Friday, March 23, 2012

Tips for Writing Persuasively

IB English A1 exams are around the corner, and in my class we’ve been looking at how to write an English literary essay that fulfils all the criteria for the English A1 Exam Papers. There are two papers; Paper 1 is a commentary on an unseen work, and Paper 2 – Essay, is the one where you have to pick a question and answer it, referring to at least two Part 3 works that you have studied.  Both papers are 1 ½ hours for SL and 2 hours for HL students, and your score on them is actually 50% of your overall grade for IB English A1.

Well, if you’re like my students, you’ve been practicing structuring an essay, writing in your best use of English, and discussing the effects of literary tools like crazy by doing some of your homework occasionally.  So your English essay writing should be getting pretty good.  But if your IB teacher is like me, pretty good is not good enough.  We want you to strive to do your best. To do your best - that means to strive for a five on each of the five criteria for the two English papers in the final exam.

One of the writing techniques that will mean the difference between a level 4 or 5 and a level 6 or even 7 on these papers is persuasion. Take a look at this:

From the first criterion for HL Paper 1 (Commentary), Understanding of the Text  – in order to earn a 5, you need to include “detailed and persuasive references to the text."

From the second criterion, Interpretation of the Text – for a 5: “the analysis is consistently detailed and persuasively illustrated by carefully chosen examples.”

From the third criterion, Appreciation of Literary Features, level 5: “detailed and persuasive appreciation of the effects of the literary features of the text.”

And on it goes.

So obviously in order to get an excellent IB grade on your final exam papers, you need to know some persuasive techniques.

Persuasive Writing Techniques and how they Apply to IB A1 Essay Writing:

1.   Make a strong statement, your thesis statement, in your introduction.  Then go on to support it and prove it in the rest of your essay.  This will give you focus and be more persuasive.  If you are certain of your idea, it will be easier to persuade the reader that you are right.

2.   Outline your main points in the introduction and summarize them in the conclusion.  People cope with information best when it is laid out for them clearly.  This is another reason why you have to plan out your essay before you begin.

3.   The Rule of Three – You’ve probably been hearing about this rule since middle school, or Year 7, if you’re British.  They also tell you about it in science.  So this rule is pretty important.  You can apply it to your English essays by giving not one, not two, but three points to support your thesis.  On Paper 2, you are writing about at least two of the works you have read in Part 3 of the course.  Give three points to support your thesis for each, for a total of 6 points.  You should also give not one, not two, but three examples to support each of your points.  So apply this to good paragraph structure, and you will have three body paragraphs, each about one point, and in each body paragraph, you will have three examples to support your point. 

4.   Repetition – You must have heard the poster child for persuasive writing, Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.  How many times did he repeat those words?  By repeating your thesis or your main points in various ways, they will be more memorable and you will be more persuasive.  Give your main points in your introduction, in your topic sentences, and again by summarizing them in your conclusion.

5.   Show a likely argument to your point of view and refute it.  If your thesis can be argued, give the most likely argument and then oppose it.  This is especially useful if you choose a “to what extent do you agree with this statement” type question on Paper 2.  It can also be applied to Paper 1, by outlining a possible alternative interpretation for the piece your commentary is on, and then showing why your interpretation is better.  Remember to give evidence here.

6.   Use dramatic language – strong adjectives (stunning, vivid, obvious), modal verbs (must, should, have to), and emotive words (joy, ominous, chilling, thrill).  Appeal to the reader’s senses as well as his/her logic and reason.

7.   Structure – plan your paper out carefully before you start writing so that your structure will be persuasive.  Make sure that your thesis statement is very clearly stated in your introduction.  Repeat your main points in your conclusion.  Order your paragraphs to build up to your most persuasive point.  On the other hand, if you are afraid you might run out of time before you run out of essay, make your most persuasive point first so you can flesh it out and support it fully.  Along the same vein, if you do find that you’re running out of time, make sure you finish off with an excellent conclusion.  Strong final words will stick in the examiner’s mind the most as he/she is determining your grades.

8.   Use formal language and as many correct literary terms as you can (for example, use “drama”, “playwright”, “audience” when writing about plays instead of “book”, “author”, or “reader”).  This shows that you are somewhat of an expert on your subject, and experts are always more persuasive than those annoying weekend essayists.

9.   Link everything together.  Link your body paragraphs to your thesis by telling how your point supports your thesis.  Link paragraphs to one another by using leading phrases (Additionally, moreover, furthermore, finally, on the other hand...).  Link your sentences together by using linking words (however, whereas, although...).

10.                Don’t be wishy-washy: Keep out the “I think,” “I believe,” “It is my opinion that,” etc.  We know this is what you think.  You’re writing it.  Be confident and firm in what you think and you will have more success in persuading your reader that you are right.

If you want to practise what I preach, go here:


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