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Persuasive Writing Techniques

22nd November 2016

Want to convince your readers to do something, or agree with your point of view?

Persuasion is generally an exercise in creating a win-win situation. You present a case that others find beneficial to agree with. You make them an offer they can’t refuse.

There are a number of different techniques that can make your job easier and your case more compelling.

These 5 Tips highlight some strategies that are used quite a lot – because they work!

  1. Repetition

Talk to anyone well versed in learning psychology, and they’ll tell you that repetition is crucial.

It’s important to repeat your point – repetition is both crucial and important – that’s repetition!

It’s also critical in persuasive writing, since a person can’t agree with you if they don’t truly get a hold of what you’re saying.

Of course, there’s good repetition and bad. To stay on the good side, make your point in several different ways, such as directly, using an example, in a story, via a quote from a famous person, and then once more in your summary.

  1. Reasons why

Remember the power of the word ‘because’. Psychological studies have shown that people are far more likely to comply with a request if you simply give them a reason why… even if that reason makes no sense!

This strategy itself does make sense if you think about it. We don’t like to be told things or asked to take action without a reasonable explanation. When you need people to be receptive to your line of thinking, always give reasons why.

  1. Consistency

It’s been called the “hobgoblin of little minds,” but ‘consistency’ in our thoughts and actions is a valued social trait.

We don’t want to appear inconsistent, since, whether fair or not, that characteristic is associated with instability and flightiness, while consistency is associated with integrity and rational behaviour.

Use this in your writing by getting the reader to agree with something up front that most people would have a hard time disagreeing with. Then rigorously make your case, with plenty of supporting evidence, all the while relating your ultimate point back to the opening scenario that’s already been accepted.

  1. Social proof

Looking for guidance from others as to what to do and what to accept is one of the most powerful psychological forces in our lives – and 8 out of 10 people agree with this!

It can determine whether you decide to purchase one brand of shampoo in preference to another, or are interested to be told by your utility company that, like 50% of their customers, you could be saving £54/month on your bill.

Obvious examples of social proof can be found in testimonials and outside referrals, and it’s the driving force behind social media – think of the power of Trip Advisor in deciding whether to book that hotel or not!

But you can also casually integrate elements of social proof in your writing, ranging from skillful alignment with outside authorities to blatant name dropping.

  1. Go tribal

Despite our attempts to be sophisticated, evolved beings, we humans are exclusionary by nature.

Give someone a chance to be a part of a group that they want to be in – whether that be wealthy, or hip, or green, or beautiful, or even radical – and they’ll hop on board whatever train you’re driving.

Find out what group people want to be in, and offer them an invitation to join while seemingly excluding others.

This is the technique used in what many consider to be ‘the greatest sales letter ever written’.

Here’s an extract from the classic direct-mail piece that generated an estimated $2 billion in revenue for The Wall Street Journal.

Here’s how it starts:

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

What Made The Difference

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.