We can all agree on one thing: people are arguing often and publicly.

Granted, some merely want to rant and readily admit that’s the case. I want to believe that most would prefer to influence others through positive exchanges yet too easily get caught up in destructive, rapid-fire exchanges.

If you’re sick of all the verbal sparring that sends opposing parties to their respective corners with less, not more, regard for one another’s views, then consider a different communication strategy that has succeeded for centuries: the essay.

Please note that applying the strategy does not require writing a full essay!

Also, you’re possibly thinking that many so-called essays are nothing more than platforms for certain writers to ramble and rant. My example, which includes some sample wording, focuses on the traditional academic essay. By using that structure (if only in an outline) to build a case, respectful communicators gain credibility. Further, audiences don’t necessarily have to adopt the position for the writer (or speaker) to achieve a breakthrough. Getting people to understand the perspective, planting seeds, and/or facilitating mutual respect are all positive outcomes.

Using the following exercise as a guideline, put the academic essay to work when your goal is to relate to others with differing views:

Preparation

What is your position? Why? Think critically. Include an analysis of opposing views.

For an example, consider the following premise: Some animal rescue groups don’t allow families with children under a certain age to adopt dogs. (To illustrate how to apply the essay format, I take the position that the age of children in a household should not matter regarding canine adoptions.)  

A fundamental rationale among rescue groups is that puppies and certain breeds have been known to bite and occasionally cause real harm to young children who mishandle them. In many cases, the policy is to euthanize such dogs when they return to the shelter for aggressive behavior.

The position for countering the policy is that a great many dogs are euthanized because they need homes, and the age of a child is arbitrary if the adults in charge are highly responsible. Facts about the need for adoptions and examples of how young children and dogs mutually benefit from one another substantiate the latter opinion.

Introduction

Grab the readers’ attention. The idea is to draw in people with compelling information, but not to make a claim that alienates your opposition off the bat. Your words and tone, nevertheless, should provide a logical path to the thesis.

Sample statement: Only one of every ten dogs finds a permanent home.

A thesis statement should touch on three elements that are open for debate.

  • Why three? If you consider the topic worthy of your time and energy, but cannot back it up with three reasons why, then you should scrutinize its significance and the validity of your position. Rest assured, those who don’t agree will challenge you with more than one comeback. Also, if you have 15 reasons, for instance, consider how many/which ones would fortify your case. To avoid bombarding your audience with too much at once, you may want to support your main idea in stages.
  • Why allow a debate? Almost any topic is debatable, and your power to defend a stance begins with your open mindedness to evaluate alternate views through logic, not emotion. Additionally, why fear the opposition? Those who seek knowledge welcome others to persuade them with additional facts and fresh ideas.
  • Sample thesis: Considering the overwhelming need for rescued dogs to find permanent homes, the lessons young children learn about responsibility, and the loving bonds between dogs and young children that foster caring and compassion, a shelter should not use the child’s age to prevent a household with responsible adults from adopting a dog.

Key components:

  • overwhelming need for dogs to find permanent homes
  • dog companions impart lifelong lessons about responsibility
  • loving bonds with dogs foster caring and compassion in children

Body

The body proves the thesis. A full paragraph (if written as a complete essay) addresses one point in the thesis at a time. Notably, an opposing view appears with each point under consideration.

Sample introduction for the first point: Rescue groups should have standards to discern if conditions will be in the best interests of the dog before the animal is adopted. However, with nearly four million dogs entering shelters each year, evaluations should focus on the adopting adult’s attitude and ability to provide for the animal, not the age of children, in finding a good, stable home.

Gather substantive evidence—facts—to back up each idea within your presentation. That way, even if your points are shocking or displeasing to the audience you aim to influence, those who are open to learning (and not everyone is) could at least understand your position and possibly relate.

Sample backup for the first point: According to Petfinder.com, education is critical to a successful adoption. The first few days a dog spends in one’s home are the most important, so reducing stress and making the animal feel at ease make all the difference. Factors like feeding the dog what he or she is accustomed to eating and providing a crate for a retreat if the animal feels anxious are essential. Training, which is just as much about training the humans in the household as it is about teaching the canine, also allows dogs and humans to establish boundaries and expectations. Adults who are deemed fit to provide an animal a good home would address such concerns, including teaching children how to treat their canine family members.

Each paragraph (or point raised) should flow in a logical sequence. Delivering concepts that build off one another (rather than offering disconnected ideas) empowers a presentation.

Sample content for the second point: Certainly, a baby or toddler cannot be held responsible for the family dog’s welfare, but even a toddler can learn to use a small plastic pitcher to refill a canine’s water bowl. Extensive research, including a study by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA), further finds that attachment and responsibility towards pets instill lifelong values regarding the humane treatment of animals.

Sample content for the third point: Granted, younger children, such as toddlers, need to learn that pulling a dog’s tail, for example, could hurt and cause the animal to react by biting. Nevertheless, by overseeing all interactions and leaving nothing to chance, reliable adults facilitate an appropriate environment to establish loving, meaningful bonds between the small child and dog. Many dogs, in fact, are highly protective of young children. On October 3, 2017, a family dog stayed with his two-year-old buddy, an autistic boy, when the child wandered from home. Found in an abandoned truck less than a mile from home, the toddler had locked himself inside, causing the dog to circle and scratch on the sides of the vehicle until a human arrived on the scene. Children, in turn, bond with animals and become kinder and more loving individuals as a result. According to PETA, “Fostering positive, caring relationships between children and animals won’t improve just animals’ well-being, but the well-being of other humans as well.”

Conclusion

The conclusion restates your thesis creatively. When injecting something new, make sure the added insight is not so different that it seemingly comes out of nowhere; instead, it should reinforce the established message and leave the audience with a worthy idea to ponder.

Sample reinforcement for a conclusion: With an estimated total of 2.7 million dogs and cats euthanized in the United States each year, every time individuals and families adopt a dog from a shelter, they not only rescue the animal they take home, but also save another life by making room in the shelter.


Clearly, I didn’t just write a complete essay in which each of the body paragraphs would have transitioned from the counter argument to the author’s position and contained sufficient evidence to support the point at hand. The conclusion would also have restated the thesis points. Still, my drafted ideas would be a great start to launching a full analysis or entering a debate. 

If you choose only to draft an outline for reference, take time to write your thesis, research and respectfully address opposing views, and seek facts to build a case based upon logic.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at www.writelady.com.