Chapter 3: Paragraph Structure
3.4 Persuasive Paragraphs
- Organize arguments in a logical and persuasive order.
- Provide appropriate support in the form of quotations, statistics, expert opinions, and commonly accepted facts
- Clarify the meaning and significance of the main arguments.
- Identify and refute relevant counterpoints.
The main aim of a persuasive paragraph is to make an effective argument. Thus, persuasive paragraphs are written as if the writer is attempting to convince their audience to adopt a new belief or behaviour. While expository paragraphs strive to explain or clarify a topic, persuasive paragraphs take a stand on an issue. However, simply having an argument or viewpoint about a topic is not enough. In persuasive paragraphs, writers must also support their claims. Typically, persuasive paragraphs support their arguments through the use of appropriate evidence, such as quotations, examples, expert opinions, or other facts. Nevertheless, simply having a viewpoint and supporting evidence is still not enough to write a strong persuasive paragraph. In addition to these two things, a writer must also have strong organization.
Organization is the key to any well-developed paragraph. When composing your paragraph, think of its organization as a set of blocks balanced between two triangles (see Figure 3.2). Each block represents the main arguments of your paragraph, while the two triangles stand for your introductory and concluding sentences, respectively. Just as the top triangle comes to a point before leading into the blocks, your introductory sentence should make your thesis before your paragraph jumps to the supporting sentences. These supporting sentences, as the blocks suggest, should be full of information and logically solid. Just as the stability and balance of the shapes rests on the solidity of the blocks, the stability of the argument of the paragraph rests on the success of the body sentences. Much like the introductory sentence that precedes it, your concluding sentence should restate your thesis statement and the main argument of your paragraph, allowing your paragraph to end on a firm base.
The sections below identify the major components of each part of a persuasive paragraph. Keep in mind that these guidelines are not meant to hinder your voice as a writer, but rather to strengthen your effectiveness as a writer. Though you may sometimes feel constricted by this organizational framework, it is essential to compose a paragraph that contains all of these parts in order to make a strong argument. Plus, once you get acquainted with how to organize a persuasive paragraph, you will be able to use your creative juices in the actual writing of the paragraph. Rather than focusing on where to put an idea, you can focus on how to express or explain, which makes your job as a writer easier and more exciting.
A strong introductory sentence is crucial to the development of an effective persuasive paragraph. Without an introductory sentence that properly introduces both the topic and the writer’s argument, persuasive paragraphs fail to convince the reader of the validity of the argument. Since the introductory sentence contains the thesis statement, or the core argument and purpose of the paragraph, introductory sentences are essential to the overall success of the paragraph.
- Introduce the issue.
- Preview the argument that will appear in the body.
- Provide each of the arguments that will later appear in each body sentence.
- Refute any counterpoints to the argument.
- Provide the thesis statement.
Since the success of the paragraph rests on the introductory sentence, it is important to understand its essential components. Usually, when persuasive paragraphs fail to make a clear argument, it is not because the writer’s ideas or opinions are wrong, but rather because the argument is not properly explained in the introduction. One of the most important jobs of an introductory sentence is to introduce the topic or issue. Most arguments cannot be made without at least some background information. Thus, it is essential to provide a foundation for your topic before you begin explaining your argument. For instance, if you wanted to argue that the animation in the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is innovative, your introductory sentence would first need to provide background information about movie animation. By doing so, you ensure that your audience is as informed about your topic as you are, and thus, you make it easier for your audience to understand your argument.
Below, the main jobs of the introductory sentence are described and explained in detail.
The purposes of introductory sentences
Introductory sentences introduce the topic and suggest why it is important.
Example: An analysis of the Vancouver Island University Writing Centre survey answers reveals that a significant portion of tutees improved their writing skills, and this has correlated to an improvement on their essay scores.
This sentence tells the reader both that the topic of the paragraph will be the benefits of the Writing Centre and that the significance of these benefits is the improvement of essay scores.
Introductory sentences outline the structure of the paragraph and highlight the main ideas.
Example: Considering the dropout rate of high-schoolers in Canada, it is apparent that schools are not addressing the social conditions that lead students to fail.
This sentence provides the main ideas of the paragraph and indicates the order in which they will be presented in the body sentences.
Introductory sentences state the thesis.
Example: Kwantlen Polytechnic University should require all students to enrol in Creative Writing courses in order to better prepare them for employment.
This thesis statement indicates the argument of the paragraph.
In addition to introducing the topic of your paragraph, your introductory sentence also needs to introduce each of the arguments you will cover in your body sentences. By providing your audience with an idea of the points or arguments you will make later in your paragraph, your introductory sentence serves as a road map not only for your audience but also for you. Including your main subpoints in your introduction not only allows your audience to understand where your paragraph is headed, but also helps you as a writer remember how you want to organize your paragraph. This is especially helpful if you are not writing your paragraph in one sitting, as it allows you to leave and return to your paragraph without forgetting all of the important points you wanted to make.
