What’s the most powerful way to advance your writing career (as well as your personal goals)?
Master the art of persuasive writing.
The ability to persuade readers to take a specific course of action or adopt a new belief is a writing superpower. Unfortunately, to those not “born with it”, that superpower seems like sheer magic.
It isn’t magic. It’s an art that you can learn – and do well – simply by practicing a few key skills known by persuasive writers everywhere.
Keep reading to discover 15 techniques for stunningly persuasive writing, and you’ll quickly see exactly how you can use each in your own work.
1. Promise a benefit from the act of reading
Even the most beginner sales training tells you to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question right from the very start.
If you want people to read your entire page of content, then you need to spell out the benefit of letting you have your say from the very beginning.
Promise insight, examples or clear explanations that will make your readers see their beliefs in a new light. Be clear, straightforward and confident about your promises.
And for the love of Pete, make sure you deliver.
2. Cite your facts (and double-check their accuracy)
Writing instantly becomes more persuasive when you can back up your claims with accurate facts, specific details and direct citations.
“Studies have shown” is far less effective than “a 2005 double-blind, peer-reviewed study at Harvard Medical School by Dr. Peter Bakersmith has shown…”
Without accurate data to back up your claims, readers are less likely to believe what you say.
It’s also crucial to verify your facts at the source, making sure that study did actually exist and shows exactly what you’re saying it does – especially if you got your information off the internet.
Don’t trust what other people have said – see it with your own eyes.
3. Pre-promise agreement early in your piece
Along with your opening promise of a benefit, it’s often helpful to make a promise in the spirit of “when you’re done reading this, you’ll agree with my opinion.”
The simple statement that an outcome will occur is enough to plant the seed of belief in people’s minds. This is why you’ll so often hear lawyers say, “The defendant is guilty! And when you see the evidence I’ll be presenting you with your own eyes, you’ll agree.”
It makes a difference, believe me.
4. Choose the ‘agreement level’ of your audience
The level of persuasive powers you’ll need in your writing depends on the pre-existing ‘agreement level’ of your audience.
If your readers are already amenable to what you say, you don’t have to work as hard to make a strong case. They’re already open to your ideas and willing to listen.
Ditto for “preaching to the choir”. In that situation, you can tread very lightly, because you don’t have as much convincing to do.
Your job as a writer means placing enough information in front of your audience that they can see your point, rather than be utterly swayed to it. It’s critical to know your audience well so that you don’t over- or under-persuade.
5. Keep your arguments simple
The more complex your arguments, the more difficult it becomes to convince people of your point, especially if you’re writing long.
Keep your arguments as simple as possible, using analogies and metaphors where possible to make your points easy to relate to and digest.
6. Incorporate escalating agreements
If you have a tough audience to convince, it won’t serve your cause to cut straight to the point. You risk telling them something they might outright resist.
Climb the ladder. Make smaller points they can agree with easily at first, and you’ll begin winning them over. Then you can gradually escalate your arguments, leading them up the path of “yes, I can agree with that”.
These “yes” experiences make it progressively easier for them to trust your final argument.
7. Familiarize yourself with persuasive frameworks
If you’ve never written to persuade before, you’ll find it helpful to get a 30,000-foot view of the process, and how it works.
You can easily get that via a web search for “writing a persuasive essay”, and you’ll have a basic framework to get you started.
If you’re writing to sell, you’ll also benefit by learning about the AIDA formula (which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action), as well as other similar frameworks.
Search for “copywriting formulas”, and you’ll quickly see a number of approaches that could work for you.
8. Choose the tone that will get you the best results
When you want to persuade someone verbally – whether it’s to open the door for you when you’re carrying a heavy box or to get out of your way if you’re late for a plane – you choose your tone to match the situation.
The same is true for persuasive writing. Before you begin crafting the words, check whether the tone you’re about to adopt is the best one for the situation, and for the audience you want to reach.
9. Write to the individual person
Persuading on an individual basis will always be easier than converting the masses.
Imagine one of the people on your mailing list or in your target audience. Call to mind their name and face. Write as if you were writing to them alone, and no one else.
Your writing will become richer and have a greater impact, because your readers will always feel like you’re speaking directly to them.
10. Establish personal authority with details
In the same way that people don’t always blindly trust studies and statistics without sufficient citation, they won’t believe you’re an authority simply because you tell them so.
Anything that positions you as a writing authority will have greater impact if you back it up with concrete details. Don’t leave authority-building to your readers’ imagination – make it easy for them to trust you.
For example, who sounds more like an authority between a doctor and a licensed doctor of Pediatric Medicine who graduated from Cornell and has been practicing for 30 years?
I rest my case.
11. Enhance authority by addressing objections
It’s easy to have an opinion and make a point, but those who aren’t yet swayed will feel resistance and have objections they’ll silently think of as they read your content.
If you don’t address them, those objections will undermine the case you’re trying to make. Intelligently bring up objections and reverse them up front, and you’ll boost your credibility with readers.
Readers will see that you’re not afraid to acknowledge objections, and they’ll notice you have a solid response for each and every one of them.
12. Write in the language your audience wants
To maintain attention and the reader’s desire to hear you out, you need to speak in the language that’s appropriate to them. This is similar to tone, but it has more to do with the specific language choices you make in your writing.
The way you’d write to teenagers differs from the way you’d write to 30-year-olds, and that way would differ from the way you’d write to retirees. The same is true for writing to people of different income levels, from blue collar to white collar to pink collar, and for writing to people of different lifestyles as well.
Before you send your message out, check to see if it’s written in a language that speaks to your audience, not to people just like you.
13. Use high-impact words
Not all words are created equal. When you’re writing to persuade, you need to keep that in mind.
As you craft and edit your work, check each sentence to see if a stronger or more evocative word exists. If yes, substitute it for the old standbys. (For example, “I have a dream” is much more powerful than “I have a goal”.)
Select higher-impact words to upgrade your message and break through to readers who wouldn’t be otherwise swayed.
14. Reinforce your points throughout the piece
To strengthen your persuasive superpowers, loop back and refer to points you made earlier.
Remind readers of the value and truth of those points. Use each argument as a supporting reference for the next point to come, and the strength of your persuasiveness grows and grows.
This technique is similar to the escalating “yes” and continually backs up the initial promise you made to readers in the beginning. It also supports your pre-promise that by the time they’re done reading, they’ll agree with your arguments.
15. Choose the strongest possible close
When you close, do it with a bang. Sum up your main points, restate your initial argument, and show readers how you’ve made an ironclad argument to prove your point.
If your goal is to get them to take action, tell them explicitly what you want them to do. Spell it out. Be clear.
Your goal is to have readers finish your piece knowing you’ve proven your point without a shadow of a doubt. Write and rewrite your ending until you know yourself, without a shadow of a doubt, you’ve done exactly that.