Persuasive Vs. Argument Writing

by Mary Beth Monahan on February 16, 2013


Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

* * *

As I’ve worked with teachers to unpack the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I’ve focused (at least initially) on writing, mostly because that is where my passion lies and because writing has too long been eclipsed by the “Big 5” of the National Reading Panel Report —phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. I welcome the renewed commitment to writing promoted by the CCSS.

My colleague, Kathleen Harrington, and I decided to dig into argument writing first, based on our hunch that this particular mode of writing would likely be least familiar and most daunting to K-6 teachers.

And so began our “Adventures in Genre Study: Exploring Opinion/Argument Writing,” which we presented at VRI’s Summer Institute last year and which we continue to pursue. We wanted to share what we’ve learned from this work by presenting a series of blog posts on Opinion/Argument Writing.

In this first post, we’ll focus on persuasion vs. argument, their similarities and differences. Significantly, the CCSS Anchor Standard 1 (on Opinion/Argument Writing) makes no reference to “persuasion” or “persuasive writing,” which is what most teachers would assume is synonymous with opinion/argument writing.

It’s hardly surprising that argument and persuasion are often considered one and the same. After all, they have some obvious similarities. For one, in both kinds of writing, authors make claims of some sort. Also, the purposes for writing persuasive and argumentative texts are fairly similar, such as to convince a particular audience to change their ideas or behavior, to convince others to support a position or policy, and to convey a political or social message or view.

However, persuasive and argumentative writing are also motivated by quite different purposes and this is where we see important distinctions that have implications for our teaching. We need to remember that the purposes of persuasive writing also include selling goods and services and promoting a particular cause, view, or interest by any means (i.e., propaganda). Persuasive texts of this sort—from infomercial to billboard—do make claims, but these claims aren’t always substantiated.

In such persuasive writing, there is no burden of proof; authors advance claims without any evidence. This is where persuasive and argumentative writing diverge.

And if you look at the language used in Writing Anchor Standard 1 (see above), you’ll notice that “valid reasoning” and “sufficient evidence” are centerpieces of this standard. This is a point we need to highlight for our students, because the emphasis on reasoning and evidence is largely what distinguishes argument from persuasion.

We’ll want to help our students understand that in argument writing, the claims we make must always be substantiated with relevant and sufficient evidence. We can’t escape the burden of proof. Not only that, but the claims we make must be based on logical reasoning rather than merely emotional appeals, as well.

Below is a T-Chart that captures some of the key differences between persuasive and argument writing.

Persuasive Writing   Vs.


Claim based on Opinion


Claim (Opinion, Position, Hypothesis, Thesis Statement, Theory)
Not Always Substantiated Claim

(e.g., Propaganda, Advertisements)

Substantiated Claim (Based on Relevant & Sufficient Evidence)
“Pathos”—Appeal to Audience Emotion, Desires, Needs



Some “Pathos” but emphasis is on

“Logos”—Appeal to logical reasoning and evidence (e.g., Facts, Examples, Historical and Legal Precedents)

“Ethos”—Appeal to writer’s or speaker’s character, credentials, trustworthiness “Ethos”—Appeal to writer’s or speaker’s credibility (more so than character); credibility is established through knowledge of subject matter and merits of reasons and factual evidence
Persuasive texts may make an “argument,” but they don’t always include elements of a formal argument Include the following elements of Argument:


  Warrants (Statements about How Evidence Supports Claims)
  Backing (Support for Warrants)
May not take opposing views into account Counterclaim (Opposing Argument)
  Rebuttals (Respond to and Try to Refute)
  Heart of Critical Thinking

In the next blog post, we’ll define each element of argument above and provide illustrative examples.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

jane mekkelsen February 22, 2013 at 11:24 am

hi mary beth,
love the chart! really nice clear, helpful tool to look at our teaching and planning.
thanks bunches!

Helen Fields February 27, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Thanks for this comparison chart. I learned to teach Persuasive Essays as a formulaic method with three arguments and a counter-argument and rebuttal. (3rd year Social studies teacher, so please forgive me if I falter in the eduspeak). Here you say CCSS argument writing has those parts, but not persuasive essays.

I am also grateful for the clarity regarding substantiating the claim. It is one fault of the PE which is corrected by Argument requiring substantiating evidence. This forces the writer to dig deeper for information, and to move away from opinion and toward research-based information.

clover88 December 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm


As a history teacher, I’d tell you that ALL history is argument (claim, evidence, reasoning) so though you may have been told to call that writing “persuasive,” you were teaching argument (good!). I think we have to pay attention to disciplinary literacy practices; history-social studies and English-Language Arts are not the same. We may have been using the terms of ELA in H-SS, as many school systems depend on ELA for the terminology and practices of literacy.

Under the CCSS-ELA and Literacy in H-SS, Science and Technical Subjects, we are asked to teach disciplinary literacy practices. We must first learn our own discipline’s practices and then work with staff to decide how best to show students these differences and similarities, IMO.

Jan Farmer March 8, 2014 at 11:59 pm

Thank you for the clarification. I have a question about rhetorical questions? yes or no in an opinion essay?

H Reed November 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Hi, Mary Beth,
Thank you for your post. The way the blog is set up, I only see ten “recent posts,” and I’d like to be able to browse more content. I’m currently researching persuasive vs. argumentative writing, and would like to be able to get to more posts, but right now I see that I can only click on one “trackback” for a related post. Please send me a link to the full blog if you have it. Thank you to you and your team for sharing your learning.

H Reed November 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Hi! Thanks for this post. Do you have a link to the full blog? I’d like to browse older posts if possible, but the way it’s set up, I only see ten “recent posts.” I’m an elementary literacy coach researching persuasion vs. argument and I find your blog to have thoughtful entries sharing your learning. Thank you.

Mary Beth Monahan November 30, 2015 at 3:09 pm

H Reed,
I sent you an email with the blog posts as docs attached. I’ll also find out from web site manager why are not able to search by title / topic.
Thanks! Mary Beth

Mary Beth Monahan November 30, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Hi again,

This is how to find other blog posts related to Argumentative or Persuasive Writing. Go to SEARCH box in top right corner of page and type in Argumentative or Persuasive writing and you will see a list of related blog posts. Please let me know if this doesn’t work.

Take care,
Mary Beth

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