Persuasive Writing In Three Steps: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

Great writing persuades. It persuades the reader that your product is right for them, that your process achieves the outcome they desire, that your opinion supersedes all other opinions.

But spend an hour clicking around the internet and you’ll quickly realise that most content is passive, presenting facts and ideas without context or structure. The reader must connect the dots and create a convincing argument from the raw material presented to them. They rarely do, and for good reason: It’s hard work. The onus of persuasion falls on the writer, not the reader.

Persuasive communication is a timeless challenge with an ancient solution. Zeno of Elea cracked it in the 5th century B.C. Georg Hegel gave it a lick of paint in the 1800s. You can apply it to your writing in three simple steps: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

Use Dialectic to Find Logical Bedrock

Dialectic” is a complicated-sounding idea with a simple meaning: It’s a structured process for taking two seemingly contradictory viewpoints and, through reasoned discussion, reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

Over centuries of use the term has been burdened with the baggage of philosophy and academia. But at its heart, dialectics reflects a process similar to every spirited conversation or debate humans have ever had:

  • Person A presents an idea: “We should travel to the Eastern waterhole because it’s closest to camp.”
  • Person B disagrees and shares a counterargument: “I saw wolf prints on the Eastern trail, so we should go to the Western waterhole instead.”
  • Person A responds to the counterargument, either disproving it or modifying their own stance to accommodate the criticism: “I saw those same wolf prints, but our party is large enough that the wolves won’t risk an attack.”
  • Person B responds in a similar vein: “Ordinarily that would be true, but half of our party had dysentery last week so we’re not at full strength.”
  • Person A responds: “They got dysentery from drinking at the Western waterhole.”

This process continues until conversational bedrock is reached: an idea that both parties understand and agree to, helped by the fact they’ve both been a part of the process that shaped it.

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Dialectic is intended to help draw closer to the “truth” of an argument, tempering any viewpoint by working through and resolving its flaws. This same process can also be used to persuade.

Create Inevitability with Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

The philosopher Georg Hegel is most famous for popularizing a type of dialectics that is particularly well-suited to writing: thesis, antithesis, synthesis (also known, unsurprisingly, as Hegelian Dialectic).

  • Thesis: Present the status quo, the viewpoint that is currently accepted and widely held.
  • Antithesis: Articulate the problems with the thesis. (Hegel also called this phase “the negative.”)
  • Synthesis: Share a new viewpoint (a modified thesis) that resolves the problems.

Hegel’s method focused less on the search for absolute truth and more on replacing old ideas with newer, more sophisticated versions. That, in a nutshell, is the same objective as much of content marketing (and particularly thought leadership content): We’re persuading the reader that our product, processes, and ideas are better and more useful than the “old” way of doing things.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis (or TAS) is a persuasive writing structure because it:

  • Reduces complex arguments into a simple three-act structure. Complicated, nuanced arguments are simplified into a clear, concise format that anyone can follow. This simplification reflects well on the author: It takes mastery of a topic to explain it in it the simplest terms.
  • Presents a balanced argument by “steelmanning” the best objection. Strong, one-sided arguments can trigger reactance in the reader: They don’t want to feel duped. TAS gives voice to their doubts, addressing their best objection and “giv[ing] readers the chance to entertain the other side, making them feel as though they have come to an objective conclusion.”
  • Creates a sense of inevitability. Like a story building to a satisfying conclusion, articles written with TAS take the reader on a structured, logical journey that culminates in precisely the viewpoint we wish to advocate for. Doubts are voiced, ideas challenged, and the conclusion reached feels more valid and concrete as a result.

There are two main ways to apply TAS to your writing: Use it beef up your introductions, or apply it to your article’s entire structure.

Writing Article Introductions with TAS

Take a moment to scroll back to the top of this article. If I’ve done my job correctly, you’ll notice a now familiar formula staring back at you: The first three paragraphs are built around Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure.

