs to know about your piece. So:
(1) Set the scene:
- Interpret the title, if necessary
- Sketch out the scope and limitations of your projected discussion
- Point out how the topic relates to the field (or course) as a whole
- Define any terms which you depend on
All this creates the impression that you are in control of the subject, and taking responsibility for it.
That gives your reader/grader confidence in you. Next you want to create a sense of purpose, so:
(2) Give the thesis statement (say what the paper will be about)
- Do this in one or two sentences, maximum
- Give the main discussion points and the order in which you will tackle them
Now you want to show that you are trustworthy, so warn the reader/grader of potential pitfalls:
(3) List watch points or problems
Here are some examples
- lack of sources or information
- biased sources
- surviving evidence material is in bad condition or incomplete
Note that these watchpoints and problems are specifically scholarly. They are NOT to be used for personal difficulties in tackling the assignment, such as all the books were checked out of the library, couldn't find any pictures, didn't have enough time, don't feel competent. All these sound like excuses (which they are), and alienate your reader. The purpose of your paper is to help your reader navigate the field, so stick to academic problems and watchpoints only.
But you can sometimes exploit your personal problems usefully. For example, if you can't find any pictures this may be because they haven't been published. Mentioning the need for fuller publication of the primary material IS academic. Whining about lack of available sources is not.
These three sets of information are your introduction. Together they give the reader/grader a quick
overview of what he or she is about to read and why, roughly how the argument will develop, what
the pitfalls are, and how important the piece is to the field as a whole. This is very impressive and the
reader is now very much on your side.
THE MAIN BODY OR DISCUSSION
Now it is time to impress the reader/grader with your breadth and depth, your easy control of the
material, and your overall sense of purpose. This will create respect! Take it gently and kindly.
Make the reader your friend. You are enjoying a very pleasant and learned discussion with an
equal. So do not patronize, and do not make the reader fight to understand
you (use ordinary language!). Be sober, courteous, and direct.
Now, here are some ways of creating powerful arguments:
Now, here are ways of getting those threads into useful paragraphs:
- Try not to break the threads of your argument (don't jump about). Keep each thread
complete and separate, and follow with the summary statement. (The summary statement is the
sentence which reminds the reader how this thread relates to the topic as a whole. It helps the reader
keep track of the argument.)
- In each thread, follow every statement with your evidence for it (demonstrations,
examples, quotations, proofs, sources, references).
- If arguing a general point (something which is true of several or many things), give
the facts first, and then the generalization. Then follow with summary statement. (This makes it
clear to the reader/grader that your argument is solid and not a vague opinion.)
- If arguing a specific point, give the less specific things first, and end with the most
specific. Then follow with summary statement.
- If proving something, give the weaker evidence first, and end with the
strongest (end with the clincher). Then follow with the summary statement.
- If disproving something, pretend to try and prove it first, and end with the
disproof. BE COURTEOUS! If you get the tone right, this strategy makes you appear fair
minded and scholarly, so reader wants to believe you. And because people remember the last thing
best, the reader can't help concentrating on your disproof. Immediately follow with summary
- Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence
- Give the thread following the strategies given above, as relevant
- End with summary statement
- Avoid transition statements! The fact that a paragraph has ended tells the reader that
you have finished that thread, and your summary statement proves it. The fact that a new paragraph is
beginning tells the reader that you are about to discuss something else, and your topic sentence proves
it. You don't need anything more. But, if you feel you must have a transition, put it at the
BEGINNING, just before the topic sentence. NEVER put it at the end because that confuses the
reader and suggests that you are confused yourself. That makes your reader lose respect and lower
- For the same reasons, never change direction in the middle of a paragraph. If this does
happen, consider breaking the paragraph and discussing the point more carefully.
Now, here is how to deal with citations or references. Here are rules of thumb to help you decide:
- If you quote, report or paraphrase something published - cite!
- If you use someone's published opinions in any way - cite!
- If you use unique or newly discovered information - cite!
- If someone tells you something you cannot find anywhere else (for example, because they are currently doing research on that subject and no one else knows it yet) - get their permission to go public, and cite! (the form here is, Bloggs, pers.com.)
