English 1301 ONL / Skrabanek


In modern American culture, we are bombarded daily with oodles of persuasive messages: advertisements, political nonsense, guidelines on proper social behavior, romantic nothings. The persuasive purpose is used to convince, or persuade, the reader that the opinion, or assertion, or claim, of the writer is correct or valid. Persuasion is more selfish than argument (debate). Argument attempts to arrive at a logical solution to an issue. But persuasive writing is concerned primarily with convincing the reader at any cost. Various appeals are used to manipulate the reader. Persuasive writing has a definite bias, or lack of objectivity. Its function is to change the mind of the reader or to move the reader to action.

Because of its goal, the persuasive purpose is usually the primary purpose in a piece of writing. The author may supplement the persuasive purpose with any of the other purposes. But when combined with other purposes, the persuasive purpose rises to the top. The attempt to convince the reader overrides all other goals in the writing.

Kinds of Persuasive Writing

Features and Characteristics

About the Appeals

The names of the appeals generally identify their function.

  • The personal appeal uses the writer's personality or charisma to sway the reader. (Think of the celebrity endorsement or the expert testimony.) The personal appeal does not have anything to do with how a certain act or opinion might affect a person. The personal appeal uses the writer's good intentions, trustworthiness, knowledgeability, and candidness to convince the reader. The personal appeal typically includes a first-person pronoun such as I.

  • The emotional appeal manipulates the reader's emotions--fears, loves, dislikes, desires, loyalties, dreams. A TV commercial might make you think some part of you is mutant and that company's product will cure it. Are your clothes clean and bright? Does your breath stink? Do you drive the right kind of car? Don't you love your country? Would you vote for people who support terrorists?

  • The logical or rational appeal usually only appears rational; often it is not. This appeal uses statistics, surveys, scientific evidence, deduction and induction, or other so-called proof to convince the reader. For example, 9 out of 10 doctors recommend a particular product. Sometimes the use of this appeal can be especially effective if facts are used truthfully.

  • The stylistic appeal makes use of the style of writing or the language employed to convince the reader. This appeal may use anecdotes, stories, symbolism, or poetic or powerful language to sway the reader. Good writing alone is not necessarily the use of the stylistic appeal. The writer deliberately uses a more figurative or literary language to manipulate the reader. The stylistic appeal often includes repetition, alliteration, humor, or unusual typefaces to sway the reader.

    When You Use the Persuasive Purpose to Write
    • Keep the focus of the writing on the audience.
    • Make sure that your persuasive claim is clear and direct. Do not deviate from your claim or suggest that the reader can make up his or her own mind.
    • Have at least three support points. Order the support points in your persuasion from weakest to strongest.
    • Use first-person pronouns (I, me, my, we) to enhance the personal appeal.
    • Use second-person pronouns (you, your) to address the reader directly.
    • Your purpose is to manipulate the thinking of the reader. Do whatever you must to accomplish that goal.

    Danger: Cell Phone Driver
    by Hank Upp

            A law should be passed that bans the use of a cell phone while driving. Too often I have seen people driving recklessly while engaged in conversation on a cell phone. They can't seem to find time to exercise proper vehicle functions or safe driving procedures because they are too busy gabbing on their little phones. One hand holds the phone to the ear, and the other hand might be used to steer. In fact, a study has shown that more accidents are caused by people using cell phones while driving than by people who are drunk while driving. The need for restricting cell phone use, then, is clear. These careless people are endangering you and me on the public streets, and I personally believe the time has come to call for an end to this needless and potentially dangerous practice.

    When You Analyze the Persuasive Purpose in Another's Writing
    • Identify the purpose you are analyzing, in this case persuasive writing.
    • Directly identify the main characteristics (at least three) of the persuasive purpose used by the writer, such as a claim, evidence or support, a general warrant, and the use of appeals.
    • After you provide three main characteristics, you can discuss minor characteristics, such as appropriate language for the audience or a direct address of the reader.
    • Give an example of each characteristic. Tie the example directly to the characteristic.
    • Provide a summative conclusion that the presence of the characteristics demonstrates the use of the purpose.

    Example of analysis of the sample paragraph above:

            The writer clearly presents his opinion using the persuasive purpose. A key characteristic of persuasive writing, a persuasive claim, is evident in the first sentence of the essay when the writer proclaims, "A law should be passed that bans the use of a cell phone while driving." The writer bolsters the claim using another characteristic of persuasive writing, support, when he employs the personal appeal to tell of his own observations of careless driving. He brings the logical appeal into play by introducing evidence of a study that concludes that cell phoning drivers cause more accidents than drunken drivers. A third characteristic of persuasive writing, a general warrant, appears when the writer suggests that the streets belong to everyone and they should not be endangered by cell phone users. Other characteristics of persuasive writing, such as appropriate language and a direct address of the reader, are also apparent in the essay. The presence of these various characteristics of persuasive writing demonstrates the writer's effective use of the persuasive purpose.

