Science

Persuasive Writing

Convincing another human that your ideas are correct is one of the most important functions of language. Whether a trivial matter of where to eat or the enormous concepts of what constitutes right and wrong, the words you use can profoundly affect others. But while in conversation or public speaking one can utilize tone of voice and body language, in writing this is not possible. As a result, a specialized toolset is needed to craft good persuasive writing.

Stand on solid ground

The first, and perhaps most apparent technique for persuasive writing is to have substantial evidence. Facts and statistics from trustworthy sources lend lots of credibility to any argument. Specific, concrete, and relevant examples either from the news, primary sources, or personal experience also increases the power of a case by allowing the reader to connect emotionally with the point. Finally, explaining and countering arguments from the other side of an issue increases persuasion by showing a well-rounded knowledge of a situation, and telling why the reader should side with a given position.

Ethos and pathos

While I mentioned that vocal tone and body language aren’t effective tools that can be used in writing, that does not mean emotion and feeling cannot be used. In fact, there are even words for these techniques, ethos, and pathos. Ethos is an appeal to ethics, in this case meaning that the credibility of the writer is proof of a persuasive argument. By presenting one’s case as coming from a professional in a field, readers are more likely to believe them based on respect of their position. Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Pathos can fall anywhere on the emotional spectrum from empathy to fear. While this can be difficult to execute well in writing, well-done pathos is extremely powerful. It often functions by showing the reader that the writer shares beliefs and morals with them, opening them up to what is being said.

Because I said so

Finally, in persuasive writing, especially if you are trying to move a reader to action, never underestimate the power of the word “because.” Studies have shown (to use the aforementioned persuasive technique) that providing a reason for complying with a request makes individuals far more likely to listen. Incredibly, this works even if the reason given is utter nonsense. Using the word “because” creates a sense of logical reason for an argument, making readers more likely to respond positively. This can also be paired with the technique of consistency. Consistency involves providing a position or example which is inarguably true, then connecting every subsequent argument back to that point. Used with “because” reasoning, this can create a powerful effect on the reader.

Caveat emptor

It is important to remember, however, that persuasive techniques work just as well for falsehoods as truths. Appeals to statistics are just as effective if the statistics are wrong or out of context, and appeals to authority are equally powerful verified or no. Persuasive writing, like compelling speech, can be used to manipulate people with lies, and it is the responsibility of the writer to write in good faith, and only use verified, fact-checked, and contextualized sources. With that disclaimer, practicing these techniques will allow you to make persuasive, convincing arguments, that rally people to your cause.