Persuading vs. Arguing: What’s the Difference?

Hey everybody! Today I’m going to talk to you about a skill we all need to be good at, which is PERSUASION. Basically, that means being able to get what you want. But before we get started, I want to explain the difference between persuasion and manipulation. Persuasion is convincing others to help you get what you want using evidence, logical reasoning, and emotional appeal. Manipulation is convincing others to help you get what you want through deception or intimidation.

Still from Disney’s Treasure Planet: Scroop threatens Jim Hawkins.

It’s important to avoid manipulation for a couple of reasons. First of all, people don’t like being manipulated. So it requires increased effort to be effective each time you have another request. In contrast, if you’re effectively persuasive, and someone chooses to help you, it strengthens your bond with them, and that means they’re more likely to continue helping you. So the first reason not to use manipulation is that it’s less effective.

The second reason to avoid manipulation is that it’s kind of just a rotten way to treat other people. I don’t know about you; I don’t want to speak for anybody but myself. But for myself, I don’t want to be a rotten person. So I try not to manipulate people.

So, next, I want you to think of a time either that someone else convinced you to change your mind about something, or a time that you did that to someone else. And write a comment telling me about it.

This post builds on the concepts discussed in my video in the Introduction to Writing series, “Essay Structure Basics,” so feel free to go review that at any point and come back to this when you’re ready.

To write an effective persuasive essay, it’s important to understand why the topic is important – why people should care about it. The challenge with this is that you don’t always get to write about what’s important to you. Sometimes a teacher assigns the topic. Or it might be something you have to do for work, so it’s something for your boss or for the company.

In each of these cases, the key to writing persuasively will be to figure out and understand why other people care about this topic. This is also an important skill; it’s called empathy. Human beings are social creatures, but we’re also individuals. This means that while each of us has a unique set of likes and dislikes, interests, passions, experiences and skills, we also have an inherent need to connect with others. Empathy is what allows us to manage those sometimes-conflicting needs without escalating into actual conflict.

Still from Disney’s Treasure Planet: The mutineers attack!

Well, when it works, anyway.

And if you do have to figure out why other people care, that will help you with the next step: figuring out how to make your audience care about the topic. If you’ve started with something that’s important to you, please don’t just assume that everyone else will already share your view. That’s kind of the point of persuasion. And in order to be effective at it, you need to demonstrate respect for the different experiences that will have led other people to develop views that contrast and even conflict with yours.

I want to clarify and emphasize this: Sometimes people will have views that you find to be very, very wrong. Like, “holy smokes, how can you even THINK that way?” kinds of wrong. You don’t have to pretend that you agree with them – in fact, you shouldn’t. That goes back to the difference between persuasion and manipulation. But it’s not effective to mock or shame them, and you should show respect for the people themselves, and for their lived experiences that have resulted in what their views are. People don’t believe things for NO reason, and when you forget that, you become less effective at persuasion.

So ideally, you want to begin doing some research before you even start brainstorming what you want to say or how you plan to say it. Think of it as “pre-search.” What evidence supports your idea? What evidence counters it? Why isn’t there one solid point of view on this topic that everyone agrees with?

Speaking of which, if there is one point of view that a large majority of people support over any others, then the topic probably isn’t a good one for persuasion. There’s not really much point in trying to convince anybody that the sky is blue, for example. Or whether or not it’s raining.

So, once you’ve done your “pre-search,” think about your “should.” In both persuasive and argumentative writing, you’re trying to convince your audience that something should happen. Maybe a law should be passed – or the existing laws should be more consistently enforced. Maybe funding for a program should be increased, or decreased. Maybe your “should” is that a change that is being proposed should not be enacted.

That “should” is going to be the core of your thesis statement – a one-sentence statement that directly expresses your main idea. This is the one idea you want your audience to connect with and, hopefully, do something to promote. But to get them to do this, you need to convince them.

The difference between a “persuasive” essay and an “argumentative” essay is the type of support used, which affects the tone and style of the writing. A persuasive essay relies more or even mostly on appeal to emotion, while an argumentative essay relies more or mostly on concrete, empirical data. However, this distinction rarely applies outside of school work, where you’re trying to show your skill at a particular type of writing. So make sure that you’re aware of which style your instructor wants you to use for a given assignment.

In the media and in writing for industry or professional organizations, articles and essays that attempt to convince the audience of a particular point are more likely to blend persuasive and argumentative styles. You also find this in speeches, such as at political campaign rallies or TED talks. It can be difficult to do this effectively, though, and avoid the “mood whiplash” of bouncing back and forth between informational argument and emotional persuasion. That’s why writing at school tends to focus on the styles one at a time.