Another common—though often forgotten—component of an introductory sentence is the refutation of counterarguments. In order for your argument to appear strong, and in order for your audience to know that you considered the arguments against your claim, it is essential to refute or disprove counterarguments (arguments against your thesis) in your introductory sentence. The most common error writers make when dealing with counterarguments is to not refute them. Sometimes, a writer forgets to show how the counterarguments are wrong and how their argument is correct. To avoid this error, consider using the sentence constructions in the list below that help refute counterarguments. By using words such as “while,” “although,” “yet,” or “however” in compound sentences, you can be sure that you are properly refuting any counterarguments to your argument while supporting your own claims.
In the examples listed below, X is the counterargument and Y is the writer’s argument:
- While most people believe X, Y is true.
- Although people argue X, Y is correct.
- This expert claims X , yet this expert in the same field argues Y.
- This book says X; however, this book indicates that Y is true.
There are also some important dos and don’ts when it comes to writing introductory sentences. It is crucial when writing your persuasive paragraph to avoid apologizing or using sweeping generalizations, since both undermine your argument. If you continue to apologize in your paragraph, you make your argument seem weak, and thus your audience is unconvinced. Likewise, if you base your argument on a generalization or stereotype—something which your audience will likely disagree with—your entire argument will lose credit or validity. Also, it is important not to rely too heavily on dictionary definitions, especially in your thesis. A thesis must be composed of a fact and a viewpoint. Thus, if you base your argument on a definition, which is an irrefutable fact, your thesis is no longer a point of view but a truth.
|Things to always do||Things to never do|
Most importantly, when writing an introductory sentence, it is essential to remember that you must capture the interest of your reader. Thus, it is your job as the writer to make the introduction entertaining or intriguing. In order to do so, consider using a hook, or a quotation, a surprising or interesting fact, an anecdote, or a humorous story. While the quotation, story, or fact you include must be relevant to your paragraph, placing one of these at the beginning of your introduction helps you not only capture the attention or the reader, but also introduce your topic and argument, making your introduction interesting to your audience and useful for your argument and paragraph. However, after using a hook, you must transition from the quote, fact, or story that is used into the main topic of your paragraph. Often, writers include interesting hooks that they do not connect to their topic or argument. In these instances, the hook detracts from rather than supports the introductory sentence.
In a persuasive paragraph, the body sentences are where the writer has the opportunity to argue their viewpoint. By the concluding sentence, the writer should convince the reader to agree with the argument of the paragraph. Regardless of a strong thesis, paragraphs with weak body sentences fail to explain why the argument of the paragraph is both true and important. Body sentences of a persuasive paragraph are weak when no quotes or facts are used to support the thesis or when those used are not adequately explained. Occasionally, body sentences are also weak because the quotes used detract from rather than support the paragraph. Thus, it is essential to use appropriate support and to adequately explain your support within your body sentences.
In order to create a body sentence that is properly supported and explained, it is important to understand the components that make up a strong body sentence. The bullet points below indicate the essential components of a well-written, well-argued body sentence.
- Begin by reflecting the argument of the thesis statement.
- Support the argument with useful and informative quotes from sources such as books, journal articles, expert opinions, etc.
- Explain each quote and indicate its significance.
- Ensure that the information provided is relevant to the thesis statement.
- End with a transition which leads into the next body sentence.
Just as your introduction must introduce the topic of your paragraph, the first body sentence must introduce the argument. For instance, if you were writing a body sentence for a paragraph arguing the animation in the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is innovative, one body sentence may begin, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has produced the most surprising animation of any movie so far this decade.” Following this sentence, you would go on to support this one statement by indicating how the movie does this. When you place this statement as the opening of your sentence, not only does your audience know what you are going to argue, but you can also keep track of your ideas.
Your sentences must provide some sort of fact that supports your claim. In the example of the Spider-Verse paragraph, maybe you would provide a quote from a movie critic or a prominent animator. After your quote or fact, you must always explain what the quote or fact is saying, stressing what you believe is most important about your fact. It is important to remember that your audience may read a quote and decide it is arguing something entirely different than what you think it is arguing. Or, maybe some of your readers think another aspect of your quote is important. If you do not explain the quote and indicate what portion of it is relevant to your argument, then your reader may become confused or may be unconvinced of your point. Consider the possible interpretations for the statement below.
Example: While I did not like the storyline of the movie, I enjoyed the surprising animation in the film. Without the surprising animation, the storyline would have been boring and the characters would have been unoriginal.
