Working with a student taking a college level writing course, I remembered an old axiom - challenge your professor. The student, a good writer already, wanted help in direction with a persuasive paper. The topic was a current headline in science: the possible dangers of genetically altered food. She was well versed in the pros and cons of the topic, but was having difficulty choosing sides in part because her professor had expressed a definite opinion.
After discussing the parameters of the paper, she knew in a persuasive paper she had to choose a side. I challenged her to choose immediately without any more going back and forth. To my surprise, she had enough spine to go directly against her professor's stated views. We worked to make sure the position she chose had plenty of factual support and that her draft would have a good structure. Then I encouraged her to think in the extreme - what's the most dramatic outcome if you are correct?
Through the wonder of spam filters and volumes of unread e-mail, she and I were out of touch for about a week. I was happy to hear her professor was pleased with her work. The lesson? Especially for a persuasive paper, the most important thing is to have a strongly stated, well supported argument. Challenging the professor gave her work a spark and got the professor's attention.