Essential Questions for Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing depends on finding the answers to several audience-related questions.
Persuasive writing depends on finding the answers to several audience-related questions. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Influence depends on blending Aristotle's persuasive appeals, which are ethos, logos and pathos. Using modern day terminology, ethos is credibility and competence. Logos is defined as sound logic and pathos refers to tapping into emotion. However, the best persuasive arguments are doomed if the writer does not consider and respond to audience beliefs, motivations and needs.

Who Is My Audience?

Audience analysis is key to persuasion. Before putting pen to paper, writers should research audience demographics such as age, income, gender, education level, ethnicity and geographic location. Writers need to also understand audience pyschographics, such as personality, values or interests. These audience factors will guide persuasive strategy and indicate audience needs. For example, a writer facing an audience well versed in the subject and motivated by numbers and statistics will need to provide data and research to prove his point. Audiences less involved with the issue and moved by emotion require more stories and moving personal accounts.

What Is My Persuasive Goal?

Failing to identify a persuasive goal risks sending mixed signals and confusing the audience. Three most common persuasive goals are fact, value and policy claims, according to Douglas Fraleigh and Joseph Tuman, authors of "Speak Up: An Illustrated Guide to Public Speaking." Fact claims seek an audience to respond with a yes or no answer, such as "too much television watching causes poor attention in school." Value claims seek a good or bad response, such as "allowing kids to watch violent cartoons television is irresponsible parenting." Policy claims want an audience to take action such as "contact your local networks and ask them to limit the amount of violent cartoons available during the day."

What Is My Audience Predisposition?

Determining whether the prevailing audience opinion is positive, negative or neutral is the next step in crafting a message with influence. A writer who enjoys strong audience support should focus on reinforcing that support instead of convincing the audience to adopt a viewpoint they already possess. Writers facing audiences who strongly oppose the fact, value or policy claim should seek to reduce commitment to the opinion instead of aiming for conversion. For example, a writer hoping to persuade employees to adopt a leave policy with fewer vacation days has a better chance of showing employees how the move will result in higher pay than hoping to convince them that less time off is in their best interest.

What's In It for Them?

Answering the "what's in it for me" question is critical for persuasion. However, the strongest persuasive articles put that answer is the place most likely to sway the audience. For example, writers should take a direct approach and put that information toward the top of an article for audiences with similar beliefs and a positive predisposition to the author's claim. On the other hand, writers should take an indirect approach with audiences that have a negative opinion of the author's position. For that audience, writers must work harder to pull in those readers by starting with compelling stories, evidence or facts and leading the reader to the argument.

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  • "Speak Up: An Illustrated Guide to Public Speaking"; Douglas Fraleigh and Joseph Tuman; 2008
  • "Business Communication Today"; Courtland L. Bovee and John Thill; 2010
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