    Notes on this analysis:

  • First sentence: identifies the purpose.
  • Second sentence: identifies a characteristic of persuasive writing and includes a related example.
  • Third and fourth sentences: identifies another characteristic of persuasive writing, mentions an appeal used in persuasive writing, and includes a related example.
  • Fifth sentence: identifies another characteristic of persuasive writing, mentions an appeal used in persuasive writing, and includes a related example.
  • Sixth sentence: suggests that other minor characteristics of persuasive writing are present but gives no examples. (Three other more important characteristics, with examples, have already been identified. The fifth sentence is further elaboration on the purpose.)
  • Seventh sentence: gives a summative conclusion and concise evaluation.

    Back to top


    Primary Purpose: Persuasive


    A common form of persuasion is the editorial. An editorial is a persuasive column that appears regularly in most newspapers. In an editorial, the writer gives his or her opinion about a certain issue. Three editorials from around 1900 follow.

    On December 29, 1890, U.S. Army soldiers killed about 300 Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The Indians had few weapons to fight back against the soldiers armed with machine guns. The so-called Massacre at Wounded Knee marked the last major battle between American Indians and whites.

    A few days later, on January 3, 1891, an editorial about Wounded Knee appeared in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer in Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was written by a young editor named L. Frank Baum. About ten years later, Baum became famous for a book he wrote. That book was called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

    Editorial on Wounded Knee

           The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians, has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at its best, is a disgrace to the war department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.

           The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

    An eastern contemporary, with a grain of wisdom in its wit, says that "when the whites win a fight, it is a victory, and when the Indians win it, it is a massacre."

    Primary Purpose: Persuasion

    Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

    A child was having doubts about Santa Claus, so she wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun. The newspaper quickly printed an unsigned editorial in response on September 21, 1897. The editorial had been written by a cynical veteran newsman, Francis Pharcellus Church (1839-1906), the childless son of a Baptist minister who often railed against religious dogma. The editorial was an immediate sensation and has become the most reprinted editorial in history.

    Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

           We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

        Dear Editor--
        I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no
        Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in THE SUN it's so."
        Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?

                                       Virginia O'Hanlon
                                       115 West 95th Street

           Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

           Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

           Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

           You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

           No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

    Primary Purpose: Persuasive

    The Marvellous Balance of the Universe--
                  A Lesson in the Texas Flood

    In September 1900, a hurricane swept across Galveston Island, Texas, claiming 6000 lives. It was the worst natural disaster in American history. The following editorial meditates on the event. This editorial was published in a Hearst newspaper late in 1900.

    The Marvellous Balance of the Universe

           A tidal wave and hurricane combined have destroyed thousands of lives in one small corner of the globe. After the first excitement and horror, the creditable outpouring of help, there should be thankfulness in the hearts of the many millions who live on safely.

           Do you ever think of the wonderful protection, the marvellous precision in celestial mechanics that guard you as you travel through space?

           The oceans, seas and lakes contain water enough to cover the entire surface of the earth to a depth of six hundred feet, if the earth's surface were actually round.

           In huge reservoirs, which we call oceans, the earth's waters are stored for our use. Those vast volumes of water rest on the surface of a whirling sphere travelling through space at fearful speed. The slightest derangement, the slightest lack of balance in our motion round the sun, the slightest shifting of the poles, and mountains of water miles high would sweep over the continents and wipe out--not only one small city--but the entire human race.

           Our existence here requires a precision so great that our minds can but feebly grasp it. Change the temperature of your body by but a few degrees and you die. But you travel through space safely, with a freezing ocean of ether about you. You travel in company with suns that throw out endless billions of degrees of heat. You are protected in a travelling hothouse, regulated exactly to suit your feeble strength and all your wants.

           Did you ever see the small, black nose of a pug dog pressed against the window of a flying express train? Have you ever seen that pug barking at the landscape whirling by? Have you ever reflected on the utter inability of that pug to realize the marvellous intelligence and power that are whirling him along as he barks and wags his tail and enjoys himself calmly?

           Kind reader, you and all of us, whirling along in this magnificently conducted express train called the earth--whirling onward to a destiny worthy of our habitation--are so many poor little pug dogs looking out at nature's marvels and looking out with less than pug-dog appreciation.

    Primary Purpose: Persuasive

    Editorial Cartoons

    Some persuasions use words and images. An editorial (or political) cartoon uses imagery and a few words to convince the reader or to make a comment about current events.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, is an agency in the Department of Justice, which is part of the executive branch of the federal government. In the late 1940s, Congress (the legislative branch) wanted to use the FBI to investigate communist activities in the government. The cartoon suggests that President Truman would not condone such a use. Later, the Congressional investigation of "un-American activities" became known as McCarthyism, after Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. This cartoon was drawn by Clifford Berryman in 1948. The cartoon is from the National Archives and Records Administration (ARC 306137).

