Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques
Want to convince your readers to do something or agree with your point of view?
OK, that was a silly question. Of course you do.
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, but not in the manipulative Godfather sense.
It’s simply a good deal or a position that makes sense to that particular person.
But there are techniques that can make your job easier and your case more compelling. While this list is in no way comprehensive, these 10 strategies are used quite a bit because they work.
Talk to anyone well versed in learning psychology, and they’ll tell you repetition is crucial. It’s also critical in persuasive writing, since a person can’t agree with you if they don’t truly get 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 once more in your summary.
The 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.
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 behavior.
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 while relating your ultimate point back to the opening scenario that’s already been accepted.
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. It can determine whether we deliver aid to a person in need, and it can determine whether we muster the courage to kill ourselves.
Obvious examples of social proof can be found in testimonials and outside referrals, and it’s the driving force behind social media. But you can also casually integrate elements of social proof in your writing, ranging from skillful alignment with outside authorities to blatant name dropping.
Metaphors, similes and analogies are the persuasive writer’s best friends. When you can relate your scenario to something that the reader already accepts as true, you’re well on your way to convincing someone to see things your way.
But comparisons work in other ways too. Sometimes you can be more persuasive by comparing apples to oranges (to use a tired but effective metaphor). Don’t compare the price of your home study course to the price of a similar course—compare it to the price of a live seminar or your hourly consulting rate.
Agitate and Solve
This is a persuasion theme that works as an overall approach to making your case. First, you identify the problem and qualify your audience. Then you agitate the reader’s pain before offering your solution as the answer that will make it all better.
The agitation phase is not about being sadistic; it’s about empathy. You want the reader to know unequivocally that you understand his problem because you’ve dealt with it and/or are experienced at eliminating it. The credibility of your solution goes way up if you demonstrate that you truly feel the prospect’s pain.
Another persuasion theme involves providing your readers with a glimpse into the future. If you can convincingly present an extrapolation of current events into likely future outcomes, you may as well have a license to print money.
This entire strategy is built on credibility. If you have no idea what you’re talking about, you’ll end up looking foolish. But if you can back up your claims with your credentials or your obvious grasp of the subject matter, this is an extremely persuasive technique.
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 even contrarian—and they’ll hop on board whatever train you’re driving.
This is the technique used in the greatest sales letter ever written. Find out what group people want to be in, and offer them an invitation to join while seemingly excluding others.
If you present your case and someone is left thinking “yeah, but…”, well, you’ve lost. This is why direct marketers use long copy—it’s not that they want you to read it all, it’s that they want you to read enough until you buy.
Addressing all the potential objections of at least the majority of your readers can be tough, but if you really know your subject the arguments against you should be fairly obvious. If you think there are no reasonable objections to your position, you’re in for a shock if you have comments enabled.
Storytelling is really a catch-all technique—you can and should use it in combination with any and all of the previous nine strategies. But the reason why storytelling works so well lies at the heart of what persuasion really is.
Stories allow people to persuade themselves, and that’s what it’s really all about. You might say that we never convince anyone of anything—we simply help others independently decide that we’re right. Do everything you can to tell better stories, and you’ll find that you are a terribly persuasive person.
As I mentioned, this is in no way a complete list. What other persuasive writing strategies work for you?