Writing assignment series
Persuasive or argumentative essays
In persuasive or argumentative writing, we try to convince others
to agree with our facts, share our values,
accept our argument and conclusions,
and adopt our way of thinking.
Elements toward building a good persuasive essay include
- establishing facts
to support an argument
- clarifying relevant values
for your audience (perspective)
- prioritizing, editing, and/or sequencing
the facts and values in importance to build the argument
- forming and stating conclusions
- "persuading" your audience that your conclusions
are based upon the agreed-upon facts and shared values
- having the confidence
to communicate your "persuasion" in writing
Here are some strategies to complete a persuasive writing assignment:
Write out the questions in your own words.
Think of the questions posed in the assignment
while you are reading and researching. Determine
- any sources that will help you determine their reliability
(as well as for further reference)
- what prejudices lie in the argument
or values that color the facts or the issue
- what you think of the author's argument
List out facts; consider their importance:
prioritize, edit, sequence, discard, etc.
Ask yourself "What's missing?"
What are the "hot buttons" of the issue?
List possible emotions/emotional reactions and recognize them for later use
Start writing a draft!(refer to: Writing essays, the basics)
Start as close as possible to your reading/research
Do not concern yourself with grammar or spelling
- Write your first paragraph
- Introduce the topic
- Inform the reader of your point of view!
- Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper!
- Focus on three main points to develop
- Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph
- Keep your voice active
- Quote sources
to establish authority
- Stay focused
on your point of view throughout the essay
- Focus on logical arguments
- Don't lapse into summary
in the development--wait for the conclusion
Summarize, then conclude, your argument
Refer to the first paragraph/opening statement as well as the main points
- does the conclusion restate the main ideas?
- reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
- logically conclude their development?
- Edit/rewrite the first paragraph
to better telegraph your development and conclusion.
- Take a day or two off!
- Re-read your paper
with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil
- Ask yourself:
Does this make sense? Am I convinced?
Will this convince a reader?
Will they understand my values, and agree with my facts?
- Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary
- Check spelling and grammar!
- Have a friend read it and respond to your argument.
Were they convinced?
- Revise if necessary
- Turn in the paper
- Celebrate a job well done,
with the confidence that you have done your best.
- Ask yourself:
How to respond to criticism:
Consider criticism as a test of developing your powers of persuasion.
Try not to take it personally.
If your facts are criticized,
double check them, and then cite your sources.
If your values are criticized,
sometimes we need agree "to disagree". Remember: your success in persuading others assumes that the other person is open to being persuaded!
Fear: If you are not used to communicating,
especially in writing, you may need to overcome fear on several levels. Writing, unlike unrecorded speech, is a permanent record for all to see, and the "context" is not as important as in speech where context "colors" the words. For example: your readers do not see you, only your words. They do not know what you look like, where you live, who you are.
Hopefully in school, and class, we have a safe place
to practice both the art of writing and of persuasion. Then later, when we are in our communities, whether work, church, neighborhoods, and even families, we can benefit from this practice.
Persuasion also has another dimension:
it is built with facts, which illustrate conclusions. Of course, this means you need to know what you are talking about, and cannot be lazy with your facts, or you will not succeed in convincing anyone. This shows another level of fear: Fear of making a mistake that will make your argument or persuasion meaningless. Since you are writing, and the words are on paper for all to see (or on a web site!), you need to work to make sure your facts are in order.
Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |Thanks to the inspiration of S Ryder, and her sixth grade class in Pennsylvania, for revision of this Guide
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals | Elements of a Research Paper
Seven stages of writing assignments | "Lessons learned" | Deadlines
Your GMAT essays are unlikely to be the linchpin of your application. Although I don’t like to say “never,” I personally have not heard of a student getting in to B-School because of his or her GMAT essays. It certainly seems possible, though, that your essays could keep you out, if your entire application package is borderline and you write one or two truly awful essays. For that reason, it’s important that you keep the AWA in perspective: it shouldn’t take up much of your prep time, but it’s certainly to your advantage to spend some time familiarizing yourself with what makes for a good essay, and getting some feedback from a qualified source, whether that is a professional mentor, a professor, or a test-prep specialist.