    Hope This Won't Develop Into a Neighborhood Feud
    May 18, 1948


    Primary Purpose: Persuasion
    Main Patterns: Narration, Evaluation

    Email Scam Letter

    I received this scam letter, sometimes called the Nigerian scam, by Email in October 2007. It is one of the best of this sort of scam letters I have received. I have not changed the content of the letter except for the Email address; all mistakes were in the original letter. Notice the extensive use of the emotional appeal.

    Email Scam Letter

    Dear One,

           Me and my sister got your contact when we were searching for a good honest and reliable person. we prayed over it and decided to reveal to you our problem. I am Benedict koffi Tinabacam (19 years old) and my sister name is Mercy (16 years old), the only children of late Dr Mrs. Amos Koffi Tinabacam. Our father was a very wealthy Gold/Diamond dealer in Freetown, the economic capital of Sierra Leone. our father was poisoned to death by his close business associates on one of their outings on a business trip. our mother died 16 years ago,precisely during the child deliverly birth of Mercy my kid sister and since then our father took us so special. He was also playing the role of a mother to us too.

           Before the death of our father in a private hospital in Freetown, he secretly called me by his bed side and told me of a deposit of $9,000,000,00 united state dollars (NINE MILLION DOLLARS) he concealed in a Trunk box and deposited with a Security Company in Abidjan, the economic capital of cote d'Ivoire, he used my name been the only son as the next of kin when he deposited the money.

           He warned me that because of envy that he was poisoned by his close associates. He also advised me to seek for an honest foreigner in a country of my choice those associates will not hurt me and my sister as they have succeeded in poisoning him. For your information, it has been difficult to know who is an honest person to assist us in this transaction, and we decided to make a try on you.

    Email Scam Letter

           Me and my sister arrived here (ABIDJAN), a nearby country on the 6th of october 2006 since my uncle wants to kill me because of this certificate of deposits as he have suceeded in collecting all my father's property left behind. He and his wife always punish me and my sister, and have made life very difficult for us. The wife serve me a delicious poisoned rice meal on the 2nd of october, but for the devine mercy, her daughter secretly whispered to me not to eat the meal. I wasted the meal to the bin only to find two dead rat on the bin the following morning and that made me to run away immediately with Mercy my kid sister to abidjan,the economy capital of ivory coast. And we don't want to stay long here in abidjan since we know nobody or much money to pay for our hotel bill.

           Dear, I honourably seek your assistance to hurry up and come down here in abidjan so that me and Mercy will take you to the Security Company where our father deposited the money so that we can introduce you and you will help us clear the money and we will go together to a nearby bank and open a new account in your name and transfer the money immediately from the bank to your bank account in your country and together me and Mercy will enter plane with you and go back to your country with you so that we can continue our education over there and you will help us invest the money in your country. Me and Mercy has agreed to compensate you with %10 of the money.

    Thank you as we are expecting your reply immediately you receive this email You can contact us true our private email xxxxx@xxxxx.com [address changed to protect the guilty]

    Yours Faithfully,

    Bendict and Mercy

    Primary Purpose: Persuasive
    Main Patterns: Narration, Evaluation

    Letter from the Alamo

    William Barret Travis (1809-1836) was born in South Carolina. He arrived in Texas in 1831 and gained land from Stephen F. Austin. When trouble developed between Mexico and Texas, Travis was one of the first to join the Texas military forces. In January 1836, Travis and a group of men entered the Alamo in San Antonio. By the middle of February, the group numbered about 180 men. Meanwhile, General Santa Anna's forces were building up around San Antonio. On February 24, 1836, Travis sent the following plea for help, which never came. The Alamo fell to Santa Anna's forces on March 6, 1836.

    Letter from the Alamo

    travis To The People of Texas and All Americans

    Commandancy of the Alamo--
    Bejar, Fby 24th 1836--

    To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world--
    Fellow citizens & compatriots--

    I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna--I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man -- The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken -- I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls -- I shall never surrender or retreat.

    Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch -- The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country --

    Victory or Death
    William Barret Travis
    Lt. Col. comdt

    P.S. The Lord is on our side -- When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn -- We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves -- Travis

    Primary Purpose: Persuasive
    Main Patterns: Narration, Description

    Speech at the Brandenburg Gate

    On June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in West Berlin, Germany. He stood at the Brandenburg Gate in the Berlin Wall. He called upon Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, to tear down the Berlin Wall. Two years later, the Berlin Wall was torn down. Part of Reagan's speech follows. The photograph is from the National Archives (ARC198585).

