The Oxbridge Editing Blog 20th August 2018

Tips for making your writing more persuasive

20th August 2018

The art of persuasive writing is oriented around convincing the reader of a particular point of view. This can be achieved in a variety of different ways. These different approaches are context specific. One of the most important considerations when seeking to make your writing more persuasive, therefore, is choosing the right approach for the given situation.

Tailoring your approach

Certain situations will demand a very rigorous, academic and logical approach. For example, if you were trying to persuade the reader of a particular scientific hypothesis, you would want to appeal to evidence. This might include citing academic studies or relevant facts and figures. The point is that you would need to engage the reader on an intellectual basis. If you present an evidentially indisputable case then the reader will have no choice but to be persuaded. On the other end of the scale, if you were writing on social policy, for example, an appeal to emotion might be to the point. That is, some issues (child homelessness is a good example) are inseparable from emotional implications. We should feel sad, ashamed and angry about child homelessness. Inspiring these emotions in the reader will help sway them to your perspective. Tailoring your approach to the particulars of the situation is a must.

“Measure Twice, Cut Once”: Planning above all else

There is an old carpenter’s saying, “measure twice, cut once”, whose wisdom has application beyond the economics of timber. The more carefully planned your writing is, the less likely you are to waste time in false steps and thus the more swiftly you should be able to arrive at incisive, convincing prose. Ideally, the majority of your energy should be spent in the planning stage. The final write-up should be merely a transposition of this conceptual effort on to paper.

In planning, you will want to brainstorm, make copious notes, write down important citations and perhaps discuss your ideas with teachers and peers. When you have done all this, you have all the raw material for a persuasive composition. Now, it just needs to be marshalled effectively.

Point/counterpoint

One of the best ways of ensuring that your writing is persuasive is to test its rigour by means of simple dialectic, a back and forth – with yourself. It is particularly useful to know the argument against your own point of view. If you are able to make the case against yourself as strongly as you can advance the position you actually espouse, then your final composition will be very strong indeed. This is because you will know and understand all of the significant counterarguments. Consequently, you will be better prepared to dispense with them.

Using the tools of language

In constructing a persuasive composition, effective use of language is indispensable. Clarity is the key. You want to be as precise as possible. This means being judicious with your choice of words. Never use a term whose meaning is not entirely clear to you (the dictionary is your friend, here). Also, try to avoid using unnecessarily complex sentence structure. Do not try and sound clever. Good ideas are clever on their own andso can be expressed simply. As Albert Einstein once remarked, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Use some verbal flair

Simple writing is not equivalent to bland writing. A deft turn of phrase can make a well-reasoned point resonate. In addition, linguistic ingenuity is compelling. The human mind is somewhat instinctively drawn to creative use of language. This in itself can make the reader more sympathetic to the writer. As a result, they will be more likely to be persuaded by the writer’s point.

Bring the reader along for the ride

Your writing will be more persuasive to the reader if their thoughts come to be aligned with your own. Indeed, one might argue that the principle objective of any form of persuasive writing is to achieve just such alignment.

The reader is more likely to see things how you do if you bring them along with you from the start. This means that you want to be overt and transparent. Tell the reader exactly what you intend to do and why. As in, “This essay is going to . . . it will do this by . . . the purpose is . . .” The more clear you are about what you are doing, the more easily the reader will understand, and therefore agree with, what you are saying.

By giving the reader a clear account of your own thought process you are in effect making them go through the same mental process. Thus their thoughts will echo your own. This will place the reader in your vantage point. Being situated in the same intellectual position as you, the reader is consequently more likely to see things from your angle.