The purpose of persuasive writing is generally to bring about attitudinal and/or behavioural change in the readers. Writers must first try to identify the readers' current position, then decide if they want to:
shape readers' attitudes on a topic about which they know little or have not given serious thought (e.g., convince them that drinking water should/should not be fluoridated)
reinforce existing attitudes about which they would like readers to feel even more strongly (e.g., convince them that they should be vigilant in their concern for high quality health care)
reverse attitudes they want readers to abandon (e.g., convince them to like something which they now dislike or persuade them that a problem exists where they feel everything is fine).
Planning Persuasive Strategies
Persuasive writers must plan the strategies they will use to gain reader support for the actions they recommend and the positions they advocate. Possible persuasive strategies include: emphasizing benefits for the readers, addressing readers' concerns, showing sound reasoning, and presenting reliable evidence.
Emphasizing Readers' Benefits
The writer explains to readers how they will benefit from performing the action, taking the position, or purchasing the product recommended. If the targeted readers are members of an organization, the writer might stress organizational objectives and organizational growth needs.
Addressing Readers' Concerns
It is always a good strategy for persuasive writers to try to predict what the readers' responses will be. They should try to counteract any negative thoughts or arguments that could possibly arise in their readers' minds.
Showing Sound Reasoning
Sound reasoning is the persuasive writer's best weapon. In many cases, it is not enough merely to identify the benefits of taking a position or an action. The writer needs to persuade readers that the decisions or actions recommended will actually bring about benefits, and explain why (e.g., the new equipment recommended will reduce costs because ...; the product modifications recommended will boost sales because ...).
Sound reasoning is essential when writers are drawing conclusions from a group of facts. Writers must persuade readers that the conclusions drawn are justified in the light of real evidence.
The Reasoning Process
In order to have confidence in the writer, readers must understand the following: the writer's claim, the evidence, and the line of reasoning.
The claim is the position the writer wants readers to accept.
The evidence consists of observations, facts, and other information provided in support of the claim.
The line of reasoning is the connecting link between the claim and the evidence-the reasons given for believing that the evidence proves the claim.
Presenting Reliable Evidence
Reliable evidence is the kind of evidence readers are willing to accept. This varies, depending on the field. For example, in many business situations, personal observations and anecdotes by knowledgeable individuals are accepted as reliable evidence. In scientific fields, certain experimental procedures are accepted as reliable, whereas common wisdom and ordinary observations are not. A writer needs to use common sense to determine what type of evidence is needed.
Note: Persuasive writing is an area in which students should pay particular attention to ethical considerations. Persuasion can be self-serving and manipulative. Students should be reminded to consider their readers' needs, and to build a case using facts and logic rather than unethical methods.
Organizing to Create a Positive Response
It is not only the variety and amount of information that is critical in a communication, but also the way in which readers process that information. As a persuasive writer, you must carefully choose the organizational pattern which best suits your purpose. You must also ensure that all the parts of your persuasive piece fit together tightly.
Direct Pattern of Organization
In a direct pattern of organization, the writer's main point is stated first. Evidence and other related information are given afterwards. For example, if a writer is recommending that a company make a particular purchase, he or she would begin with the recommendation, and present the arguments in favour of the purchase.
The direct organizational pattern works well when your readers' initial response is all important (e.g., you have worked out a solution to a problem, or you have good news). The direct pattern also works well when you are recommending a course of action, or presenting an analysis which you expect your readers to view favourably.
Indirect Pattern of Organization
An indirect pattern of organization postpones the "bottom line" statement until all the evidence and related information have been presented. You would first discuss the situation; then, make your recommendations after presenting your arguments. By using an indirect pattern, the writer can prepare readers for the recommendations about to be made (e.g., by discussing goals and strategies beforehand). The indirect pattern is particularly useful when you are conveying information which your readers might view as threatening. The indirect pattern avoids the risk of inciting readers' initial negative reactions. However, it can frustrate the reader who wants to know the "bottom line" first.
Choosing an Appropriate Voice
The voice you choose to write in is an important element of your persuasive strategy; it represents both the role you assign yourself and the role you assign your readers. For example, if you intend to write for your peers, but you assume the voice of a superior authority, your readers may resent their implied role as inferiors. If your audience responds to your voice in a negative way, it will not receive your message openly.
Establishing Your Credibility
Your credibility is the belief your readers have regarding whether you are a good source of information and ideas. When people believe you are credible, they are more likely to accept the things you say. If people do not find you credible, they may refuse to consider your ideas seriously, no matter how soundly you present your case.