Strategies for Writing Convincing Essays Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 7, 2011

Your Own Credibility

The best way to establish your expertise is to demonstrate to readers that you've "done your homework"—that is, that you've considered issues carefully and consulted the research, if necessary, to support your position. To show your audience that you are not unfairly biased, you'll also need to acknowledge counterarguments and make concessions. These two strategies are explained in the sections that follow.

Acknowledge Counterarguments

An important part of establishing your credibility and persuading readers is acknowledging counterarguments. Counterarguments are ones that might be offered by someone supporting the other side of your argument. If you are asserting that medical research on animals is unnecessary, you need to consider what someone asserting that it is necessary would think.

Acknowledging counterarguments strengthens your argument. It shows that you have considered all sides of the issue and thought carefully about the logic of your position. More importantly, it helps you better defend your position. If you know what objections your readers might have, you can systematically address those objections in your essay (without, in many cases, revealing them as possible objections). Furthermore, acknowledging counterarguments enables you to persuade your readers to believe you by addressing their concerns and then countering each concern with a reasonable premise of your own.

Compare these two arguments:

Lukas, can I borrow your car tomorrow morning? I have a job interview and I can't get there by bus. I really want this job. What do you say?

Lukas, I know you don't like to let other people drive your car, especially since you put so much time into rebuilding it. But I'm hoping you'll make an exception. I have a job interview tomorrow and I can't get there by bus. I'm really excited about this job. I promise to have it back by noon with a full tank of gas. And to show my appreciation, I'll take her to the car wash on my way back.

It's clear that the speaker in the second paragraph took some time to consider Lukas's point of view. By addressing his concerns, the writer shows Lukas that he's put himself in Lukas's shoes, and this kind of empathy can be a powerful tool for convincing a reader.

To help you acknowledge counterarguments, play "devil's advocate. "While brainstorming or outlining, take a few minutes to consider the opposite thesis; how would it best be supported? What arguments would likely be made? If you can anticipate what the other side will say, you can acknowledge those arguments and come up with effective counterarguments. It will also help you find any holes in your argument that you may have missed.

Acknowledging counterarguments is not the same as supporting them. In fact, if you acknowledge them strategically, you can actually use them to support your case. For example, you are arguing that school uniforms should be mandatory for all public school students. One of your major supporting ideas is that school uniforms will create a stronger sense of community. After playing devil's advocate, you realize that people against the idea of mandatory uniforms would argue that they create a culture of conformity. Here's how you might acknowledge the counterargument, show its weakness, and set the reader up for your position:

Many people have argued that school uniforms would encourage conformity, and that schools should do all they can to help students develop a sense of individuality. But as much as we want to believe that the way we dress is an expression of our individuality, for most students, clothing is more often a means of conformity. Students want to dress like their peers. They want to wear the same brands and the same styles as their friends (or the people whom they wish were their friends). It is the rare student who truly uses clothing as an expression of individuality.

Now that the writer has addressed the counterargument, he can go on to develop his position—that school uniforms will create a sense of community.

Avoid Absolutes

Persuasive writing involves pitting one side against another—and showing why one side is superior. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking in terms of black and white. If one side is correct, that means the other side is wrong, right? When you write in terms of absolutes, especially all or none, you weaken your writing. There are always exceptions, and a good essay is one that's careful to avoid statements that don't allow for those exceptions. Most absolutes are gross generalizations or stereotypes, both of which you need to avoid.

Failure to acknowledge exceptions will seriously undermine your credibility with your reader. Here's an example:

Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as naïve and innocent, just like all girls in fairy tales.

Well, maybe in all the fairy tales you've read, but in fact, many fairy tales describe girls who are sophisticated, cunning, and even dangerous. There are many exceptions to the "rule" this writer just established, and thoughtful readers will be put off by such a statement.

To allow for exceptions, exchange absolutes for less restrictive words and phrases. A single word such as many or most can change a problematic, implausible absolute into a plausible, provable statement. Here are some of those exchanges:

Avoid Absolutes

The fairy tale statement could be revised as follows:

Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as naïve and innocent, like many girls in fairy tales.

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