Of the two essays you’ll be expected to write, the Analysis of an Argument is likely to be the more challenging, if only because the task is not a familiar one to most business school candidates. The easiest format to use in writing this essay is the classic 5-paragraph style, and a simple, effective format will look something like this:
Paragraph 1: Brief recap of argument and statement that the argument has merit but also contains multiple flaws. Also include a “roadmap” of the points that you will make, in the order that you will make them.
Paragraph 2: Explanation of first flaw– this paragraph should have a strong topic sentence and then several sentences explaining the flaw in detail.
Paragraph 3: The second flaw gets the same treatment here as the first one did in the previous paragraph.
Paragraph 4: The third flaw is explained here in the manner established in the previous two paragraphs.
Paragraph 5: Briefly recap the flaws you’ve presented and diplomatically explain how those flaws could be remedied to present a stronger argument.
A good rule of thumb is that your reader should be able to get the gist of your entire argument just by skimming the first sentence of each paragraph. Remember, your reader is probably going to devote no more than three to five minutes to your essay. Take a few minutes at the beginning of your AWA to outline the five sentences that will begin your paragraphs; this strategy can make your reader’s job far easier, and a happy reader is probably more apt to make those tricky 4/5 line calls in your favor. Similarly, the e-reader is programmed to assess organization, and well-written topic sentences that use transition words and clearly state the point of each paragraph are a big help in creating the kind of organizational structure that earns you points on test day.
To start your essay on the right note, make sure that your first paragraph does what it needs to do (recap the argument, state your position, and map out your three points) without any attempts at rhetorical bells and whistles. At some point in high school or college, a composition instructor may have told you to use an “attention-getting” opening to really draw your audience in, but your GMAT AWA reader doesn’t need to be “drawn in;” she is getting paid to read your essay, and wants to do her job as efficiently as possible. She’s likely to regard literary flourishes as a waste of your energy and her time. Now, let’s look at a sample prompt and opening paragraph:
WPTK, the most popular television station in Metropolis, does not currently provide traffic updates to viewers. Since Metropolis is located in a Midwestern state with serious winter weather road delays 4 months out of the year, WPTK would significantly reduce the incidence of auto accidents on Metropolis-area roads by providing traffic updates.
The argument, which states that WPTK’s broadcast of traffic updates would reduce the incidence of auto accidents on Metropolis-area roads, has merit. However, the argument also exhibits several serious flaws which could limit its persuasiveness. The author weakens his claim by assuming that televised traffic updates would be timely enough to impact drivers’ actions, by failing to explicitly state how the updates would affect auto accidents, and by predicting a “significant” reduction in Metropolis auto accidents without specifying what kind of a reduction would be deemed “significant.”
As you can see, the opening paragraph responds to the prompt by taking a clear position, referring back to the issue briefly, and outlining the points that the essay will be addressing. Let your concise, informative opening paragraph set the tone for your essay, and look for an upcoming article on common flaws in Analysis of an Argument prompts!
Four Tips to Raise Your Scores on GMAT Argument Essay
TIP 1: DON’T LIE. EVER.
Made up statistics and facts won’t impress the GMAT graders, but strong organization, logical arguments, and specific supportive examples will. Don’t be tempted to make up data because you are not an “expert” in the subject matter.
TIP 2: BE CLEAR, NOT PEDANTIC.
Focus more on conveying your argument succinctly and forcefully than on sounding scholarly. Don’t include long-winded sentences that go nowhere in the hopes of sounding more intelligent. The argument essay needs to be formal, but more importantly, forceful.
TIP 3: YOU ALREADY KNOW YOUR THESIS.
No matter what the prompt, your thesis is essentially, “the argument is flawed.” All you have to do is come up with solid logic backed by specific examples that show why.
TIP 4: CRITICIZE THE WORDING OF THE ARGUMENT.
An easy way to find fault in the structure of the argument is to pick apart its diction. Just how many is “many”? Exactly what does the author mean by “benefits”? Look for vague wording and qualifying language to attack. It will be there!