How to be a more persuasive writer

You’re up late at night working and an infomercial comes on for a product that, at first blush, seems absurd. “I’d never buy that,” you tell yourself.

You keep working, but half-listen to the salesperson. She says something that piques your interest. Slowly you peel your eyes away from your work and keep watching the TV. Over the next 15 minutes, the salesperson describes the product, emphasizes its best qualities, and shows how other similar products have a major defect. She brings in a customer who gives a raving review and shows before and after pictures that look incredible. As you pull out your credit card, you think to yourself, “Wait a minute. How did I get here?”

The answer? Persuasion.

Now, this infomercial isn’t presented through writing, but you can imagine that persuasive writing has a similar effect. Ever read a review on Amazon and decided not to make a purchase? What about that op-ed you read last week that made you think of something in a completely new way? How about travel website copy that made you book a spontaneous trip?

Persuasive writing is pervasive in our culture. Honing that skill can help you sell your ideas and compel readers to take action. Below, we define persuasive writing, examine why it’s important, and provide seven simple steps to become a more persuasive writer.

What is persuasive writing?

Persuasive writing aims to convince readers to adopt an opinion and take action on it. Writers accomplish this by using various forms of persuasion. They present logical arguments to back up their claims, appeal to the reader's emotions to prompt them to act, or weave in compelling anecdotes to get readers to think about something from a more personal point of view. To further prove their points, writers might introduce and then discount counterarguments. Persuasive writing can be found in pretty much any written work, like op-eds, reviews, ads, even brochures.

What are the different forms of persuasion?

Four commonly known forms of persuasion originated from Greece: logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos. Logos, which means “logical appeal,” demonstrates consistency of an argument through data. Some examples of logos are statistics, quotes, or generally held truths that support an argument. Ethos differs from logos in that it refers to a writer’s credibility. Writers give the impression they are trustworthy by using a specific tone, recognizing and then refuting the other side of their argument, and highlighting their experience, education, or reputation.

Pathos, which denotes “suffering” or “experience,” calls on a reader’s empathy, morality, beliefs, and imagination. Writers use sad, disturbing, or powerful, real-world examples to tug on readers’ heartstrings and show the significance of their argument. The fourth, sometimes forgotten element of persuasion, is Kairos. Kairos refers to the timing of an argument. This could be in terms of cadence within the piece or in terms of what’s happening in the world at the moment.

Why should you try to be more persuasive?

Writing persuasively is a fundamental skill that forces writers to properly structure their writing in a way that influences others to act. Besides giving your writing structure, persuasive writing necessitates thorough research. Persuasive writers find the facts they need to support their argument without turning their piece into a giant research article. They also leverage pathos to make their argument less hypothetical and more realistic. Learning to write persuasively helps you think more clearly, cohesively, and strategically, and ultimately improves your writing overall.

1. Choose your topic and set the stage

You’ll need to do extensive research to write convincingly, so be sure to pick a topic you are passionate about. Ask yourself, is this a subject I could read about for hours? Can I put some emotion behind it? Do I have personal examples to share or know of any interesting stories to throw in for effect? 

Once you feel comfortable with your topic, think of a hook. What about your argument would immediately grab a reader’s attention? Maybe something controversial? Your first few sentences should leave your readers hungry for more. Within the first paragraph, you should also state your position. Are you pro or against something? Your stance should be abundantly clear from the beginning, leaving no room for doubt or ambiguity. Continue restating your thesis throughout your piece to reinforce your main points. 

2. Keep your audience in mind

Figuring out who your audience is is important in any piece of writing, but is especially vital for persuasive writing. Knowing your readers’ motivations can help you craft your argument in a way that speaks to their unique wants and needs. Think about how they would respond to the stance you’re taking. Would they agree or disagree? What objections would they have? Might they be more likely to have a certain bias? Try to anticipate these protestations and address them proactively.

Remember logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos? For the best results, home in on the data, level of credibility, use of narrative, and urgency your specific audience will need to make a decision. If you’re attempting to convince a businessperson of something, consider adopting a tone similar to that of their mentors or leaders. If you’re addressing millennials, opt for a more casual, even clever tone. 

