The art of persuasive essay writing is as old as civilization itself. Politics and organized religion sustains civilization and for both these social categories to persuade people, literate or illiterate, this type of discourse was a vital tool. World leaders in politics and charismatic personalities in religious cults and institutions had always exercised control over the masses through persuasive speeches prepared carefully in advance or delivered spontaneously with flair. It is of little importance whether the position taken is based on objective truth or not; persuasive writing, by its very nature, chooses a side and defends it to the last.
The persuasive mode of writing finds its early realizations in the Histories of the Greek historian Herodotus. The essays of Herodotus are controversial in nature as they use polemic or a conflicting style to support his arguments. In fact, in many ways, the structure, style, rhetoric and format of a persuasive piece of prose is very similar to that of an argumentative one. The major difference, between the two, is in the claims to objective truth that is the hallmark of the argumentative piece. The argumentative essay is based on historically and scientifically verifiable objective truth. On the other hand, it is not that the persuasive essay bases its claims on absolute untruths or lies; rather, it persuades its audience, large or small, to take-up the viewpoint of the persuasive writer or orator.
One can easily exploit a situational context and playing dirty make his/her case to conform to the populist viewpoints making rounds in a particular community or society. By playing the situation to conform to his/her vested interests, a political demagogue or charismatic leader might easily exploit the emotions of the masses. When such persuasion is of a political, racial or religious nature, that demonizes, for example, a particular noted individual, community, race or religion, the resulting bigoted and prejudiced discourse is known as hate-speech or propaganda.
It is not that this demonization or scapegoating was absent previous to the delivery or distribution of a particular persuasive speech or discourse. The particular vibe was already present in a given society as a social imaginary (what societies imagine as a collective) through rumors, hearsay, mass hysteria or the crimes of a handful among the demonized minority. The persuasive speech or discourse uses this social vibe as a “hook” to “bait” his/her audience.
Pre-writing techniques for a persuasive essay
A good persuasive speaker does extensive research on the intensity of a particular social imaginary or viewpoint before exploiting it or persuading people to take to his/her case. Not only in political or religious scenarios, but also for any particular cause, a piece of persuasive prose or essay uses a strategic point, both to grab the attention of its audience and also to state its opening thesis.
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Before launching with his/her opening statement, the essayist or speaker has to take a stance. This particular stance will form his/her thesis and that person has to defend the same. But before making that opening statement and going on to defend it, the essayist must research both sides of the argument thoroughly and not just bank upon a social vibe that is based on rumors and mass hysteria. Serious persuasive speakers or essayists with noble goals and causes in mind must absolutely research from ethnographic fieldwork and interviews to library and other archival research.
Once the research is in place, the essayist or speaker must divide it between the thesis and anti-theses. Then, he/she should choose his/her stance and with the above-mentioned metaphor of the ‘hook’, offer the audience a ‘bait’ and then state his/her thesis. Then he/she should embark on the perilous journey to prove and defend his/her thesis.
Structural parts of persuasive essay
After the exordium or introduction is over, the traditional persuasive essay writing delves into the narration part. In this part the background ‘facts’ are stated. The essayist backs-up his/her argument by logic and facts. There is also the reference to tangible material evidence.
All these form the background of the persuasive essay as it is also based on the extensive research that the essayist has carried out. This research might be ethnographic fieldwork such as interviews and could also be research in libraries and other archives.
After the narration comes the partition. This part discusses the forecast of topics to be dealt with in the body of the essay. This section also links the previous facts-related background with the major body of the essay. The partition gives a brief overview of how the facts gathered as evidence for the central thesis and applies to the same. The forecast should not be an exposition of the body of the essay; rather, it should be like a preface of how the facts are to be interpreted, the logic and methodology to be used for that interpretation and how the situatedness of the facts will later contribute to the persuasive essay. Nevertheless, the partition also gives an overview of the other sections of the persuasive essay apart from the body of the same.
The arguments and their complex workings are not unraveled here. It is just a working forecast of what issues will be raised in the proving of the central thesis as well as alternatives to the same. Besides, it will also hint at the rhetorical questions to be later raised in order to set the audience thinking about the stakes of the central thesis. An extended hint at such rhetorical questions also sets the stage for the future discussion of the affective, linguistic, stylistic and syntactical issues within the entirety of the persuasive essay.
The next part of the persuasive essay is the conformation. It forms the body of the text where the thesis question is explicated against the background of facts and logical reasoning. This section also expounds the methodology being used to interpret the facts. Confirming the thesis in a persuasive essay is linguistically and syntactically complex. There should be no error or ambiguity that would imply contradiction and ‘double speak’. Syntax, rhetoric and language should be well crafted and all errors that point towards affirming both sides of the argument should be eliminated. The thesis question of the persuasive essay is explicated in detail and the background of tangible and material facts is interpreted using theoretical methodology. The thesis follows a line of inquiry and raises relevant questions about its central cause. Both sides of the argument should be explored in depth supported by sound logic and reasoning, often based on tangible and material evidence.
