Amy has taught college and law school writing courses. She holds a master's degree in English and a law degree.
Persuasive Essay Writing with Multiple Sources
'Because I said so!' We've probably all heard that phrase at some point before. Maybe we heard it when we were kids, or perhaps we've used it on our own kids when we're tired of giving reasons for why something should be done. An exasperated mom might have some success using it on her little kids through sheer exercise of parental authority rather than actual explanations of why the kids should, for example, clean up their rooms.
But if you write a persuasive essay without using several reputable, credible sources to back up your assertions, no matter how good your ideas are, you're essentially saying 'Because I said so!' over and over to your readers. In this lesson, we'll review how to put together a persuasive essay by pulling from a number of sources to back up your assertions.
Researching and Reviewing Sources
Once you have your persuasive essay topic, your first job is to determine what sources you'll use for your paper. This process will typically happen in one of two ways. If you've been assigned a persuasive essay for a class, then you'll need to conduct research to find suitable academic sources to support your position. Or, if you're taking a timed essay exam, you'll need to review the source excerpts that have been provided as part of the test so that you can become comfortable and familiar with what they say.
Note that excerpt is a fancy word for a short piece taken from a longer work. With standardized exams, you'll often be given a few short excerpts to read and use as sources for the essays you write.
If you've been assigned a persuasive essay for school for which you'll have to conduct your own research, be sure to use credible academic sources. That means that you'll need to use books and scholarly journals from the library. As you look for good sources, keep the following criteria in mind:
- Look for current sources. Some history papers, for example, may not require the most recent sources, but a good rule of thumb is to find sources that have been written in the last few years.
- Look for sources written by experts in their field or by reputable organizations.
- Avoid Internet sites that are not run by legitimate, credible groups. Sites associated with universities, governments, and major, reputable organizations are typically acceptable. Crowd-sourced sites like Wikipedia usually are not.
If you're writing an essay for a timed exam and you've been presented with excerpts from sources that you must use in your essay, take a few minutes to read through those excerpts more than once. On your second pass through the excerpts, you can scribble notes to yourself about the key points in each source. These notes might be quite simple.
For example, if you're writing a timed persuasive essay on the topic of whether the government should place high taxes on unhealthy junk foods and you've been presented with a few short excerpts expressing differing opinions on the issue, you might jot down simple notes about what the author of each source is saying, such as 'PRO: Because people would be less likely to eat unhealthy foods. Better for society;' Or 'ANTI: Because government shouldn't interfere with personal choices about what people eat.'
It's okay to jot down simple ideas and sentence fragments. We don't have to worry about whether our grade school English teachers would approve of these notes. We simply want to make it easier to refer quickly back to our sources and know what we're dealing with.
Outlining Your Points
As much as outlining your ideas before writing an essay might seem like too much additional work, it's well worth your time to do it for two major reasons. First, sketching out an outline will help you identify and organize your best, most convincing points in support of your argument. If your essay ends up being a tangled bunch of ideas, you won't end up persuading your reader or getting a good score even if you've put a few really good points in there. Second, outlining your points of argument ahead of time will help to ensure that your persuasive essay will be structured logically around your ideas. Your persuasive points should be the backbone of your paper and information from your sources should support your points.
In other words, you don't want to write a persuasive essay that's just a bunch of quotes and ideas from your sources that you've strung together. When you're writing a persuasive paper - or any paper, really - your good ideas should be the stars of the show. The information from your sources should play supporting roles to help build your credibility by providing data, facts, and credible opinions that bolster your ideas.
Remember, though, that while your ideas are the stars of your essay, you do need to back your essays up with good, credible research. Keep in mind that nagging mom from earlier. Without supporting your key points with information from your sources, you would just be trying to persuade your readers by telling them that your ideas are the right ones just because you said so. Just remember to strike the right balance between using your sources to support your points without depending on them too much and just pasting them all over the place instead of presenting your own ideas.
Incorporating Your Sources
So how do you accomplish that balance? How do you use your sources enough but not too much? Let's think now about how to avoid relying too much on your sources and not putting enough of yourself and your ideas in your paper.
The next time you write a first draft of a persuasive paper for class or a practice essay in preparation for a standardized essay exam, take a look at each body paragraph and do a quick estimate of how much space in that paragraph is devoted to you explaining your argumentative points and how much space is taken up by quotations, paraphrases, or summaries of your sources. If you find any paragraphs that consist entirely or almost entirely of material from your sources, consider that a red flag for revision.
The start and end of each body paragraph should always consist of your words and ideas. And your words and ideas should also run throughout each body paragraph, where you'll be making your major persuasive points, with ideas (and occasionally words) from your sources used as support. For example, if you're writing a persuasive essay arguing that the government should institute higher taxes on unhealthy junk food, you should have a few major points that make that case, and hopefully you should have those points organized in an outline.
If you're devoting two paragraphs to the point that such taxes would deter people from consuming junk food, which would in turn lead to a healthier community, you should have a clear topic sentence that introduces that subsection of your essay in your own words. Then look to your sources. Do you have sources that provide data showing that heavily taxed items are purchased less often? Do you have sources that provide data that show that communities that consume less junk food are healthier overall than communities whose residents do eat a lot of unhealthy foods? Use the credible facts that you find in your sources to support your major points. But be sure that you make your actual points yourself, in your own words, and just use your sources as back up.
Preferably, you should use a combination of sources throughout your paper rather than going one at a time, discussing one source, and then another and then another. Try to create a type of conversation among your various sources in which you pull facts from your sources as they become relevant, so that any one source may be used in a few different spots throughout your paper.
If your instructor or an exam scorer sees body paragraphs in your persuasive essay that consist just of information taken from your sources and tacked together, he or she will see that you haven't synthesized your sources to create your own points and ideas. Synthesis, in this context, means combining separate materials to form a single product. In other words, you should be taking the various reputable ideas that you have found in your sources and using them to generate and support your major, unifying thesis.
Here are some additional tips to ensure that you have done a good job of synthesizing the ideas from your sources into your persuasive essay:
- Compare your finished essay to your outline. Does your essay progress through specific, well-organized points? Remember, your major argumentative points should be driving your essay. The information from your sources should constitute supporting details.
- Have you used a combination of methods to incorporate your source material? You should use a combination of summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting from your sources. Stringing together a bunch of quotations does not equal a strong, well-synthesized persuasive paper.
- Have you given yourself the last word? A paragraph that ends with a quotation - or even a paraphrased idea from a source - is a dead giveaway that the writer hasn't been synthesizing ideas, but rather copying and pasting materials from sources without really thinking about them.
In each paragraph of your paper, you should be presenting clear, logical points of argument, supported by relevant facts and ideas from your sources. But the unifying idea behind each paragraph or subsection of your paper should be yours, and the concluding point in each paragraph or subsection should therefore also be yours. Always provide your own summary that ties everything together and drives home the point that you're making.
To review, in order to use multiple sources effectively when writing a persuasive paper, you'll need to first conduct research to find credible sources or thoroughly review any sources that have been provided to you. Next, outline your points to ensure that you have a logical progression of persuasive ideas and to be sure that your own points are driving the paper. Then, work on incorporating your sources into your essay by using them for supporting information only. If you find that you've included long quotations or large paraphrased chunks from your sources, that means you've let your paper get away from you. Remember that you're the one who should be making your argument. Use your sources to back up your points and enhance your credibility with your reader.
This video will help you better understand how to:
- Locate good sources for essays understand how to incorporate them into your work
- Create an outline from your research
- Define synthesis and understand how to apply it to writing an essay
- Compare your finished essay with your original outline
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