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11 Tips For Mastering The Art Of Persuasive Writing

Ask any bard, poet, or politician what the one true weapon is, and they’ll answer: words.

Capable of making strangers turn to friends, pacifying foes, and inciting action. Having power over your words – how you choose, order, and execute them – can turn any writing into a literary bomb.

Ultimately, it isn’t about what you are trying to convey but rather how you end up conveying it.

Often in our lives, we’ll be handed the task of writing a persuasive piece.

After all, humans are wired to coerce or be coerced from one side or another.

Whether it is an op-ed, a newspaper editorial, an essay for school, or even a digital or print advertisement, this blog won’t just give you what you need to convince.

Still, it will teach you the very essence of persuasive language.

  1. Understand Rhetoric Through Aristotle’s Teachings

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, is often associated with academic fields such as biology and the physical sciences, but his vast works covered nearly all types of intellectual thought.

The influence of his work survived all the intellectual revolutions – the Renaissance, the Reformation, and finally, the Enlightenment – resulting in his ideas perpetually finding their way into today’s schooling and society.

Perhaps most notably, he is attributed as the father of formal logic.

A school of thought interested in understanding the world through rational language, i.e., the use of prepositions, assertions, and a sensible ordering of arguments to derive the truth.

In the end, this reasoning process convinces listeners that there are no gaps in the arguments.

Aristotle best conveys his idea of formal logic through a term called rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined as the art of identifying your options for persuasion.

He goes further to proclaim three distinct types of rhetoric: forensic (about historical facts), epideictic (proclamations such as an invitation to “cheers”), and lastly, deliberative rhetoric (focused on the future, ideally “selling” a picture of it).

Deliberative rhetoric is often used in persuasive writing and speech by politicians, activists, and anyone urging for support or change.

The other forms of rhetoric are effective means of persuasion, but more often than not, you will come across (and use) deliberative rhetoric in real life; Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream…” speech is reminiscent of deliberative rhetoric.


2. Familiarize Yourself With Aristotle’s Persuasive Appeals

Aristotle further develops his theory of deliberative rhetoric by describing the three persuasive appeals. Persuasive appeals are characteristics that entice readers and make them more likely to follow what you are convincing them of. The three appeals are ethos, logos, and pathos. Mastering these independent appeals are key to understanding the art of persuasion – you need to know when which is useful!

Ethos

Meaning “character” in Greek, ethos is concerned with the reader’s sense of ethics. You can achieve ethos by proving that you are a credible and reliable source of information. Prove your credibility through a testament to your experience, education, or outstanding qualities. Ethos is most often practiced by politicians, lawyers, academics, and doctors, though it is fairly common in newspapers.

Though it has evolved into an internet joke over the years, a great example of a failed ethos is a sentence like “Trust me, I’m an engineer.” It’s highly likely that when the job calls for an engineer, such as building a bridge, there is nobody else you would trust to do the job, but mere qualifications aren’t enough to build trust.

Try and think of a previous experience you’ve had with a doctor. The doctor has likely treated multiple patients with similar symptoms and diagnoses. When they reassure you by saying something like, “I have seen many patients with this problem, and it’s nothing you should worry about,” one is more likely to trust them and follow their treatment plan.

Logos

Logos is the use of various rhetorical devices and external sources of credibility. Statistics, including all sorts of facts and figures, are a great manner to persuade a reader of your argument. Ever listened to someone spew out nonsense, such as “vaccines cause autism,” yet they don’t have any evidence (or any trustworthy evidence) to back their claim? Well, they forgot about Logos. More on this later.

Pathos

Advertisers often employ pathos, and the reason is clear: it appeals to a person’s emotions. Perhaps the most dangerous of all persuasive appeals, pathos can easily manipulate people to one’s will, such as inciting violence at a protest. In this event, emotions are naturally already ablaze. Though, pathos is not inherently bad and can just as easily sue for peace.

Since we’re all emotionally wired beings, we’re geared to respond to arts and literature with feelings. Whether written or oral, storytelling is an extremely powerful tool to leverage the appeal of pathos. Any word has its inherent meaning, distinguishing it from the others. “Incredible” and “wonderful” are often used interchangeably, yet they evoke different feelings in the right context.

3. Know Your Audience

If you’re stuck deciding which of Aristotle’s persuasive appeals to use, your next step is to look at yourself and toward your audience. Knowing yourself first is an important step, as, through introspection, you will learn the comparative advantages that set you apart from other writers. Next, to understand your audience, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Who Is The Target Audience, And Why Are They Important?

Think of everything from age, sex, orientation, education, socio-economic status, ethics and values, and other cultural elements (language, interests, etc.). Furthermore, try to interpret the topic in question’s importance to them. Pondering these questions will guide you to the correct approach for persuasive writing.