However, very often, the evidence might be from authentic archival, library-related or digital sources. It might also be from ethnographic fieldwork that is carried out by interviewing members of particular communities or any individual. A variety of dissertation methodologies are used to (according to the discipline(s) that the central thesis question pertains to) interpret this evidence and apply it as logic and reasoning to the central thesis question. The given methodology also interprets the evidence to place logic and reasoning behind the stakes that the central research theme raises. The line of inquiry raised by the central thesis question also explores these stakes and argues, by way of evidence, both for and against them. Once, both sides of the stakes have been explored and evidence provided for each separate issue that supports the central thesis question, the anti-theses i.e. each argument against the major line of inquiry is nullified and made void.
After the conformation comes the refutation. The refutation explores alternatives to the central thesis question. Possible anti-theses that do not ‘fit into’ the major line of inquiry are explored as ‘point of departures’ that can consist of radical alternative arguments to the thesis. This section of the persuasive essay is usually intellectually speculative and is omitted or presented as fearful alternatives in political or religious oratory.
However, in persuasive essay writing, the requirement is there to present alternatives that do not fit into the central thesis argument. Even after very careful inspection and crafting of language and style to omit any ‘double-speak’ or ambiguity, there always does remain certain ideas that cannot be argued away. Not only does this point towards the diversity of concepts that can be framed with language, but also clarifies the quantum (or infinitely chance-based) nature of the linguistic lifeworld (arena).
Next there are the rhetorical questions to make the readers of the persuasive essay think. Each question that arose previously on the nature of the central thesis argument is taken conceptually and thought about in a rhetorical way.
As each concept is unique so is the related rhetoric. The audience or reader is made to think on the nature of persuasion and its political and ethical nature. The cause or thought-argument related to the central thesis is elaborately philosophized upon.
Finally, there is the peroration or conclusion which sums up the persuasive argument and also ties it to the introduction so that the persuasive essay might have a holistic structure and form.
The Three Pillars of Persuasive Essay
It is important to note the three conceptual pillars that mold the structure of the persuasive essay. These three concepts are those of ethos, logos and pathos.
As stated earlier, the essayist or persuasive orator opens his/her stance with a cause-related and argumentative thesis. Here, he/she appeals to the ethos of the audience by establishing credibility through his language and rhetoric. Some of the relevant features of ethos, as related to the structuring of the persuasive essay, are as follows:
- The language, rhetoric and syntax of the persuasive argument must be free from internal contradictions
- The essayist must craft his language very diligently getting rid of all errors, ‘double-speaks’ and ambiguities
- The language and rhetoric must speak strongly for the cause and even the slightest errors that speak ambiguously must be negated.
The next pillar of the persuasive essay is the logos. The persuasive essayist or orator has to back-up his claims by solid evidence and sound reasoning. Through an appeal to facts, the essayist can build his argument on reason. Some of the features of logos are as follows:
- In the classical sense, a recourse to logic backed by tangible material evidence is usually at the center of a logos-oriented persuasive essay. It should not be just words, theories or numbers; a logical argument must be backed by solid material evidence.
- In the classical sense, the essayist or speaker appeals to the rationality of his/her audience. Logic backed by tangible material evidence that appeals to the senses and echoes as truth can hardly be denied under standard conditions.
- However, there always have been situations where the appeal to logic and material evidence have been manufactured, planted and conspired upon for the sole purpose to raise and create sensation and mass hysteria. Very often, diplomatic and unscrupulous politicians and religious leaders have been guilty of using twisted logic and planted evidence to get to their vested interests by creating persuasive statements and moving billions of people through mass media. Nevertheless, in its scrupulous and noble sense, the art of persuasion and its writing depends on genuine logic backed by authentic tangible and material sources.
The final pillar that molds the persuasive essay is an appeal to pathos. The essayist appeals to the emotions of the audience and raises dramatic flair in his/her argument. His/her cause must also soundly bank upon some particular aspect that ‘touches’ an emotional nerve of the audience. Some of the aspects of pathos are:
- The speaker or persuasive essayist appeals to the emotions of the masses or his/her specific audience. This affective and dramatic aspect must also mold his rhetoric with an appeal to his/her cause.
- The persuasive essayist must convince his/her audience about the emotional requirement of his/her cause. It must raise similar emotions in his/her audience as it does in him/her.
- In the classical sense, the appeal to positive emotions is perfectly fine. However, here too there is a flipside. Very often, emotions are barbaric, crude and irrational. While an unscrupulous political or religious leader can easily exploit the negative emotions of the masses and make the worst of existing rumors and mass hysteria, an authentic persuasive orator or essayist uses the classical model to advance any noble cause.
Commercial and non-commercial use of persuasive essay
The persuasive essay is written both commercially and non-commercially. To promote brands and market their products, companies, use persuasive writing and visual language. Although the persuasive essay might also be written non-commercially for furthering stakes or any noble cause, it might also be used in an extensively commercial way by companies to describe their products.
The persuasive essay is, thus, written in a traditionally complex structure and has its ethics and politics. It is written specifically to persuade an audience or reader to agree with the essayist’s point of view. The persuasive style of writing also rests on and is molded by the three conceptual pillars of ethos, logos and pathos. It is used for a variety of purposes including commercial and non-commercial ones.
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