Interestingly, this statement seems to be saying two things at once: that the movie is bad and that the movie is good. On the one hand, the person seems to say that the storyline and characters of the movie were both bad. On the other hand, the person also says that the animation more than makes up for the bad storyline and unoriginal characters. Because of this tension in the quotation, if you used this quote in your Spider-Verse paragraph, you would need to explain that the animation in the movie is so good that it makes a boring movie exciting.
In addition to explaining what this quote is saying, you would also need to indicate why this is important to your argument.When trying to indicate the significance of a fact, it is essential to try to answer the “so what.” Imagine you have just finished explaining your quote to someone, and they have asked you “so what?” The person does not understand why you have explained this quote, not because you have not explained the quote well, but because you have not told them why they need to know what the quote means. This—the answer to the “so what”—is the significance of your paragraph and is essentially your argument within the body sentences. However, it is important to remember that, generally, a body sentence will contain more than one quotation or piece of support. Thus, you must repeat the quotation-explanation-significance formula several times within your body sentences to argue the one subpoint indicated in your topic sentence.
The concluding sentence of a persuasive paragraph is an author’s last chance to create a good impression. Hence, it is important to restate the thesis statement at the beginning of the sentence in order to remind the reader of your argument. Since it is at the end of the paragraph, the concluding sentence should also add a sense of closure and finality to the argument of the paragraph. It is important to re-emphasize the main idea without being repetitive or introducing an entirely new idea or subtopic. While you can end your concluding sentence by suggesting a topic for further research or investigation, do not make this question the focus of the sentence. Thus, you should briefly and concisely reiterate the strongest arguments of the paragraph, reminding the reader of the validity of the thesis and bringing closure to your paragraph.
- Begin by reflecting the argument of the thesis statement.
- Briefly summarize the main points of the paragraph.
- Provide a strong and effective close for the paragraph.
The following is an example of a persuasive paragraph that argues for the importance of paragraph organization. The paragraph has been broken up to describe the purpose of each sentence (or group of sentences).
|Topic sentence||The strength of a body paragraph lies in its organization.|
|Quote/Support #1||According to The Bedford Handbook, “the body of the essay develops support for [the] thesis, so it’s important to have at least a tentative thesis before [one starts] writing” (Hacker 38).|
|Explanation (1 to 2 sentences)||As this quote suggests, it is hard for a writer to support his or her thesis in a body paragraph before the thesis has even been developed. Thus, it is crucial to decide upon a thesis before starting to compose the body, or support, of an essay.|
|Significance (1 to 3 sentences)||Writing an essay in this order will ensure that the body paragraph argues the point which the writer is trying to make.|
|Quote/Support #2||What’s more, it is always important to “sketch a preliminary outline” and “draft the body of [the] essay by writing a paragraph about each supporting point listed in the planning stage” (Hacker 38).|
|Explanation (1 to 2 sentences)||In creating both an outline and a draft, the writer will begin creating his or her body paragraphs before the final draft is even begun.|
|Significance (1 to 3 sentences)||Moreover, this process will ensure that the writer never forgets any of his or her key points since they have already been written down. Hence, the writer can leave and revisit his or her work without fear of forgetting or losing any of the key arguments of the paper.|
|Concluding/Transition sentence||Although organization is essential to the effectiveness of a body paragraph, there are other factors which contribute to its overall strength.|
|Things to always do||Things to never do|
You may feel that the concluding sentence is redundant or unnecessary; however, do not forget that this is your last chance to explain the significance of your argument to your audience. Just as your body sentences strive to present the significance of each fact or quote you use, your concluding sentence should sum up the significance of your argument. Thus, you should consider making a bold statement in your concluding sentence by evoking a vivid image, suggesting results or consequences related to your argument, or ending with a warning. Through using these strategies, you not only make your concluding sentence more exciting, but you also make your paragraph, and your argument, more important.
- What are three of the main purposes of an introductory sentence?
- What should you never do in an introductory sentence?
- How should you refute counterpoints?
- What is the formula for a well-argued body sentence?
- What should you include in a concluding sentence? What should you never include in a concluding sentence?
Points to Consider
- Write a persuasive paragraph arguing for or against a community service requirement that high school students must fulfill in order to graduate. If you are arguing for the requirement, be sure to specify what the requirement entails (i.e., how many hours or where it needs to be completed) in addition to supporting the use of the requirement. If you are arguing against the requirement, be sure to address counterpoints in addition to supporting your claims fully.
- Write a persuasive paragraph about the impact of one type of media—such as social media, video games, television, movies, or magazines—on high school aged (15–18) and junior high school aged (12–14) children. Should parents regulate both age groups’ access to these forms of media? Or should only one group be monitored? If so, which? Do social media, video games, television, magazines, etc., affect one group more than the other? Use specific examples to support your ideas.