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Short version: In an essay that aims to persuade and leave an impact on the reader (which also involves making it flow logically), is it more effective to have the larger scale societal example in the first paragraph and the smaller more personal example in the third paragraph? Or vice versa?


Using the following essay format (which I am meant to follow):

  • Intro
  • Paragraph 1 (1st Argument, including 1st example, rebuttal, counter rebuttal)
  • Paragraph 2 (1st Argument, including 1st example, rebuttal, counter rebuttal)
  • Paragraph 3 (1st Argument, including 1st example, rebuttal, counter rebuttal)
  • Conclusion

Example 1 will be a large scale societal or historic example, referencing a major event or phenomenon e.g. WWII, colonialism events or some other emotional event that impacted many people.

Example 2 will be around smaller scale/more local example based about how X has occurred withing our country/community. That aims to show the reader how it is relevant to our lives.

Example 3 will be personal example that shows how X has effected me. That aims to connect to the reader on a personal level.

Is it more effective to:

  1. Have the larger/societal example in the first paragrapher and work down to more localised example and then the personal example in the third paragraph? Or

  2. Have the personal example in the first paragraph and the larger societal examples in the third paragraph?

The bigger societal examples are arguably more powerful, but the guides suggest we do the smaller scale and more personal ones as well so that we can 1) make it more relevant to the reader and 2) connect to the reader (as mentioned above)..

What I believe are the pros and cons of each method:

  1. Option 1 has the benefit of starting out strong and setting up the rest of the essay.
  2. Option 2 has the benefit of finishing off strongly (and hopefully influencing the marker by having the last thing they read be the best part of your essay).

Which would be more effective in persuading the leader of my argument (which also involves making it flow logically) and making an impact on the leader (in terms of giving them a take away message)?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is really an academic question, not a question about writing per se. You are not trying to write a persuasive essay to but fulfill an examination criteria. This question might be more appropriate for the Academia Stack Exchange. – user16226 Nov 14 '16 at 0:24
  • Thanks for the comment. Is there a way to migrate the question or do I just delete it an repost it there? – K-Feldspar Nov 14 '16 at 0:27
  • I just had a look on Academic S.E. and couldn't really find a suitable tag. Although my aim is to fulfill a criteria, I do think my question is about writing in the sense that the crux of the question (if I ignore the context) is asking "what makes the writing most effective to a reader". Though I am still happy to move it to maybe academia.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/writing – K-Feldspar Nov 14 '16 at 0:31
  • @K-Feldspar I checked with the moderators on Academia and they said this wouldn't be on-topic there. I think this could work here if you focus it on what you are trying to accomplish in the writing itself -- not pass the exam, but be persuasive, or demonstrate a logical approach, or be concise, or... (insert goal here). – Monica Cellio Nov 14 '16 at 16:01
  • @MonicaCellio . Thank you for following that up. I have edited accordingly. – K-Feldspar Nov 14 '16 at 18:56
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Based on personal experience (I have written many an English essay on how x writer shows y theme in z extract), I would say write the large scale example first, and then narrow down to specific examples. This is a very logical sequence that the examiner/reader will be able to follow very easily, and it shows that you understand the subject to both a general level and also a very nuanced level.

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So, quickly, my credentials:

  • When I was in high school (admittedly quite a few years ago), I took both AP English courses, passed with 5s, and wrote many persuasive essays with excellent teachers who frequently had extremely high passing rates.
  • As a high school student and for a few years after, I tutored students for the SAT, including the essay section, and have had students go from scores in the 10s to scores in the 20s reliably.
  • I still to this day beta read and edit student essays.

The comments indicate this was originally for an examination, so it is with this experience that I would recommend starting with the smallest scale example and work your way towards larger.

When you write your thesis statement, you will have to include all of your basic arguments are in it in the order which they occur in the essay. So, your introduction will include the most global example and it will be the final and, thus, most memorable part of the thesis statement. Your reader will not have to slog through your personal example just to know if there's anything else.

(I know that phrasing sounds a bit harsh, but as a reader I've seen many students fall for the trap that their interpretation of a meaningful event in their lives translates to an effective argument. You have to prove that it does with evidence.)

If a reader is not convinced by your first argument, they may be tempted to skim. Teachers, professors, teaching assistants, and standardized test graders all have many essays to read. If their skimming is rewarded with bigger examples with meatier analysis, they'll be more tempted to stop skimming and continuing reading. If their skimming is rewarded with many "I" and "my" statements, they may not be as tempted because of my point above that those examples tend to be weaker and more lacking in analysis.

From there, the essay progresses nicely to the conclusion. The conclusion should include an even more macro scale argument—if possible, an attempt at a universal truth—as well as a one-sentence summary of why your arguments and examples above prove what it is you're trying to prove. This sentence will present your arguments again in the order that they were presented in the essay, so again the largest example will be the final part and leave the most lasting impression.

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