Perhaps the most prevalent assignment in a writing course is the persuasive essay. I can almost guarantee that it will be designed into any writing course in one way or another. Argument and persuasion are the most important skills a writing teacher can impart to his or her students. Argument and persuasion are the most important skills a writer can have at his or her disposal.
In any kind of writing, with the exception of writing done solely for ourselves (like diaries), we have a reader. We have an audience. So no matter what the purpose of the writing is, whether it is to persuade, inform, or entertain, we have to take into account our audience. This is one skill writers, even published ones, often do not do well.
When you want to write well, when you want to communicate well, you must think not like a writer but like a reader. One of my mantras is to write like a reader and read like a writer. Don’t tell the reader what you want to tell them; tell them what you want them to know. If you are thinking like a reader as you write, you will better be able to communicate to the reader the information you want them to understand.
In no kind of writing is it more clear that you must consider your reader than persuasive writing. How do you persuade someone if you don’t know what will persuade them? You cannot just tell your audience something and expect that they will agree with you. You must show them your point of view and why it is the right one to take. Assert yourself, but always let the reader know you are thinking of them.
I have just thrown some abstract ideas out there, so I will break them down a little. Whenever you are teaching something, you have to understand more than how to do it well. You have to recognize every nuance of it so you can more accessibly explain each piece. That is what I try to do every day in my classroom; I must understand every strategy involved in writing if I am to successfully impart to my students how to do it.
I always say that in every kind of writing, you must present yourself as an expert. No reader will trust you if you do not seem to know what you are talking about. That is why you should never use “I think” or “I believe”; it gets in the way of effectively communicating your message. If you want your reader to trust you, you must assert your opinion as though it is truth.
However, no reader will trust you if they believe you to be stubborn and closed-minded. If they do not believe that you can understand their point of view, they will not be convinced by you. In order to do this effectively, you must counter their possible objections before they can voice them. Think of the counter arguments they may prepare. If possible, discuss it with someone else. If you can successfully argue against the objections a reader may pose, you will more likely persuade that reader. Here’s the reaction you want: “But what about…? Oh.”
At this point, the only thing your students now need is the strategies to include to persuade a reader. There are a few good ones here. But they will learn a lot better if they develop the strategies themselves. After all, one of the best ways to learn how to do something well is to make mistakes and learn from them. They will better understand why their writing was wrong to begin with and how to improve it.
Above all, the reason why persuasion is the most important skill to impart to students is that they will have to be able to do it all throughout their lives. If, as a writer, you understand how to persuade readers, then you will be much better when trying to convince anyone in any argument situation that your point of view is the right one. Will it always work? Of course not. But consider the strategies it takes to convince a reader. Those same strategies are still useful when speaking to one person.