Persuasive Essays: A Common Mistake

Expository and persuasive essay prompts are not asking for your personal perspective. They require an objective argument that can be proven with facts and analysis.

One of the most common mistakes writers make on expository or persuasive essays: overusing “I” and writing in the first-person.

For example, imagine the SAT essay prompt:  Is the world changing for the better? 

The best response would take a side in a clear thesis statement:  “The world is changing for the better,” or “The world is not changing for the better.”

Either side must be supported by two or three reasons / main ideas / examples. The main supporting reasons should come from literature, history, arts, society, or current events, NOT just from personal taste or opinions. First person writing can be great for stories where the narrator is a witness to the story or a character in the action. Poetry also works well in first person to show emotion and experience from the perspective of the author or narrator. But NOT in an expository or persuasive essay.

Cut Down Your “I’s”

Imagine an essay introduction that goes:

“The world is changing for the better. I don’t have to wake up too early any more, and I think cold weather is great, so winter time is definitely a good change from the fall. Also, my school just received new computers.”

When a grader reads this, what do you think goes on in his or her head? I’ll be the grader:

  • I don’t have to wake up too early anymore… vs. “I have to wake up early every day!”
  • … and I think cold weather is great, so winter… vs. “I hate cold weather!”
  • …time is definitely a good change from the fall. vs. “I hate changing to winter!”
  • Also, my school just received new computers. vs. “I just received an old mouse pad!”

Engage Your Reader

All the above reasons fail to engage the reader on the essay topic; instead, the reader is distracted while judging the writer’s personal opinions. Further, since the writer wrote her name on the paper, we already knew everything is her opinion, so the “I” language is not needed. Finally, even a great fact, if presented from a personal viewpoint, is weak and subject to disagreement. “Henry Ford changed the system of industrial production with the assembly line,” is a statement of fact, while “I believe Henry Ford changed the system of industrial production with the assembly line,” suggests the author is probably not an expert, weakening the fact.

Circle Your “I’s”

Especially for young writers, even in stories, the word I can be very repetitive. So many writers use I so many times that sentences all sound the same! So be aware of your wording. When you proofread, circle I every time it is used in the essay, and try to reduce the number with different sentence structures.

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