Top Five Keys to Successful Persuasive Writing

In my post on goals, I mentioned that one of my goals for this blog is to give writing advice for “non-writers” who have to write for their jobs and everyday lives. As a result of that post, Lowell Crabb at Acceleration of Money suggested I give advice on persuasive writing.

So for Lowell and anyone else who needs to write persuasively, here are my five keys to successful persuasive writing:

1. Write with passion about something important to you. You will find it difficult to persuade someone else about something you don’t believe. My most recent persuasive writing project was to help my husband write a letter to a hospital we believe overcharged us. He can’t get a satisfactory answer of what “uncovered charges” are. He is determined he won’t pay the amount in question until he gets an explanation other than “charges your insurance didn’t pay.” We wrote the letter to persuade the hospital either to itemize the charges or cancel the bill, and we wrote with passion because this was important to us.

You may not always have a choice in what you write, however. If your boss assigns you a project that requires persuasive writing, you may not feel the same passion as my husband and I felt about being overcharged. Look for something positive in the project. Perhaps you can bring more sales to the company through advertising copy. More income to the business will be good not only for the company but also to employees, creating more job security and possibly higher salaries. The project may help you develop your skills or learn something new, and your success could help you earn a promotion. Apply the passion you feel for the potential results of the project to the writing itself.

2. Write with your readers in mind. Think about your purpose and your audience. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes – and in their heads. If you’re trying to persuade someone to take a certain position on an issue, consider how the issue affects them. Perhaps you want voters to support a bond issue to build a new library. Take the approach of the benefits of the library for the voter, his family, and his neighborhood. Don’t ignore objections and opposite viewpoints. Instead, address the objections openly and respectfully. “Some voters believe this new library isn’t needed because…. However, …” By answering the objections in your readers’ minds, you show you understand the whole picture. By showing respect for opposing viewpoints, you are more apt to convince your readers of your point of view. How often do politicians, activists, and pundits persuade others to their point of view when they call those with different opinions names and show disrepect for their opinions?

3. Write to be understood. Rather than trying to impress readers with your vocabulary or your writing skill, try to make the copy easy for them to understand. Your word choices and writing style will vary depending on what you are writing, but whenever possible use common words and short sentences and paragraphs. As much as you can, use a friendly, conversational style so your readers feel like you are carrying on a conversation with them. Proofread your work and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Watch especially for your common errors. For example, I’m notorious for leaving out words. If you’re not sure whether to use its or it’s or their or there, look it up. The OWL at Purdue is an excellent resource, and you can find more on my Resources page.

4. Write to appeal to your readers’ emotions. Read or watch ads or articles soliciting donations or volunteers for charitable causes. People respond to descriptions of sick or starving children or pictures of animals that have been mistreated. You may not be writing about such dramatic topics, but your readers are emotional beings. If you’re trying to persuade readers to make an investment, you can appeal to their fear (what will they lose if they miss out?), greed (how much money can they make?), love for family (how will this investment protect their family’s financial security?), desire for prestige or power (how can the investment give the reader status or influence?), or any number of other emotions.

5. Write to give your readers logical justifications for their decision. We all tend to operate on emotion. We make decisions to avoid pain or feel pleasure; to prevent loss or ensure security, to feel powerful, beautiful, successful, or … something; to help the unfortunate or show our love for our family and friends. However, we like to justify our decisions on the basis of logic and reason. So after you appeal to your readers’ emotions, provide facts and statistics. Quote experts. Give them rational justification to do what you are trying to persuade them to do and what their emotions motivate them to do.

I hope these tips help you improve your persuasive writing. If you have questions, let me know I’d love to hear your suggestions for other writing topics you’d like me to cover.

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