In any case, you do need to have evidence to back up your points. Unfortunately, “because I say so” is really only a supporting reason when it’s used by a parent… and let’s be honest, it’s not all that effective at convincing the audience even then.

Still from Disney’s Treasure Planet: Jim getting fussed at by Mrs. Hawkins.

Make sure to look at as much evidence as possible in your research, and not just the evidence that supports your position. Look for individual anecdotes as well as larger studies and data pools. Be sure to review the information carefully to make sure that the conclusions you draw from it are valid. Consider the source: what was the method used to gather the information? How recent is it? How many people were involved in the study or the survey? How did the researchers make sure that they used a broad segment of the population, that it wasn’t JUST men or JUST women or JUST college students, for example? Or, is it a more focused study that could help you understand, say, a difference in attitudes between college students in 1990 and college students in 2020?

If the amount of information you have at hand seems overwhelming, that may mean that you need to focus your topic more specifically. You’re not going to become a climate change expert in a week. But you might be able to learn a lot about one aspect. Instead of researching the effects of fossil fuels, you might specifically look at the effects of electric vehicles as compared to standard gasoline powered cars.

On the other hand, if it seems like nothing (or very little) has been published about your topic, you probably need to talk to your instructor. You may need to re-phrase your search terms or look at the subject from a different angle. Describe what you’ve been doing as clearly and specifically as you can, so that your instructor can identify any potential problems.

When you start going through the evidence you’ve collected, what stands out to you? What do you notice? Do you see any ideas or facts that come up repeatedly? Do different sources rely on the same or similar information? Those may be points to focus on; other people seem to think they have particular importance.

Everything has to connect to and support your “should” – your thesis. That core idea needs to be in the back of your mind at all times. That’s going to help you sift through the information and identify what matters most. You want more than just a list of facts and information. That’s boring. Nobody’s going to care based on that.

What makes the essay truly yours is the way you use that information, and how you respond to it. Your analysis of the research should explain its relevance to your thesis, and how it shows that this idea matters and should be enacted, or supported, or … whatever it is you’re saying should happen.

And once you’ve done that with your information, you move on to the conclusion, where you look to the future. Give your audience a vision for how, once they support your “should” and put your idea into action, the world will be a better place. Their lives will be more meaningful, more prosperous, and ultimately, filled with joy.

Still from Disney’s Treasure Planet: Jim in the rigging.

Be careful, though. You go too far, and you risk having them roll their eyes and go “yeah, right.” So don’t actually exaggerate. Be passionate about the importance of your idea. It matters. It really does.

And you can convince your audience of that.

You can watch a video version of this post on my YouTube channel.

Expectations

During the past year and a half of instruction during a global pandemic, there has been lots of discussion about “learning loss,” and to what extent (or even if) we should be worried about it. However, I have seen less about what our expectations of students ought to be, or how we should form those expectations. And that is something that concerns me, especially given that in addition to changes in students’ instructional gains due to the pandemic, I will also be teaching a completely different course load this year, including two courses I’ve never taught before. If I go into these courses with misplaced expectations, I’m setting not only myself up for failure, but my students as well. 

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Mandated Testing: What Students Really Need

I’m not anybody all that important. I’m just one public school teacher. One among about three and a half million. I don’t get to be the person who makes the big decisions; I’m the one who gets them handed to me. And, unfortunately, I’ve kind of gotten used to the decision-making folks not listening to me. I dunno; maybe that’s why I’m as opinionated as I am.

I know that the decision-making folks are really, really busy, and they’ve got a lot of people who want to be listened to. 

By the time I release this on my channel, we’ll be a few weeks into the 2021 school year. As I’m sitting here writing this script, it’s Day 7. I have 32 students enrolled in my English II class. It’s during the block when we have lunch, so I’m with these students from 11:25 until 1:40. In less than a week, I knew all their names. 

Part of that is because of a new activity I incorporated this year – the Five-Day Feedback Form, AKA “name tents” – which I’m going to do a video about later on. 

On Monday and Tuesday, I had thirty students present. Yesterday it was sixteen. 

Image: An empty classroom
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Judgment

Since I’m writing and filming this just before the school year starts, I’m including my Amazon wishlist at the end of the post. I teach at a school in rural Georgia, so these are things that aren’t so essential that I’m going to get them myself, but that I think would be nice bonuses: multicolored pens and markers, skin-tone crayons and colored pencils, and cooperative games. So, absolutely not essential, but if you do feel like helping out, I would be super grateful!

