Persuasive & Logical Writing

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1 Persuasive & Logical Writing Because persuasive writing s purpose is to influence people s thoughts and actions, it is often one of the most challenging types of writing. It is often aimed at an audience who may be anywhere from neutral to hostile towards our ideas, so audience awareness is critical in this type of writing. Most people have opinions on controversial issues, but convincing others of the validity of those opinions is the hard part. The following guidelines will help you to write a persuasive paper that is well supported and that avoids logical fallacies. Critical criteria in persuasive writing: commitment to the topic knowing how to use sound thinking and convincing arguments a clear, strong idea backed up by ample, believable evidence the ability to look at things from a variety of perspectives Some tips to keep in mind before beginning a persuasive paper: Analyze your own viewpoint on the issue to determine if it is based more on emotion than on reason. It may not even be your own viewpoint, but one you ve adopted from parents or friends. It s easy to write for a sympathetic audience, but your target audience is those who need to be persuaded, not those who will agree with you. This audience will not believe you just because you feel strongly about it. Keep an open mind until you have really explored the issue. Don t decide what you think first, and then set out to prove it. Be willing to change your mind. That is a characteristic of a sound thinker. Don t write the paper as if your evidence has completely explained the issue. Debatable topics exist because there is no one right answer. All you are trying to do is convince the reader to think about your arguments because they are reasonably presented. Choosing a topic The best topic is one that is controversial, that you know something about, and that you are interested in. Avoid topics you feel too strongly about because you may not be able to be fair and objective.

2 Tone Tone is critical in persuasive writing. You must establish your credibility as a writer by sounding even-handed, rational, and thoughtful. Avoid sounding illogical, condescending, confrontational, vengeful, or overly-judgmental. Tips on writing the first draft: Open your paper with an interesting lead-in. Write a thesis statement that takes a clear position, but do not hesitate to qualify it if you need to. Write clear topic sentences that refer to the main idea of the thesis. Support your topic with facts, statistics, examples, and expert testimony. Identify any source you have paraphrased, summarized, or quoted. Respond to major objections in a reasonable manner and explain why the reader should find your overall argument more persuasive. Conclude the essay in an effective way--by summarizing major points, calling for action, and/or looking to the future of this issue. Support in persuasive writing--how much to use? Decide this by: Checking your outline to see if the subdivisions where the support is listed are balanced. Don t have only one piece of evidence for one part of the argument and five for another part. Reading your paper over playing the role of devil s advocate; in other words, think like the opposition. Would you be convinced? Add, delete, or change support accordingly. Allowing others who don t agree with you to scrutinize your paper for sound reasoning and credibility. Using Sources to Persuade Depending on the type of paper and specific requirements, you may use any of the following types of support. Personal Experience Closely related, brief personal examples do help make your point by making the writing more specific, interesting, and believable, but used alone they are usually not enough to convince a reader.

3 Others Experiences Adding the experiences others have had which you have selected from books, magazines, speeches, or TV can help make your generalizations more concrete. Personal Extended Examples Instead of using several brief personal examples, you might choose to use one longer, but more powerful personal example to help illustrate your point. Others Extended Examples Extended example from other s experience can be found in newspapers, magazines, books, or newscasts and enable the reader to more fully understand the issue involved by helping the reader relate to the person s experience. Facts and Statistics Sometimes your argument requires more objective support than just your experience or the experience of others to really convince the reader. Statistics are one of the most credible sources because they draw on large numbers of people s experiences instead of just one person s experience. They need to be chosen from reputable sources. Examine and use them carefully because they can sometimes be misinterpreted. Expert Opinion Another very convincing type of support is expert testimony. Be sure he/she is a well respected expert in the field. Paraphrase or quote ideas that reinforce your argument and be very careful to give proper credit to that source not only for quotes, but also for original ideas (not common knowledge such as might be found in an encyclopedia). Combinations of Support Probably the most common and most effective way of supporting your ideas is by using a combination of these types of support. A short example you read about in the newspaper, along with a startling statistic or two, and a quote from an authority helps to build a solid case in the reader s mind. Logical Fallacies To write a convincing argument, try to avoid the following pitfalls in logical thinking. Loose generalizations Drawing conclusions about groups of people on the basis of stereotypes. Example: French people are more romantic. Hasty generalizations Arriving at a conclusion without enough evidence. Example: Asian-American students are better in math. Circular Reasoning Restating in different words what has already been stated. Example: Dieting is hard because it requires consuming fewer calories. Single cause-effect Claiming that only one event caused another when there may be no real connection. Example: When I sat down at the computer it stopped working, so I must have done something wrong.

4 Slippery Slope Assumes a chain of cause-effect relationships with very suspect connections. Example: Because I failed my exam, my parents were mad, I lost my wallet, my car wouldn t start, and I got fired. Non Sequitur The first part of the idea does not relate to the other. Example: I did well in school because I always wore nice clothes. Either/Or Suggesting only two alternatives when the issue may be much more complex. Example: America--love it or leave it! False Authority Draws attention away from the evidence and leans on the popularity of someone who may have little knowledge of the issue or product. Example: Kathie Lee Gifford, a popular TV celebrity, says that cruises are wonderful, so they must be. Ad Hominem Attacking the person instead of the ideas. Example: Don t vote for Jerry Brown; he s a left-wing fanatic, a throwback to the 60s who meditates and eats health foods. Bandwagon Thinking Claiming that most people agree so it must be right. Example: I wouldn t have cheated on my income taxes, but everyone else does, so why shouldn t I? Stacking the deck Giving a slanted view of the issue by focusing only on one side. Example: I deserve to get an A in the class because I like the teacher, work hard, and attend class. Appeal to Emotion Exploiting the audience s feeling in order to get them on your side. Example: I believe I deserve a scholarship because I am an orphan who grew up in a dysfunctional foster family. Ignoring the question Changing the topic before it is really considered Example: The criminal won t say where he was on the night of the crime, but he does remember being teased relentlessly as a child.

5 Trivial objections Can be similar to ad hominem in that it focuses on things unimportant to the issue at hand. Example: I think Ross Perot would make a terrible president. His ears are huge. Utah Valley State College 800 West University Parkway, Orem, UT (801) 863-INFO Copyright 2003 UVSC All Rights Reserved.

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