Writing Well

Why Not See It My Way?: Persuasion and Argumentation

Rhetoric, the art of argument, developed in the fifth century B.C.E. in Sicily to help everyday people argue that they should be entitled to recover property seized by a tyrant. See? Real estate has always been “location, location, location”—or lack thereof.

This section will take you step by step through the process of writing convincing arguments, whether they're letters of application, essays, editorials, letters to the editor, critical reviews, or job evaluations. That's because the process for all persuasive writing is essentially the same, as you'll discover here.

First, you'll learn how to write a persuasive document that appeals to reason, using a business letter and an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence as models. Next, we'll explore appeals to emotion, using part of Thomas Paine's incendiary pamphlet Common Sense as a model. Then, I'll show you how to write a persuasive essay based on an appeal to ethics. You'll also discover how to disarm the opposition, a key strategy for constructing any effective argument. The section concludes with a discussion of logical fallacies, so you can make sure you won't make any of these blunders as you write.

It Won't Be Greek to You

Persuasive writing moves readers to action or belief.

Aristotle, the Big Greek Daddy of Persuasion, believed that argument meant discovering all the available ways of persuasion in a situation where the truth was up for grabs.

Aristotle settled on three ways that people could convince others to adopt a certain point of view or approve a course of action. Broadly stated, he identified these three elements as …

Writer's Block

Today, the term “rhetoric” has gotten a bum rap, like the labels “liberal” and “conservative.” We think of rhetoric as an attempt to deceive through tricky or windy language, but it wasn't always this way.

  1. Logos. The appeal to the audience's reason
  2. Pathos. The appeal to the audience's emotions
  3. Ethos. The degree of confidence that the speaker's character or personality inspires in readers.

The goal of these three appeals is the same, although each one takes a different approach. Each appeal can be used separately, or they can be combined to increase the persuasive mojo. When you argue a point in writing, you analyze a subject, topic, or issue in order to persuade your readers to think or act a certain way.

Let's start with the first appeal on Aristotle's hit parade, the appeal to reason.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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