The persuader's toolkit
Whenever you are planning to write persuasively, always think carefully about some of the techniques that you could use to persuade your readers. Below is a checklist of tools, they are similar to the 'writing to argue techniques' but focus on persuasion.
You don’t need to use all of them but you should definitely use a range.
- Anecdotes - these are short accounts of a real event told in the form of a very brief story. Their effect is often to create an emotional or sympathetic response. An anecdote is usually used to help support a persuasive argument that the writer is putting forward. For example, if a writer wants to persuade people to stop smoking, they may use an anecdote about a close relative who died of lung cancer. For English work at school and in exams, you will need to make up an anecdote to suit the exam question, but it must always be realistic.
- Catchy phrases or slogans - these will be words that are designed to stick in the readers mind. This will work in the same way as songs or radio adverts, by reminding the reader of the product and by making it easier to remember key information. You can also repeat these through your writing.
- Chatty style - this is language closer in style to that used with friends in conversation. Although writing is always more formal than speech, some uses of a more chatty style can be effective in some genres and for some audiences. It works to create a friendly persuasive effect.
- List of three/a tripartite list - this is a triple repetition that adds emphasis, for example, 'it’s great; it’s brilliant; it’s amazing!'. A greater effect can be achieved if the words are made more emotional or stronger as the list builds up. No one knows quite why three is a magic number for lists like this, but it is – and is stronger than a list of two or four items, for example. A list of three can help emphasise the benefits of a product or strengthen a point of view impressively but, as always, needs to be used only when it suits to the form of the text (ie its genre) and the needs of the target audience.
- Contrasts - this is a comparison of two things intended to highlight one of them because of the contrast. By showing the different viewpoints, the writer is showing that they are fair and this makes them a more reliable source of information. The reader will see the writer as balanced, honest and trustworthy.
- Criticising the opposite opinion/the opposition - this is where a writer will mention all of the alternative arguments or the alternative products and explain their downfalls. By doing this, the writer is showing that they are aware of what the reader could be thinking and is making sure that they know all of the negative things about the opposition. It also makes the writer seem as if they are knowledgeable and so what they are saying is important.
- Emotive words - these are words that are deliberately designed to make a reader have strong feelings. These can be positive or negative. Human beings will react to some words very positively. Words like love, happiness, wealth and good health make us feel good. Other words, such as death, illness, poverty and tears can make us feel very negative. Writers are very clever with the words that they use in order to persuade us of their argument.
- Emotive pictures - these do not have to be actual pictures. They may be a description of a picture. A detailed description of a picture can put an image in the mind of the reader. An emotive picture will either be one that is really happy or really unhappy. It will depend on what the writer is trying to achieve. Trying to get the reader to picture a sad scene or happy scene is the writer’s way of making the reader feel good about being on their side or bad if they are not.
- Exaggeration (also known as hyperbole) - this is where a writer will be really over the top, in order to make it seem as if an issue is massive, for example, 'how will you ever live with yourself if you ignore this?'. The writer does this intentionally to make the reader consider the enormity of the issue. The exaggeration will usually be a common type of phrase so that the reader is used to hearing it, such as 'millions of us need this'. By using a common phrase, the reader doesn’t question it and will believe the writer.
- Forceful phrases (also known as imperatives) - these will be using words like, ‘think about the plight of...’ or ‘forget your previous ideas about...’. These are used to push a reader into thinking that the need to agree or is urgent. It suggests that this is something that the reader must act upon.
- Humour - this is where the writer tries to make funny points, maybe even ridiculous ones to prove that they are right. Humour works in two ways. The reader will usually appreciate humour, so it will make them more likely to be on the side of the writer. Also, the reader will remember what made them laugh, so it will make the message in the text even more memorable.
- Imagery - this covers all of the descriptive writing techniques – such as metaphors and similes. These will usually be used in emotive pictures or anecdotes. When a writer uses imagery, they will be trying to get the reader to picture something specific. When you analyse this, think about what the writer is trying to show the reader and how this helps their argument.
- Opinion as fact - this is where the writer will state that their opinion is fact, when it is actually an opinion. For example, 'It is a fact that I cannot stand winter!'. By stating that opinion is fact, it can be quite confusing for a reader. The reader may feel automatically that it is a fact and could be convinced by it.
- Personal pronouns - this is where the writer will use words such as, ’I’ or ’we’ or ’you’ to talk directly to the reader. By using the word, ’you’ and addressing the reader, the writer can appeal directly to every individual reading the text. By using the word ’we’ it will make it seem as if the writer is on the exact side of the reader, as if ’we’ are all in this together.
- Repetition - this is where a single word or phrase is repeated over and over again in order to emphasise it. Repetition works in a similar way to a list of three. By continually repeating the same idea or phrase, it draws attention to that particular phrase and emphasises its importance. For that reason, it is important to analyse the actual word or point being made and why it needs to be emphasised.
- Rhetorical questions - these are questions that appear in writing that isn’t dialogue. As there is nobody to answer the question, they are usually designed to talk to the reader. It allows the reader a moment to pause and think about the question. For that reason, rhetorical questions are effective in hooking a reader’s interest and making them think about their own response to the question in hand.
- Shock tactics - this is where the writer will try to use shocking imagery or statements in order surprise or horrify the reader. This is effective because it will shock the reader into action. If the reader is surprised or horrified by something, they will remember it and it is likely to cause an emotional response that will make them react.
- Statistics (and facts) - statistics are numbers or facts that are used to provide convincing information. A writer will use these as a tool to convince the reader. The reader will feel that they cannot argue with facts and that statistics will prove what the writer is saying. They are used to convince a reader and to add factual weight to an argument.
- Quotations and expert opinions - quotations are used when a writer brings in some information from another person, sometimes an expert, or from another article and ’quotes’ what is said by someone else. By using quotations from other people to back up what is being said or promoted, it will make the argument seem much more appealing. If other people, particularly experts, believe in something, this is used to convince the reader that it must be right.