English Composition 1
Organizing and Developing Persuasive Paragraphs
Effective persuasive paragraphs tend to follow the same pattern, and following this pattern can help you support and develop your ideas, unify your paragraphs and essays, and build a convincing argument or interpretation.
The diagram below illustrates the different parts of a persuasive paragraph.
Four Roles for the Sentences
Each sentence should have a specific purpose or role to play in the paragraph, and there are a limited number of roles. Keeping these purposes in mind may help you develop your body paragraphs. The sentences in a persuasive paragraph should be doing one of the following:
- serving as a topic sentence that presents a specific claim or claims
- providing specific facts as supporting evidence
- explaining how the facts support the claim or claims in the topic sentence
- acting as a transitional sentence into the next body paragraph
In general, you do not need to end a body paragraph with a transitional sentence if the next paragraph is the conclusion.
Claims and Facts
To write an effective persuasive paragraph, you have to understand the differences between claims and facts.
Claims are statements that present an arguable position, therefore reflecting someone's interpretation, belief, or opinion. For example, it is a claim to say that the cat in Ernest Hemingway's short story "Cat in the Rain" symbolizes the woman. It is also a claim to say that the man in the story seems content with the couple's lifestyle. These ideas are not stated anywhere in the story. If so, they would be facts. Instead, these claims are conclusions that one might draw from the facts in the story.
A claim reflects a conclusion that you have made. When you write a persuasive paragraph, you should begin the paragraph with your conclusion, followed by the facts that support the conclusion.
However, claims differ from opinions that simply reflect personal preferences, not arguable positions. My opinion may be that vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate ice cream. This is just an opinion, not a position that I can argue with facts. Claims that you present in an essay should reflect an arguable position; that is, we should be able to argue over the validity of the claim.
In general, facts are easy to define. Facts, by definition, are true. We cannot argue over facts. For example, it is a fact that a couple is staying at a hotel in Italy in Hemingway's "Cat in the Rain." It is also a fact that the woman in the story sees a cat and goes outside to try to find it, and it is a fact that the male character remains in bed reading. These are facts, so we cannot argue over their truth. When facts are used to try to prove an argument, the facts are sometimes referred to as evidence or support.
In persuasive paragraphs, you should use facts to support your claims. This is how you support and develop your argument or interpretation.
Of course, there are variations on the organizational pattern illustrated above that still work well, and you will probably follow one of these patterns if you write long paragraphs. Most common is the use of a primary claim in the topic sentence, followed by secondary claims within the body of the paragraph. The secondary claims are then supported with specific facts, so that the supported secondary claims then become evidence to prove the primary claim of the paragraph. You cannot build a strong argument or interpretation on claims alone, though. Every effective argument or interpretation needs to be supported with facts, but you can support and develop a secondary claim so that the secondary claim then helps you prove the primary claim.
For an example of the use of both a primary claim and secondary claims in a paragraph, and for examples of both claims and supporting facts, see the web handout Good Paragraph / Bad Paragraph: Effectively Developing a Persuasive Paragraph.
Common Problems to Avoid
Understanding the differences between claims and facts while following the organizational pattern explained above should help you write well-supported and well-developed interpretations and arguments. However, students sometimes run into problems trying to organize their persuasive paragraphs. Most of these problems fall into one of the two categories below.
Filled with Claims Not Supported by Facts
The writer does not develop an interpretation or argument but instead presents a series of claims, with few or no supporting facts for those claims. Writers running into this problem often end up writing short paragraphs and have trouble understanding how to make the paragraphs longer.
An example of this problem is on the web handout Good Paragraph / Bad Paragraph: Effectively Developing a Persuasive Paragraph.
To avoid this problem, keep in mind that it is your job to prove the claims you present and that you should present at least a few supporting facts for each claim in your essay. Do not give yourself many claims to prove in each paragraph. Instead, try to present just one claim in the topic sentence, or, at most, a few closely related claims, and stay focused on proving the claim or claims throughout the paragraph. As the diagram above illustrates, most of the paragraph should be comprised of facts and explanation of how the facts support a claim or claims.
Filled with Facts that Do Not Support Claims
This problem often occurs when the writer begins a paragraph by stating a fact or facts, not by presenting a claim or claims. Another fact follows, and another fact, and another. The writer ends up presenting a series of facts without explaining how these facts support a claim or claims.
You can avoid this problem if you remember to begin each body paragraph with a claim or claims in the topic sentence and if you remember that each fact should support a claim. For every fact you present in a paragraph, ask yourself, "So what?" You need to explain why you have presented this fact. More specifically, you need to explain how the fact supports a particular claim.
When writers run into this problem when writing about a story, they often end up summarizing the story more than interpreting or analyzing it.