Voter Persuasion Research Essay

Whom should Americans vote for and why?

persuasive research paper - 5 paragraph essay 

In this unit, students will research and choose a candidate to endorse and then write a five paragraph essay persuading others to vote for that individual.  This is a comprehensive assignment that guides students through the process of selecting an individual to vote for and persuading others to do so.  Steps include:  learning about civil discourse, determining how to judge a candidate, establishing priorities as a voter, analyzing a candidate website, and engaging in guided and independent research.

INSTRUCTIONAL NOTE:  The following are suggested steps to make use of relevant resources.  These should be organized into multiple class activities, discussions, and/or homework according to the instructor’s style and the needs of the class.  

GOOGLE DOCS:  These lessons are also available as gdocs.


Choosing a candidate to vote for is not merely an assignment; it is the fundamental basis of a democratic society.  You will research, discuss, and write about a candidate.  In doing so, you are engaging in robust civic discourse.  Even if you are not eligible to vote yourself, you are in a position to convince voters to recommend the best candidate to others. Note that as a community member and/or citizen, you do not have to support the practice of voting in real life, but you are required to accept the premise of selecting a preferable candidate as part of this voter persuasion assignment.

GUIDING QUESTIONS:  Whom should we vote for and why?  

PURPOSE AND AUDIENCE: To persuade voters and other interested community members whom to vote for.



Primary sources:  At least one primary source (candidate websites, speeches, debates)

Secondary sources:  At least three secondary sources (2 from library databases, 1 from web)

NO tertiary sources:  You may only use sources such as Wikipedia, On the Issues, and Ballotopedia for background information and to locate primary and secondary sources.

LENGTH:  5 paragraphs



  1. introduction

  2. paragraph about the candidate’s experience

  3. paragraph about the candidate’s view on one issue

  4. paragraph about the candidate’s view on another issue

  5. conclusion

PRE-WRITING STEPS:  There are a number of important steps that are necessary to undertake before researching individual candidates.  First you need to think through what you want in an elected official.


  1. PLAN FOR CIVIL DISCOURSE IN THE CLASSROOM:  Talking about politics can be challenging.  Before getting started, we need to establish some ground rules.  

    1. Brainstorm and discuss:  

      1. Are you comfortable having controversial discussions?  Why or why not?

      2. What are the specific reasons that political conversations are challenging?

    2. Establish ground rules:  It’s important that all participants be respectful to one another and avoid personal attacks.  Read over the guidelines on this website and discuss how to implement them as a class. You may wish to add your own rules to abide by:


    1. Read "How to Judge a Candidate" by the League of Women Voters 

    2. Read Decide Who to Vote For”by

    3. Watch “How Voters Decide:  Crash Course Government and Politics #38”

      1. Party loyalty, issues, characteristics


    1. Overview of the three branches of the federal government:  A good, basic overview of how the federal government’s responsibilities are divided.

    2. President: A good, basic overview of the process of the presidential election process from declaring candidacy to the electoral college and all the steps in between.

    3. Primaries and caucuses:  Learn about the process used to select the major party candidates:

    4. Senate and House:

    5. Governor:


    1. Before choosing a candidate, it is helpful to understand your own priorities.  Consider and discuss the following:

      1. What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?

      2. What are some of your concerns for yourself?  Your family? Your country? The world?.


    1. Write down the names Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party.  Brainstorm words and ideas that you associate with those parties. Discuss them with your classmates.

    2. Watch this video about ideologies of political parties:

    3. Having an understanding of how your opinions fit with the major political parties will help you as you determine which candidate best represents your ideas.  Take one (or both) of these quizzes from the Pew Research foundation to help assess your priorities and orient you to major political issues.



  3. I SIDE WITH: “Answer the following questions to see how your political beliefs match your political parties and candidates.”  This website is also useful for introducing an array of interesting policy issues to consider.

6.  IMAGINE YOUR IDEAL CANDIDATE:  Before you begin carefully researching the individual candidates, consider your ideal elected official for this office:

  1. EXPERIENCE:  What previous career experience do you think a candidate should have?

  2. ISSUES:  What are the 3-4 main issues you are most concerned about?

  3. CHARACTER:  What values do you think are important in a candidate?

  4. QUESTION:  If you could ask a candidate one question, what would it be?


RESEARCH STEPS:  Now that you’ve thought over your own ideas and what you want from a candidate, it’s time to do some research into the individuals who are running for office.


  1. CHOOSE GOOD SEARCH TERMS:  As you research, you should be working to decide which candidate would best represent you.  Remember that you will be writing paragraphs about the candidate’s experience, his/her character, and his/her stance on one particular issue.  Focus specifically on those topics.  Choose search terms that relate to the information you are seeking, and keep track of your searches. Check out this video tutorial for techniques to improve your searches.  You will need to adapt your search terms according to the type of information you are seeking about the candidates and issues.  

  2. CANDIDATE WEBSITE ANALYSIS:  Reviewing candidates’ websites provides a tremendous amount of information about their campaigns.  Use the handout provided to analyze and compare candidates’ campaigns and their stances on issues.

  3. REVIEW TERTIARY SOURCES:  Tertiary sources provide good background as they are a compilation of other sources, but you should only use them to get ideas--not for academic research.  You should track down and consult the original primary or secondary source that it refers to if you want to use that information in your essay.

    • Wikipedia is a useful place to get an overview of candidates.  When you are on the page for a particular candidate, scroll down and look carefully at the “References” section for possible sources you may wish to pursue as you continue in your research.  This list is similar to the Works Cited you will produce for your own research essay. It is a way to give credit for sources, and it also points researchers like you in the direction of the original texts so that you can look at them for yourself.

    • On the Issues:  "[Their] mission is to provide non-partisan information for voters in the Presidential election, so that votes can be based on issues rather than on personalities and popularity."

    • Ballotpedia:  This "encyclopedia of American politics" is a comprehensive collection of resources about government, politics, public policy, and individual elections.  It offers a thorough orientation to the branches of government, voting regulations, as well as a summary of major policy issues.


    1. Finding credible information about candidates can be challenging.  Library databases will provide information that has been fact-checked.  When you are searching on the web, you will have to be careful to find reputable, verifiable sources.  Consider the Four Moves of good fact-checkers that are outlined in the book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers.   

  5. DECIDE WHICH CANDIDATE YOU WOULD VOTE FOR AND WANT TO PERSUADE OTHERS TO VOTE FOR:  This is one of the hardest parts of this assignment.  Even though you have imagined an ideal candidate, you probably will not find one who perfectly matches what you want.  You will have to compromise on some aspects of what is important to you. This is one of the hardest parts about voting!  

  6. WRITE AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY:  Use the handout to guide you as you write an annotated bibliography for the sources you will use in your paper.


PLANNING AND WRITING:  Put together all of your ideas into a persuasive essay in which you convince other voters and community members whom to vote for and why!


  1. OUTLINE THE ESSAY:  You will be writing a 5 paragraph essay in which you persuade readers to vote for your chosen candidate.  Use the handout to construct your outline.


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