Are They The General Public, Professionals, Or Academics?

Asking this question will help you identify the target audience more accurately and also help you decide on a tone of speech, formality, and level of language. For general audiences, you will often have to describe some background information, provide definitions, or state your arguments in simpler terms.

Professionals and academics may feel irritated if you provide unnecessary information. Does the reader need to see a definition for something they’ve been practicing for years? Assume that readers in this category are on or above your topic knowledge. Include all the jargon you deem necessary to improve the flow of a naturally more intricate argument.

What Are The Readers’ Expectations?

Though it is a rather broad question, you should take it seriously. First of all, consider who you are writing for. Is it for your blog, are you writing for school, or have you been asked to deliver a referee report for an academic journal? You may be writing a newspaper editorial or even a journalistic piece. Consider it strongly, as you don’t want to slander your or your employer’s reputation.

What Are Your Readers’ Perceptions On The Topic?

Often persuasive writing needs to take on the contrarian point of view on a topic that already has a consensus agreeing to a certain side. In such cases, it becomes much more challenging to invest your readers into the piece and even more so to convince them that your side has some merit.

If you can find a flaw in the commonly accepted argument and tear it down with wit, logic, and reason, you can quickly find readers who stick it through from the introduction to the conclusion. However, you need to understand what readers think of the topic first, which requires a lot of research. The same applies if you merely want to add new information to a side you agree with.

What Is Your Relationship With The Target Audience?

Are your readers your customers, clients, teachers, and supervisors? They could be your local community, peers, or even a different interest group, such as politicians or shareholders. Frankly, you may have no relationship with them at all – these days, most of a person’s audience is strangers.

Whatever group they belong to, identify their feelings for you as a person, your company as a whole, or the newspaper they read your article from. Your relationship with your target audience can determine whether you are to take a friendlier or harsher approach and impact the rhetorical appeal you may apply.

4. Hook The Reader With A Striking Introduction

First impressions matter; if you want to reel in your readers, you must hook them with your first few sentences. Only after that can you gently reel them into believing your case. It may seem simple enough, but ask any writer, whether academic, journalistic, or even fictional: the first few words are the hardest to come by.

A good introductory paragraph must contain certain elements; feel free to add flair if you feel confident. Firstly, you need a strong lead-in sentence to catch the reader’s attention. Next, you need to clearly state your claim. Make sure the reader understands your thesis. Finally, you can give readers an idea of your main points and urge them to read.

For the lead, you have a lot of freedom. Ask your audience a series of questions to have them ponder on the subject. An example of a bad introductory question could be, “What is the one true philosophical question?” A good example would be, “There is but one true philosophical question; what do you think it might be?” Though wordier, the second question has a more curious tone.

Alternatively, you could provide a catchy, funny, or thought-provoking anecdote. “Usually, the more advertising I see, the less likely I am to buy something. That is until I discovered….” Some readers may immediately relate to this sentence, so you’ve established a rapport with them. You may have sparked their curiosity about what changed your mind in other cases.

Stating your thesis is quite simple. All you need to do is tell the reader what they should believe. Your thesis must sound like the truth or state that something else is not the truth (refutational text). It should be clear, coherent, and concise – remember these three C’s.

When urging your readers to read on, give them a summary of your main arguments or the main contents of your text.

Most readers only pay attention to the introduction and conclusion, so it is important to give your readers the information they need to seek out what they came for.

Below, an example of a good and a bad introduction paragraph will be displayed.

The bad introduction: “What do you think about vaccines? I do not agree that parents should be able to decide whether or not their children should get vaccinated because it could endanger the health of said children. There are many reasons for my opinion, all of which will be discussed below.”

The good intro: “To what extent should parents have authority over their children’s lives? Refuting the argument that vaccines cause autism in children, this essay aims to prove that the medical consensus regarding vaccinations is true. Medical theory and statistics support this argument while giving special attention to falsehoods regarding vaccination and the severity of their consequences.

5. Ensure That You’re Using The Correct Point Of View

Note that it is generally frowned upon to use the first-person perspective when writing academic essays, theses, and journal articles at a university and post-grad level.

It is good practice to start avoiding persuasive writing essays in the first person, even in high school. It is because readers of this kind are not interested in your opinion but want the gaze turned upon hard facts.

Though the same usually goes for journalistic articles, op-eds that appear in the newspaper are often filled with the word “I,” and rightfully so. Sometimes it is necessary to give readers a first-person point of view – it makes emotion hit deeper and stories seem more believable. Readers relate more easily to these types of articles but are often quicker to shoot them down.

6. Develop The Refutational Side Of The Argument

What is implied here is simply seeing the arguments that others can use against your point. Like any coin, a story also has two sides.

