A lot of writing involves convincing the reader to accept your views. Sales letters, persuasive essays and opinion editorials are written precisely with this process in mind. Same with blog posts that argue for a position, as well as profile pieces that aim to paint an individual in a certain light (e.g. profiles of political figures during an election year).
There are many ways to make your writing persuasive. In fact, you can probably fill up several books detailing the different things you can do to convince and persuade readers.
Traditional Persuasive Structure
If you take a course in persuasive writing in school, you’ll be introduced to the fundamentals of the medium — the traditional structure and elements that make writing effective in swaying the reader. Here they are, in the traditional order of presentation.
1. Introduction. Here, you introduce the argument and state your claim clearly.
2. Narration. After introducing the argument, you provide the reader with a background statement of available facts, laying down the foundation for your discussion.
3. Partition. Here, you give the reader a brief summary (or a forecast) of the topics you plan to present. Doing this prepares the reader as to how you’ll convey the details of the subject, ensuring they can follow the sequence of your ideas.
4. Conformation. This would be the body of the text, where you present the points in support of your argument.
5. Refutation. After presenting your points, you discuss the alternatives, showing the reader you’ve thoroughly considered all possible angles with regards to the issue.
6. Conclusion. Traditionally, the conclusion ties back to the introduction, effectively strengthening your original claim with the newly-argued ideas.
Structuring Your Content
You can follow the traditional structure for your own persuasive content if you need a predefined format to base your material on. However, there are no hard and fast rules for the structure of persuasive content, so you can format it in any way that works for you. What’s more important to focus on, however, are the qualities of persuasive copy that appear in these types of writing time and time again.
In my experience, the following represent the minimum elements of what persuasive content should have:
1. A clear benefit to the reader. Make it clear to readers right from the onset what is in it for them. Let them know why they want to read it and what they can get out of it. Otherwise, you’ll just end up writing for people who already share your point of view, since everyone else won’t have a reason to continue past your introduction. Repeat this at least twice — once at the beginning and another time towards the end.
2. Stay focused on each point. Each part of your discussion should tackle a point that supports your main argument. Going off on a tangent can quickly destroy any momentum you have. And when you’re trying to convince a reader, that momentum is precious.
3. Make very specific assertions. General statements make for the weakest arguments. If you want to be persuasive, you need to revel in the details, citing specific facts and clear explanations for every idea.
4. Be congruent. When the reader knows you’re trying to persuade them, they’re looking for reasons not to buy your argument. And when you contradict yourself at any point, it gives them an instant license to dismiss all of your ideas. Congruence gives the impression that your arguments have been thoroughly sorted out.
5. Demonstrate credibility. You do this by using statistics, expert references, reputably-sourced quotes and similar authoritative information to further your claims. Before the reader accepts your assertions, they must accept your data, so make sure you give them credible information.
6. Make an offer. Obviously, this is a given for persuasive sales letters and similar materials. However, you shouldn’t pass them up for other types of persuasive writing. That offer, where you explicitly present the idea for acceptance by the reader, can be the most critical point, eventually defining how good a job of persuading you’ve done.
Need some help coming up with better ways to present the points for your argument? Here are some proven techniques that can serve you well in persuading the reader.
1. Repetition. When you want to learn a new skill, you practice it repetitively. When you want to memorize a speech, you recite it multiple times. Same holds true when you’re persuading the reader. Repeating the idea makes it clearer and more concrete in their minds. Just make sure to state your point in different ways (expositions, examples, quotes and so on) — parroting the same thing the exact same way will make for a completely boring read.
2. Storytelling. Stories are special because they allow people to persuade themselves. That’s why every good con man is a terrific storyteller; that’s why the most interesting celebrities are the ones with compelling narratives; and that’s why effective public speakers are also excellent storytellers. Learn to tell a good story and you’ll be a lot more persuasive.
3. Reasons. When you make any claim or assertion, the reader immediately asks “Why?” They then expect to get an answer when reading the rest of your piece. Give them a reason to quell any objection, no matter how weak that reason is. Nobody likes accepting any claim without a reasonable explanation, so always provide one.
4. Consistency. Getting the reader to agree with your main point isn’t easy, especially when they have a contrary opinion to begin with. Instead of forcing the big assertion, get them to agree on smaller points first. Baby steps lead to big steps — there’s no other way to go.
5. Comparisons. Relate the ideas to something that the reader already accepts as true, so they get to see it in a more positive light. You can also compare any counterarguments to ideas that the reader is likely to be less than receptive to in order to bolster your own position.
6. Problem-Solution. Confuse the reader, which will leave them more receptive to your ideas when you finally offer up a solution. Obviously, this is easier said than done — it requires some real craft. The easiest path is to identify a problem, then qualify your readers according to it, playing up their affinity to the issue, which can create some amount of emotional turmoil. Turn it up before dialing down to offer a way out.