Notice that you must cite even when you change the words. This is because it is all evidence, and your argument is stronger when your reader knows what it is based on. Besides - it might be unreliable. If your source is wrong, you want to be sure everyone knows it wasn't you! Whether or not you use the same words as your source, you are still using information or opinions provided by him/her - that information is what you are giving credit for.
Of course, you could go mad with citations. So here are some pointers about when it is ok to leave them out.
- If the information is non-essential to your argument, it is probably ok to leave out the citation
- If the information is general knowledge (if you can find it in three or more published sources), it is even more ok to leave out the citation.
Basically, though, if in doubt - cite!
Now, you have made it clear that you are a serious student or scholar, that you have taken the project
suitably seriously, you know your material, and you respect your reader. Naturally, the reader/grader
responds very positively to this! He or she wants to agree with you, or deeply regrets the necessity of
disagreeing with you. Either way, he or she respects you, and that is what you want. Now you are
goint to clinch the matter with a TRIUMPHAL EXIT.
- Do not introduce new evidence at this stage. Your argument or
discussion is supposed to be complete. You are supposed to be in control. Further thoughts at this stage look weak!
Note: If your new material seems to be vital, then it should have been in the body of your
paper. Now is the time to put it there, where it can strengthen your argument.
- Do not stop dead in your tracks! This makes you look as if you don't know why you
did all that work. You still have things to say, so say them (see below).
- Firstly, read your introduction again. This will give you the information you need for
this last bit.
- Remind the reader what you set out to do (the thesis statement). This prepares the
reader for your conclusion, in case he or she has forgotten during the argument.
- Remind the reader of the watch points and problems. This reminds the reader that you
are a careful scholar with very sound judgment.
- Remind the reader how the topic relates to the field (or course) as a whole. Very
important. It reminds the reader that you understand what you are doing and why.
- Summarize or list the main points of your discussion and their implications. This
stresses to the reader how solidly supported your conclusion is.
- Give your final verdict (or answer the question). This now has great authority. Your
reader/grader is in clear possession of your opinion and how you reached it, and (we hope) is in
complete agreement. You should get an "A"! But even if your reader/grader thinks you went wrong,
he or she is still very impressed with you, and your grade will be quite good anyway. This
will lead to good relations, extra help, and ever improving grades in the
All papers should have a bibliography (or reference list) at the end. Although published works show these in alphabetical order of authors, this is not a good working strategy - it is for the final, public version only.
A much more powerful bibliography is an annotated bibliography, which is created on the wordprocessor as you do the reading or research. It is very simply done:
- Each entry consists of complete identification information (author, article title if relevant, publication title, publisher, place and date of publication, page reference to the parts you used)
- Use the publication date to decide where the entry goes. Earliest first, latest last. If several works appear in the same year, sort those entries alphabetically by author.
- Immediately under the entry, make an indented paragraph noting where you found the reference and what you expect to find in it. Note the date you ordered or withdrew the publication. Note when you returned it (self-protection if the library loses it).
- As you read the publication, add very brief comments to this basic information. Keep your detailed notes separately, and add reminders to your bibliographic entry. If it confirmed what you expected to find, say so. If it was different, say so. If you found something else, say so. If you later realize that other authors use this same source, note them. If you realize it has a problem that affects the way it has been used (or your use of it), say so.
This will make quite a surprisingly long document, which will be the most useful part of your notes when it comes to writing up your paper. If you later have to re-write your paper, it will be even more useful - you will know exactly where you got your information and can quickly verify or correct it.
Here is a sample annotated bibliography with explanatory comments. It concerns an object you probably won't have come accross - that is deliberate! Just note the layout, how the bibliography works, and the variety of useful comments that can be included. Note also the use of foreign language publications - if you read a foreign language, exploit that to get an edge on the subject!
Catch the last possible glitches which might spoil the good
- Wordprocess the paper
(one inch margins, double line
spacing, extra space between paragraphs)
- Run the spell-checker
- Proof-read it yourself