Therefore, when trying to persuade readers of your point, look as deeply as possible to find counterarguments to your point; then, see if you can find points to counter those.

If you can foresee any flaws in your argument and find ways to disprove them, you will be unstoppable. Furthermore, it will give you the skills to find gaps in the logic of others and persuade them to change their mind. An example of using refutational texts is as follows: “One may think that X is Y, but in reality, X is… because Y is actually….”

7. Do Research, Provide Examples, And Use Statistics

Usually, especially in academics, the greatest point leading to a thesis being proven false is when statistical analysis isn’t performed correctly, undermining the source’s trustworthiness.

Nevertheless, many cite papers with little to no reputability, spreading false information. Sometimes a simple background check on the author of a paper can go a long way.

If you can convince readers that your information is from top-tier sources, you already did something right. Taking it a step further, it is always good to use real-life examples (historical events) or your creativity, proving that you have a good grasp on the topic and building trust with the readers.

Finally, people are often too rushed to read through mountains of text. Having some graphics displaying the statistics behind your claim, you can hook visually and time-constricted readers, as well as provide a solid backing for what you are saying. Too often, academics fail to recognize this and provide their statistics in formats that are too hard to interpret, leaving many unable to understand their work.

8. Showcase Your Language Skills And Dazzle Readers

This point doesn’t mean using words that nobody knows, neither does it mean talking like you’re from another century. Rather, focus on ensuring that grammar, spelling, punctuation, and use of the correct words in context are immaculate. Furthermore, it means you should structure sentences and paragraphs logically. Flow is everything – this is why you can’t put some books down!

Furthermore, use metaphors, similes, and other comparisons to clarify your examples. The power of metaphors as a mode of expression is often overlooked in persuasive writing. Still, it can help readers understand your meaning better, and for those who understand but disagree, it could shift the tides as they might start taking a liking for you despite what you say.

It may seem like a cheap trick, but as a writer interested in persuasion, one cannot overlook any option to achieve that goal.

Therefore, use humor and personality to win over your audience (if the format allows it). It will make your words more visual as well as memorable. Finally, ensure that you proofread and edit anything you write since language errors aren’t fun for anyone.

Thinking of unique metaphors is a fun opportunity in writing. Show off a bit of personality and add a creative touch to generally more logical work. A key note to take, however, is that your metaphors need to be understood by your reader. Therefore, it is recommended to refer to objects, events, and people that most people will be able to recognize.

9. Keep Your Arguments Detailed, Yet Brief

Brevity is really important in keeping the attention of your readers. Wordiness and fluff can undermine your arguments resulting in lost readers. Even if you have to get a lot of arguments in, give yourself a word limit to keep sentences simple and digestible. After all, why say more when you could say less?

Here, again, editing is essential to cut out any paragraphs where you repeat yourself. Writers can fall prey to redundancies in their drafts, i.e., “In my opinion, I think that….” When writers do this, it looks sloppy and lowers their esteem, affecting their persuasiveness.

10. Stick To The Topic

Firstly, stick to your guns! You may often begin to doubt some aspects of your argument – this is natural. It’s very positive, showing that your argument can still grow stronger. Furthermore, don’t dwell off-topic; it fills the argument with unnecessary text and loses readers. Avoid digressing unless you’re providing an example for the main story.

Finally, do not get overly emotional. When writing persuasively, you should never show whether you are getting angry or sad but rather spark the emotional fire in the heart of the reader. Being too emotional when writing can also lead to rude opinions slipping through to the final draft, undermining your argument and reputation. Avoid getting too personal with the topic or the audience.

11. Guide Your Readers To Agreement

Sometimes it’s more effective to write implicitly. Provide the facts and guide your readers through the linguistic tools at your disposal, but don’t explicitly state the answer. When readers draw information from your writing and reach a conclusion, they will feel stronger about the topic as it will feel much more personal to them – they figured it out themselves, after all!

Eventually, you need to write your thesis in detail naturally but stalling it until you’re certain the reader has already found agreement with your point of view can score your argument a lot of new followers. It is no easy feat, though, and can be likened to bending someone’s mind to your will, yet if you allow your facts to speak for themselves, the implicit argumentative style becomes a powerful tool.

Explicit arguments are just as effective, though. Where implicit persuasion is like a ninja sneaking around and dropping silent hints, explicit persuasion is like a punch straight to the face. While they are completely different, both have their comparative advantages. Therefore, balance the scale between implicit and explicit writing until the reader feels like they’re in a team with you, the writer.

Conclusion

In the end, you will likely not employ all of the hints mentioned in this article, as that would be counterintuitive. The responsibility to identify the best course of action still lies with you, but if you are mindful of what you have learned here, you are sure to boost your writing skills and ability to convince others, which is rather impressive, right? Persuasion is, after all, like a superpower.

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