Here’s what the introduction looked like during the outlining process. The first paragraph shares the thesis, the accepted idea that great writing should be persuasive:


Next up, the antithesis introduces a complicating idea, explaining why most content marketing isn’t all that persuasive:


Finally, the synthesis shares a new idea that serves to reconcile the two previous paragraphs: Content can be made persuasive by using the thesis, antithesis, synthesis framework. The meat of the article is then focused on the nitty-gritty of the synthesis.


Introductions are hard, but thesis, antithesis, synthesis offers a simple way to write consistently persuasive opening copy. In the space of three short paragraphs, the article’s key ideas are shared, the entire argument is summarised, and—hopefully—the reader is hooked.

Best of all, most articles—whether how-to’s, thought leadership content, or even list content—can benefit from Hegelian Dialectic, for the simple reason that every article introduction should be persuasive enough to encourage the reader to stick around.

Structuring Entire Articles with TAS

Harder, but most persuasive, is to use thesis, antithesis, synthesis to structure your entire article.

This works best for thought leadership content. Here, your primary objective is to advocate for a new idea and disprove the old, tired way of thinking—exactly the use case Hegel intended for his dialectic. It’s less useful for content that explores and illustrates a process, because the primary objective is to show the reader how to do something (like this article—otherwise, I would have written the whole darn thing using the framework).

Arjun Sethi’s article The Hive is the New Network is a great example.


The article’s primary purpose is to explain why the “old” model of social networks is outmoded and offer a newer, better framework. (It would be equally valid—but less punchy—to publish this with the title “Why the Hive is the New Network.”) The thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure shapes the entire article:

  • Thesis: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram grew by creating networks “that brought existing real-world relationships online.”
  • Antithesis: As these networks grow, the less useful they become, skewing towards bots, “celebrity, meme and business accounts.”
  • Synthesis: To survive continued growth, these networks need to embrace a new structure and become hives.

With the argument established, the vast majority of the article is focused on synthesis. After all, it requires little elaboration to share the status quo in a particular situation, and it’s relatively easy to point out the problems with a given idea. The synthesis—the solution that needs to reconcile both thesis and antithesis—is the hardest part to tackle and requires the greatest word count.

Throughout the article, Arjun is systematically addressing the “best objections” to his theory and demonstrating why the “Hive” is the best solution:

  • Antithesis: Why now? Why didn’t Hives emerge in the first place?
  • Thesis: We were limited by technology, but today, we have the necessary infrastructure: “We’re no longer limited to a broadcast radio model, where one signal is received by many nodes. ...We sync with each other instantaneously, and all the time.”
  • Antithesis: If the Hive is so smart, why aren’t our brightest and best companies already embracing it?
  • Thesis: They are, and autonomous cars are a perfect example: “Why are all these vastly different companies converging on the autonomous car? That’s because for these companies, it’s about platform and hive, not just about roads without drivers.”

It takes bravery to tackle objections head-on and an innate understanding of the subject matter to even identify objections in the first place, but the effort is worthwhile. The end result is a structured journey through the arguments for and against the “Hive,” with the reader eventually reaching the same conclusion as the author: that “Hives” are superior to traditional networks.

Destination: Persuasion

Persuasion isn’t about cajoling or coercing the reader. Statistics and anecdotes alone aren’t all that persuasive. Simply sharing a new idea and hoping that it will trigger an about-turn in the reader’s beliefs is wishful thinking. Instead, you should take the reader on a journey—the same journey you travelled to arrive at your newfound beliefs, whether it’s about the superiority of your product or the zeitgeist-changing trend that’s about to break.

Hegelian Dialectic—thesis, antithesis, synthesis—is a structured process for doing precisely that. It contextualises your ideas and explains why they matter. It challenges the idea and strengthens it in the process. Using centuries-old processes, it nudges the 21st-century reader onto a well-worn path that takes them exactly where they need to go.