Empowering Writers

Argumentative vs Persuasive Writing

Argumentative vs Persuasive Writing

Are you confused about the difference between argumentative vs persuasive writing?  If so, you are certainly not alone. Many teachers struggle to identify and explain the subtle distinctions between these two genres. Here are two clues to help you tell them apart:


Clue #1: Is the author presenting evidence or trying to convince you of something?

By finding an answer to that question, we are able to identify the author’s purpose in writing the piece. The author’s purpose in crafting an argumentative essay is not to sell you on his or her point-of-view, but rather to present compelling evidence so that you acknowledge the validity of the argument. It begins with an issue statement that explains the topic. From there, it makes a claim, a statement of support or opposition to the topic.

The purpose of persuasive writing is, quite obviously, to persuade or convince. Thus, the persuasive essay will end with a straightforward “call to action” which asks the reader to do something to show that they agree with the author. They do so with statements such as “Now that you understand the issues, show your support by…” or “Sign the petition today and ask your friends to do so too.” That kind of language has no place in argumentative writing, which ends with a strong summary of the evidence and an authoritative general statement emphasizing the validity of the claim.



Argumentative vs Persuasive Writing

Argumentative or Persuasive Writing

Clue #2: Emotion vs Logic?

Persuasive writing has a strong element of emotion. Often, the author tries to make the reader feel better about herself by agreeing with the claim. Back when I was an advertising copywriter, I was a master of this.  Just think about some well-known advertising slogans: Taco Bell makes you feel like a more creative person, a nonconformist even, by suggesting that you are the type of person who can “think outside the bun” when you choose to eat at their restaurants. “Break out of the ordinary” sells Butterfinger candy bars with much the same message. And who wouldn’t get a boost of confidence after eating the “breakfast of champions” or being invited to join “the Pepsi Generation?”

Argumentative writing takes a more “four out of five dentists recommend Trident” approach. This more formal and academic genre requires that the writer support his or her argument with solid evidence. While persuasive writing can get by with a heartfelt emotional appeal or a well-defended opinion, argumentative writing must cite scientific studies, statistics and quotes from experts. It also highlights evidence that the author has generated with his/her own surveys and questionnaires. (You’ll find that writing those questionnaires or surveys and collecting responses from their classmates is not only fun for kids, but it encourages active learning and positive social interaction. We all know how valuable that is!)

Of course, it takes practice to recognize the important nuances that separate argumentative vs persuasive writing. Download the activity sheet below that asks students to look at specific sentences and decide if they belong in either an argumentative or a persuasive piece.


Download Argumentative vs Persuasive Writing Activity Sheet