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3 Common Persuasive Writing Errors

This week we’re going to look at three common persuasive writing errors. These are mistakes that I’ve seen several students make on the ACT Writing section, but they apply equally to all types of persuasive writing. The errors in this lesson are more subtle than some of ACT/SAT writing errors that we’ve covered in the past. It’s possible for them to sneak into your persuasive writing without you even realizing that they have.


Calling Attention to Your Opinion

If you are writing a persuasive essay, it is understood that the content will reflect your own personal opinion on an issue or topic. The essay task itself requires you to take a position and defend that position with facts, examples, reasoning, and analysis. Phrases such as “in my opinion” and “I believe” don’t strengthen your argument. On the contrary, they make you sound unsure of your own position by implying that you feel the need to place a “disclaimer” on it.


Telling the Reading What to Think, Feel, or Believe

You shouldn’t be afraid to discuss how people might react to the topic that you are writing about. Indeed, it would be extremely difficult to write about abuse, bullying, depression, or any other topic that can have severe negative effects on a person’s mental health without discussing how that issue can make a person feel.


What you should absolutely not do is assume that the people reading your essay will react a certain way. Saying something like “Imagine if it happened to you! You would feel the same way!” will come across as extremely presumptuous. This is especially true if the issue you’re discussing is complicated and/or emotionally-charged. Telling, or evening implying, the “correct” way to think, feel, or believe is one of the surest ways to lose the reader.


If you do want to appeal directly to the reader, consider using a rhetorical sentence. For example, “How would you feel if this happened to you or someone you love?” signals that you want the reader to think about how he or she would react in a given situation but does not make the mistake of assuming what his or her reaction would be.


Disrespecting Opposing Viewpoints

While you should not treat a position you disagree with the same degree of validity as one you agree with, you should not be dismissive or rude to people who hold that viewpoint either. Don’t make blanket statements about people who hold an opposing viewpoint, and don’t dismiss their right to hold that viewpoint.


This mistake shows up fairly regularly in ACT Writing counterarguments and counterexamples. While it’s tempting to dive directly into why a position is wrong, it’s important to first concede why a person might hold that position or any aspects, however small, of the position that you believe have merit.


Instead, lead into your counterargument with something like “while this is understandable” or “while there is some truth to this.” These phrases show that you have examined the complexity of the issue and have gone to the trouble of trying to put yourself in the shoes of the people who disagree with you.

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