    Speech at the Brandenburg Gate


           Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.


    Speech at the Brandenburg Gate

           President von Weizsacker has said, "The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed." Today I say: As long as the gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph. . . .

           And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

           Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

           General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! . . .

    Primary Purpose: Persuasive
    Main Patterns: Narration, Description

    Florence Kelley Speaks Out on Child Labor

    Florence Kelley (1859-1932) was the daughter of a U.S. congressman. She was college-educated and became a follower of Karl Marx. She was a well-known advocate for socialism, women's suffrage, civil rights for freed blacks, and regulations on child labor. In 1899, she helped form the National Consumer's League, a radical group working to gain a minimum wage and a limit on working hours for women and children. She delivered the following speech about child labor in Philadelphia on July 22, 1905.

    Child Labor

    kelley        We have, in this country, two million children under the age of sixteen years who are earning their bread. They vary in age from six and seven years (in the cotton mills of Georgia) and eight, nine and ten years (in the coal-breakers of Pennsylvania), to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen years in more enlightened states.

           No other portion of the wage earning class increased so rapidly from decade to decade as the young girls from fourteen to twenty years. Men increase, women increase, youth increase, boys increase in the ranks of the breadwinners; but no contingent so doubles from census period to census period (both by percent and by count of heads), as does the contingent of girls between twelve and twenty years of age. They are in commerce, in offices, in manufacturing.

           Tonight while we sleep, several thousand little girls will be working in textile mills, all the night through, in the deafening noise of the spindles and the looms spinning and weaving cotton and wool, silks and ribbons for us to buy.

           In Alabama the law provides that a child under sixteen years of age shall not work in a cotton mill at night longer than eight hours, and Alabama does better in this respect than any other southern state. North and South Carolina and Georgia place no restriction upon the work of children at night; and while we sleep little white girls will be working tonight in the mills in those states, working eleven hours at night.

    Child Labor

           In Georgia there is no restriction whatever! A girl of six or seven years, just tall enough to reach the bobbins, may work eleven hours by day or by night. And they will do so tonight, while we sleep.

           Nor is it only in the South that these things occur. Alabama does better than New Jersey. For Alabama limits the children's work at night to eight hours, while New Jersey permits it all night long. Last year New Jersey took a long backward step. A good law was repealed which had required women and [children] to stop work at six in the evening and at noon on Friday. Now, therefore, in New Jersey, boys and girls, after their 14th birthday, enjoy the pitiful privilege of working all night long.

           In Pennsylvania, until last May it was lawful for children, 13 years of age, to work twelve hours at night. A little girl, on her thirteenth birthday, could start away from her home at half past five in the afternoon, carrying her pail of midnight luncheon as happier people carry their midday luncheon, and could work in the mill from six at night until six in the morning, without violating any law of the Commonwealth.

           If the mothers and the teachers in Georgia could vote, would the Georgia Legislature have refused at every session for the last three years to stop the work in the mills of children under twelve years of age?

           Would the New Jersey Legislature have passed that shameful repeal bill enabling girls of fourteen years to work all night, if the mothers in New Jersey were enfranchised? Until the mothers in the great industrial states are enfranchised, we shall none of us be able to free our consciences from participation in this great evil.

    Child Labor

           No one in this room tonight can feel free from such participation. The children make our shoes in the shoe factories; they knit our stockings, our knitted underwear in the knitting factories. They spin and weave our cotton underwear in the cotton mills. Children braid straw for our hats, they spin and weave the silk and velvet wherewith we trim our hats. They stamp buckles and metal ornaments of all kinds, as well as pins and hat-pins. Under the sweating system, tiny children make artificial flowers and neckwear for us to buy. They carry bundles of garments from the factories to the tenements, little beasts of burden, robbed of school life that they may work for us.

           We do not wish this. We prefer to have our work done by men and women. But we are almost powerless. Not wholly powerless, however, are citizens who enjoy the right of petition. For myself, I shall use this power in every possible way until the right to the ballot is granted, and then I shall continue to use both.

           What can we do to free our consciences? There is one line of action by which we can do much. We can enlist the workingmen on behalf of our enfranchisement just in proportion as we strive with them to free the children. No labor organization in this country ever fails to respond to an appeal for help in the freeing of the children.

           For the sake of the children, for the Republic in which these children will vote after we are dead, and for the sake of our cause, we should enlist the workingmen voters, with us, in this task of freeing the children from toil!

    Most persuasive messages these days are visual. I have assembled several vintage advertisements and posters. The image files are each large, so they take quite a while to download. If you have dial-up Internet service, you might not want to look at the visual persuasive messages because of how long they would take to download. If you have broadband Internet service, you should look at the ads and posters at the link below.

    Persuasive Purpose, part 2

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    Last update: October 2012