The next type of writing we will do is the persuasive essay. In this essay, you will be working to convince your reader of the rightness of your point of view on a specific topic. As I have already said, in some ways every type of writing is a form of persuasion: you are always trying to make your reader see the correctness of your opinion. In this assignment, however, you will stake out your position on a particular topic and argue forcefully and explicitly in favor of it. As always, you want to state your opinion explicitly in your thesis statement (of course, without saying, “I think that. . . .”). As always, you also want to pick a topic that is fairly focused, narrow, and specific: pick a topic that you can adequately discuss in four to five paragraphs. I will say it again: it is always better to say a lot about a small topic than to try to say a little bit about many aspects of a large topic. (For those who are counting, that is the 3,248th time I have said that this year.) Use the first paragraph to state and fully explain your thesis. The rest of your essay should then be the marshalling of evidence in support of your thesis statement and an explanation of and commentary on your evidence. Facts are necessary to support your thesis, but by themselves facts are not enough. You need to explain and comment on them fully; show how these facts support your view and not the view of the opposing side.
Try to find three or four really strong pieces of evidence to support your opinion. There is no way you can say everything or think of every point; choose the strongest evidence you can. While arguing in favor of your position, you should also include arguments against the opposing view. For example, if I am writing about the wrongness of capital punishment, I should also include arguments showing the wrongness of arguments made in favor capital punishment. Try to anticipate the other side’s arguments. That will show you are thinking and will also strengthen your argument. In general, it is best to work from your weakest to your strongest argument. As usual, conclusions are difficult. End with a strong, powerful concluding paragraph that brings together your various ideas but does not merely restate them. Certainly do not end by saying something like, “For all these reasons . . . .” I have listed below a few sample thesis statements and a number of possible topics. Please do not be limited by my suggestions. As with any piece of writing, you will do the best job if you write about something you care about. I will give you a sample essay. Your essay should be 1-2 pages typed or 4-5 sides handwritten, double-spaced either way. The essay is due Tuesday, 30 January. It is worth 100 points. We will work on the essay in class; you can always show me drafts. Do your best.
the dress code (or, better yet, some more significant and meaningful issue at school!) your allowance or curfew or some other family issue
gun control, abortion, capital punishment (or any other political issue) your view on dating or relationships
advocating for a particular religious or spiritual practice: for example, meditate everyday the need for more late-night activities for teenagers
the war in Iraq
of course, anything else you feel strongly about
SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS
Limiting civil liberties is not an appropriate way to keep this country safe from terrorism. Capital punishment is an unjust and immoral way to punish criminals. A vegetarian diet is a sensible and meaningful response to world starvation and environmental destruction. The dress code provides a meaningful way to minimize the economic competition between students and unite them in their common academic purpose.
A vegetarian diet is a sensible and meaningful response to world starvation and environmental destruction. So many Americans are often caught up with finding the “perfect” diet. While such a diet does not exist, a vegetarian diet provides significant health, environmental, and political benefits. Choosing such a diet is a simple but significant way to make a real difference in one’s own life and the world.
First of all, a vegetarian diet is far more healthful than the traditional American diet that emphasizes meat. A meat-free diet is higher in fiber, lower in saturated fat, and richer in a wide range of vitamins and minerals than a meat-based one. While we do hear conflicting evidence about the various health claims of different diets, nutritionists and scientists seem to agree that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides the greatest health benefits. Some people might say that a vegetarian diet is boring: quite the contrary. Compared to the relatively few kinds of meats and ways to prepare them, there are scores of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes and almost countless ways to prepare them. A meat-based diet also puts far too much protein into the body, taxing the kidneys and wasting expensive food. As it is, Americans eat too much protein; eating a vegetarian diet is one way to reduce our intake of excessive and expensive protein.
Eating a diet based on fruits and vegetables also creates less environmental havoc than a meat-based diet. Raising the animals necessary for the traditional meat-laden diet requires large amounts of land, mountains of processed feed, and the disposal of tons of waste. But a family of four could, if necessary, live for a year off the fruits, grains, and vegetables produced from a few acres of land. And, once the crop is taken, there are few or no ill effects. If the agriculture is done organically, vegetarian eating has even fewer harmful effects upon the land. In an age of diminishing arable land and resources and increasing populations, we need to find ways to get the most nutrition from our land use. A vegetarian diet provides such efficiency.
Finally, a meat-rich diet consumes many more scarce resources than a vegetarian diet. It takes about 800 pounds of cattle feed to produce one pound of beef. In a world in which nearly one-fourth of the planet’s population is malnourished or starving, a meat-based diet is simply a luxury we can no longer afford (if we ever could have). In good conscience, it only makes sense to eat lower on the food chain – as we do with a plant-based diet. If everyone in the world ate a vegetarian diet, there would be an immediate surplus of food available to feed people at far lower cost and with wiser use of precious resources. In this way, vegetarianism becomes a moral choice.
For reasons of politics, environment, health, and justice, vegetarianism is the only intelligent and compassionate choice in a world of scarce resources and increasing population. It may take some getting used to, but the benefits and rewards of a vegetarian diet – for the planet, the self, and the human race – far outweigh whatever minimal sacrifice may be involved.
sentence in bold: thesis statement
underlined sentences: topic sentences for each paragraph