How to Write a Really Good Persuasive Essay

You will succeed if you read this.


IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A CAR SALESMAN.

A car salesman is the personification of persuasive writing. Composing a persuasive essay is tantamount to making a five-page, 500-word, or 25-minute sales pitch about your position on a given topic, and in the end, having the customer (i.e., the essay grader) buy your thesis. A car salesman doesn’t put food on the table if his customer doesn’t buy the car; in the same way, you can’t get an excellent score if your reader isn’t persuaded by your argument.

What makes a successful car salesman? What must you emulate from them?


NEVER USE WEAK PHRASES.

You will never hear a good car salesman utter these phrases:

“I think that …”
“I feel that …”
“I believe that …”
“In my opinion …”

These phrases don’t instill confidence. On the contrary, they rob the salesman of his or her authority. After all, they just express personal beliefs and opinions, not facts. If your persuasive essay is full of the above statements, it will turn into a mundane opinion piece.

A successful salesman wouldn’t say, “I think that you’ll look good in this Prius.” Instead, he’d invoke his late mother and declare, “Toyota thought of you when it designed the latest Prius.”


PROVIDE CONCRETE EVIDENCE.

An effective Toyota salesman not only can tell you 100 reasons why you should buy a Prius, but he also can provide 100 reasons why you shouldn’t buy a hybrid from a rival. And when he provides his reasons, he will be specific:

“The Prius gets 51 mpg, but the other guys’ cars only get between 38–43 mpg—and that’s only if you never accelerate or turn on the A/C.”
“The Prius has a 5-star safety rating, while the other guys’ models have received only 3-star ratings for the past six years.
“The Prius has the highest resale value in the industry; the other guys’ models depreciate up to 50% in value after the first two years.”

What won’t a really good salesman do? He won’t make vague comments such as the following:

“The Prius is fuel efficient.”
“The Prius is a safe car.”
“The Prius is a good investment.”

Do you see the difference? Vague statements are not persuasive. They simply tell. In contrast, the specific statements show.


DEBUNK THE COUNTERARGUMENT.

This is next-level stuff. Our friend recently went to an Audi dealership, convinced in his mind that he was going to purchase a BMW. He just wanted to test drive an Audi to rid his mind of any second thoughts or lingering doubts before going to his local BMW dealership. He had done extensive research: he read through countless magazines, spoke with friends and colleagues who were familiar with Audis and Bimmers, and spent countless hours on car message boards for additional insights. But after spending just 15 minutes with the Audi salesman, he drove away in a brand new A4. How did this happen? The artful salesman debunked and refuted everything our friend claimed was superior about the 328i. At the same time, he showed beautiful brochures, spoke eloquently in engineering jargon, and waxed poetic about why his entire family, including his cherubic children, loves the A4. Obviously, it was effective.

Before writing the conclusion in your essay, raise the counterargument—so you can debunk it. Let’s pretend that you were writing an essay to defend the benefits of stress. Here’s how you could debunk the counterargument: “While many people blame stress for numerous illnesses, they fail to acknowledge that stress often plays a critical role in motivating people to action. Therefore, we should not vilify stress so flippantly.” You could then conveniently and effectively follow up that statement with specific examples. Write anywhere from a few sentences to several paragraphs to debunk the counterargument—depending on how much time and space you’re allowed. Sometimes, refuting the counterargument can be just as persuasive as your actual argument. If nothing else, doing so will remove seeds of doubt from the reader’s mind.

Take your counterargument and begone!

During the next few weeks, in both your writing and conversations, channel your inner car salesman. Develop your persuasiveness. Convince your boss that you need a new iPad Air to “work more efficiently.” If you’re a student, cajole your parents to “invest” in a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro—you know, so you could “study better.” Follow the above tips, and see what happens.

And on test day or after you turn in your essay, persuade your essay grader to give you a perfect score.