Assignment: Analysis of Effective Persuasion in Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government”

Follow the instructions for this assignment. Save the assignment in your Portfolio 2 document for submission later.

Your assignment is to write an essay addressed to your instructor that explains how and why Thoreau’s essay is an instance of effective persuasive writing.

The essay should be about 1,000 to 1,500 words–four to six double-spaced pages. Its topic is how Thoreau effectively uses the principles of persuasion you have studied. Its purpose is to persuade your instructor that you are increasingly skilled at understanding and recognizing how to persuade. The essay should have a point–a thesis statement of some sort that summarizes what you have learned from analyzing Thoreau’s writing about effective persuasion using theoretical terms you have developed from your study of rhetorical theory. Consider who Thoreau was originally trying to persuade—his original audience—and how he might have designed his persuasive strategy to reach them. But, again, its purpose–in the quality of both the analysis and its presentation in your essay– is to persuade your instructor that you can explain and practice effective persuasion. In effect, this essay should build upon the essays you submitted in your first portfolio by clarifying, refining, and enriching your own concept of persuasion that you are developing here from the study and practice of rhetoric.

The essay should be correctly written and, again, should document your sources simply but clearly by mentioning the name of the source in the sentence and including the page number in parentheses, either within the sentence or at its end–whichever location is the most clear. The essay need not have a title, but should have your identifying information at the beginning and should clearly introduce its purpose, its content, and its structure in the first few sentences.

Again, write the essay in multiple drafts. After you complete a first draft, review the instructions and look for ways your draft fails to meet the expectations they set. Examine it as if you were your instructor, and revise it. When you are satisfied, set it aside and proceed to the next lesson.


  1. Construct from your understanding of theory a set of principles of effective persuasion that are most pertinent to the rhetorical situation within which you want to analyze this essay.
  2. Write an essay to the instructor that uses those principles to explain how and why this essay persuades effectively. The content of the essay is an analysis of how Thoreau persuades. The purpose of your essay is to persuade your instructor that you understand and can explain how persuasion works.


  1. You might begin by reviewing your first and third essays, examining which elements of rhetorical theory that you developed there are most important to persuasion. Having read Thoreau’s persuasive essay, do you have any second thoughts about your choices there, or new insights about what makes persuasion work well?
  2. Work through Thoreau’s essay, locating its elements that enact the rhetorical work your theory describes. Look for rhetorically effective elements that may not connect with your theory, and see if you need to add them to your working concept.
  3. List the elements of effective persuasion that you found in Thoreau’s essay and see what they add up to–examine what general point about effective persuasion they illustrate. Based on that, develop a thesis statement or an argument about what makes the essay effective as persuasion that you can use to unify and structure your own explanatory essay.

Self Evaluation

Use the Self Evaluation form to evaluate your draft of the essay, considering its strengths and weaknesses, and decide what you should do to revise it for submission.

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