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SUNY Geneseo's Writing Guide


A persuasive essay contains

Unless the conventions of your discipline or the instructions of your professor require it, you should not label these parts, particularly in short papers. (In some disciplines, convention demands an abstract at the head of the paper; if you're unsure whether to include one, check with your professor.)

Organization: Introduction

To paraphrase the literary scholar Ian Watt, introductions are infinitely expandable and largely expendable. While you certainly should avoid an abrupt beginning, most student writers err in the opposite direction, providing too much material - often irrelevant material - in an effort to ease into the topic. The standard introduction is shaped like an inverted pyramid, beginning with fairly broad information or assertions and narrowing down toward the thesis. This strategy works well as long as you maintain a reasonable proportion between the base and the tip of the pyramid. An essay on a nineteenth-century novel might begin with a few relevant facts about Victorian Britain or the novel's author; it shouldn't begin with the hackneyed phrase that opens far too many student essays: "Throughout history . . . " In general:

Your mother was right: if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all. It's better just to start with the thesis than to include material that's trite, too broad, or of dubious relevance to the topic. A well-phrased thesis shouldn't sound abrupt anyway, and springing it at the very beginning may actually be a good way to catch your reader's attention.

Organization: Thesis

The heart of your introduction, the thesis is the argument for which your essay will provide support. The first requirement for a thesis, then, is that it be a claim in need of support. If you find it hard to imagine a reader who would disagree with your claim, the claim is probably not a thesis but a truism. At the very least, you should be able to picture your reader thinking, "I'd probably agree with that, but I'd like to see some evidence before signing on." Keep the following in mind:

Organization: Body

The body of your essay presents the evidence in support of your thesis. There are several things you should keep in mind as you compose this part of your essay:

Organization: Conclusion

If introductions typically start broad and end narrow, conclusions most often move the opposite way: they begin by reminding the reader of the main argument, then push on toward more general concerns. To adopt a different metaphor, conclusions tend to look backward and forward simultaneously - backward toward the body of the essay, forward toward related ideas and issues. You might, for example, point out how your thesis, if true, should reorient the reader's thinking on some other matter. Conclusions are also good places for speculation; if you adopt appropriately tentative language, your reader will accept that your evidence here doesn't meet the same high standard you've held to in the body of your essay.

Some of the same errors that plague introductions turn up in conclusions, such as

Some additional advice about conclusions: