Writing a persuasive piece involves more than just telling your side of the story. The art of persuasion involves changing another person’s point of view, allowing them to walk in your shoes by way of your words, think beyond their own life experiences and draw a different big-picture conclusion based on their intellectual experience.
Often, writers believe that a narrative that has either a happy or a sad ending will persuade a reader toward one side of an issue or another. The problem is, anecdotal evidence alone doesn’t carry a lot of weight. For example, imagine walking into a big box store two days after Thanksgiving looking for a blue plastic widget. You have a headache and have spent the past hour snapping at your loving and loyal significant other. The store is packed from the doorway all the way back to plumbing fixtures, and you are impeded in your negotiation of the aisles at every turn. You discover the store has no blue widgets in stock. If this were your only experience shopping at this store, you would conclude that the store isn’t very well stocked, doesn’t have enough help to serve customers effectively and everyone there is grumpy anyway. Your experience may be true but it is unique, based on the situation and circumstances surrounding it. It would not persuade 200,000 other shoppers who made trips to the same store during less hectic times that the conditions you described were the norm.
The primary factor in writing persuasive pieces is that there is a clear focus, purpose, and destination for the piece. Your purpose is to engage both the mind and the heart of your reader and shape their opinion. You must, therefore, have a clear-cut opinion yourself. Otherwise, the piece will drift from one shore to another, touching on truths along the way, but never be making a point.
Good persuasive pieces begin with a series of general statements and back each up with at least one piece of solid evidence. Anecdotes are fine, but research plus anecdotes are even better. For instance, an exercise I gave to prospective employees was to write one or two paragraphs about a pet they had owned that would persuade me that the breed or animal was one I should consider. Out of twenty people, two were able to make a case. The others made general statements such as, “The poodle is the second most intelligent dog there is”, but offered me no examples of its intelligence, what dog intelligence looks like and why it’s important to pet owners, or even what breed was more intelligent and why it would not be a better choice for a pet, rather than a poodle. A good persuasive piece backs up statements with specifics and leaves the reader no doubt of the veracity of the statement. One of the best-written pieces on the topic made the claim that pugs, despite their appearance, are the best pets, then went on to cite AKC references on the breed and detailed her personal experience with raising, training and living with a pug. Even though I am a cat person, I found myself thinking about getting a pug when my supply of cats runs out.
Persuasive pieces don’t use hammers when scalpels will do. Read the editorial page of any local newspaper, and you’ll see examples of writing in which the writers seem to be screeching. A rant is not persuasive, but rather it is annoying. It also makes the writer appear to be deranged, leading to a loss of credibility that ultimately derails the argument presented. Well-written persuasive pieces shave away the opposition’s argument layer by layer, allowing the reader to mentally masticate each idea with the same deliberateness they would use in engulfing a rack of barbecued ribs one sliver at a time.
Finally, persuasive pieces acknowledge any truth in the opposition’s point of view, but then turn that truth on its head in order to win the point. For example, one particularly ardent pro-life conservative speaker used the occasion of Black History Month to acknowledge that racism still exists in the United States, but then turned the focus of that statement toward left-leaning organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the political parties who support abortion on demand when he pointed out that a higher percentage of black babies than white babies are terminated, leading one to believe that abortion is a form of institutionalized genocide and those who support abortion are inherently racist. He also harkened back in history to Margaret Sanger’s affiliation with what was termed The Negro Project, which was South Carolina’s effort to sterilize the majority of adult black males, an attempt perpetrated during the 1930s as a means of keeping the welfare roles low. As this gentleman has a large following of African-Americans, I wonder how many of them will rethink their support of the openly pro-choice candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, during this election cycle.
Good persuasive writing wins wars, solves problems and can change the world, so whether you are writing a letter to the editor, penning a letter of complaint to a corporate leader, or promoting your latest book in a marketing piece, following these tips for persuasive writing will give your essay the extra push that may nudge an otherwise reluctant reader to do see things from your point of view, and act accordingly.