Image: Haitian-Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic torch.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Summer Olympics were pushed back a year. They started on July 23, and will continue until August 8. 

The Olympic Games are completely unique. No other event captures the level of prestige and splendor it carries. And while the events are competitions, the sportsmanship and even cooperation shown by the athletes embodies the “spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play” described in the Olympic Charter. 

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The Blue Curtains

Hi everybody! Today we’re going to look at figurative language – specifically, why people choose to use it. I’ll discuss different types, how to recognize them, and how to use them in later posts, but I think that before we get to knowledge and skills, it’s important to reflect on purpose. This will help provide a foundation for understanding the knowledge and skills once we start exploring them.

As always, follows are great, hallelujah, but what I would REALLY love is if you left me a comment. Maybe your favorite example of figurative language and why it’s so interesting or meaningful, or something you don’t understand that you’d like me to explain in a future video. Or further discussion of some of the points that I raise in this one. Or even just a comment to say hello. I love all of that.

The internet is an amazing thing. It gives us access to all kinds of information and enables us to connect with many different people from all over the world. In a lot of ways, that’s fantastic. And in some other ways, it sucks.

A pie chart illustrating “Sturgeon’s Law ” – “ninety percent of everything is crap.”
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Books I Love: Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language

This book quite literally changed my life. It is the book that made me realize I wanted a ‘favorite books’ section on my bookshelf.

Book cover

For many animals, grooming each other is a primary method of creating and maintaining social bonds. It’s quite literally “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” However, these bonds are limited by practicality: each animal can only groom one other at a time. Dunbar posits that conversation developed as a way for us to develop these social bonds with several others simultaneously.

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Letter to Biden and Harris

Dear President Biden and Vice-President Harris,

As a resident of Georgia, in particular the 14th congressional district, I’m sure you can imagine what a rollercoaster ride the past election cycle was. I want to express my sincere appreciation for your “hit the ground running” approach to the beginning of your term. Our country is at a historic crossroads, and the decisions and actions that we make now will have far-reaching consequences. 

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End-of-Summer Nightmares

nightmare1

My schedule has been changed and I’ve been given a completely new course for which no one will give me any guidelines. The guidelines exist, of course, and I will be expected to adhere to them, but I don’t know what they are. 

I arrive at school only to find that the teachers’ parking area has been changed. I’m not sure where I’m supposed to park and if I spend much more time driving around I’m going to be late and my students will be unsupervised. 

One of my students is distraught and is trying to explain to me why she’s so upset. I want to listen to her and give her my attention, but it’s during the middle of class and has interrupted instruction and it’s not fair to neglect the other students to focus on her.

We have a fire drill. I take roll and a student who should be present is not.

I was supposed to cover classes for a colleague, and I forgot. Everyone else has to pitch in because I didn’t follow through on what I said I would do. 

I ask students to take out their books, and they tell me that I was supposed to pass the books out but I never did, and I realize that they are right and that we can’t study the essay I have in my lesson plans because I did not bring the books and it is all my fault.

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Failure

I started getting involved in community theater around 2014 or so. I almost missed out on my first play; the audition form said that some people would be cast without needing to be called back, so be sure to check the cast list even if you didn’t get a callback. Well, I just figured that was them trying to soothe the fractured egos of those who got rejected, so when I didn’t get called back for any of the roles, I figured, meh, they picked somebody who was a better fit. 

Well then a day or two after the cast list went up, I got a call from the stage manager who asked if I was still interested in the role. Apparently, it wasn’t just them being nice, and they really DID cast me without calling me back; that’s actually a thing that does happen.

Unfortunately, it happens the other way around, too. Back in the summer of 2018, I auditioned for a local production of Mamma Mia. I really, really wanted the part of Tanya; it’s the role played by Christine Baranski in the movie. And I got called back. But of course, when you get called back, that means other people get called back, too. And they’re the ones who are in serious running for the part.

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Cyrano de Bergerac, the Supreme Court of the United States, Representation, and Donuts

I was thinking about women on the Supreme Court as I got ready for school one morning in late February. I think this was mostly because I had dreamed about a new appointment that night. 

That dream was probably influenced by one of the books I was currently reading, which talked about the effects of explicit gender bias, and how that without deliberate countermeasures, lead to non-gendered situations having a lingering implicit bias as a result. So I had been thinking a lot about representation, and culture, and society, and the interconnections between them.

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