3. Organize your thoughts

Now that you have a sense of what you want to write about and who you are planning to write for, it’s time to put pen to paper. Many people get to this point and have an overwhelming number of ideas floating around in their heads. So write them down. Make a bulleted list of all your ideas, any major points you want to hit, supporting evidence, and discredited counterarguments.

More often than not, a theme will organically emerge. Turn that theme into a thesis statement that captures the essence of what you’re trying to say. Next, categorize each of your original bullets into separate subheadings under that thesis. Creating a rough outline like this may seem tedious, but the last thing you want is to publish an article that readers can’t follow. Developing your argument in a logical format helps readers stay engaged and catch onto your thesis faster.

4. Do your homework

Your main point falls apart without facts to back it up. Strong arguments come from solid evidence. Reference multiple sources, converse with industry experts, and interview people who have the opposite point of view. And never, ever fudge data. Determine the strongest counterarguments to your position and find as many ways to rebut them as possible. Deeply understanding both sides of your argument helps reduce opposition and establishes a sense of authority on the subject. Cite the most captivating and believable stats in each section, but also explain how all your proof together makes your thesis the correct one. 

5. Write with rhetorical components in mind

When you think of persuasive writing, you might think of manipulative ads, but fear tactics, fallacies, and misinformation don’t work in the long-term. Readers will eventually see through these strategies and will automatically discount your argument. Instead, ask rhetorical questions and repeat your thesis to fortify your point.

Draw comparisons to other things you know your audience already agrees with or by using an analogy or metaphor. Target an audience’s sensitivities by sharing a moving experience. Write with empathy—readers are more inclined to believe you if they feel like you can relate to them and others. That said, be careful not to escalate to rage or fury. Your emotions should be perceptible but shouldn’t get in the way of a clear argument. And be sure to surface and tackle concerns with your argument before the reader has a chance to think of a rebuttal.

6. Ask your audience to act

If your introduction and body paragraphs are hors d’oeuvres, your call to action is the main course. Throughout your essay, you’ve been building and building towards your thesis, and now’s your chance to prompt the reader to act. But you don’t want them to act in just any way, you want them to act your way. So be specific about what you want them to do. If you're posting your article, ask readers to comment with their opinions and reshare your article to get more views. If you want people to subscribe to a newsletter, buy a product, or schedule an appointment, ask! Even if your call to action seems obvious, it’s better to explicitly ask your readers to do something. Having said that, don’t get too greedy. Maintain your integrity by asking for something logical and doable.

7. Edit, then edit some more

You shouldn’t publish anything without proofreading it at least once. Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes tarnish your ethos, confusing sentence structure harms your logos, writing with too much emotion damages your pathos, and introducing points too early or late doesn’t help your kairos either. If you have the time, take a break before editing your piece. Go for a walk, take a hot shower, or meditate. When you come back, you’ll have a fresh mindset and can edit for bigger picture things like style and structure.

Read and re-read your essay to ensure it urges the reader to think and act in the ways you’d like them to. After you feel confident, pass your piece along to a friend or colleague. See if they are won over by your argument. If not, ask for feedback on what’s missing and add more context or evidence where you see fit. Lastly, take advantage of an online writing tool like Homer. It can identify passive voice, extra adverbs, complex terms, or long sentences so you can write with more clarity. 

Get to work

The best persuasive writing requires dedicated research and a firm grasp of their audience’s perspective, particularly of those sitting on the other side of the table. Persuasive writers take stances on issues but don’t argue for things that are unjust or immoral and don’t present their arguments in manipulative way. Ultimately, a persuasive writer leverages structure, word choice, and literary devices to show why their argument is correct and the opposing view is wrong.

These seven tips can take you far, but you can make your writing even more persuasive with Homer. Homer highlights difficult passages and even counts the syllables in words to make sure your piece has the right cadence. Even better, Homer points out passive voice and unnecessary adverbs that obscure your argument. There’s no harm in trying it—Homer is free!

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