“The purpose of a persuasive text is to convince, motivate, or move the reader towards a certain opinion or course of action.”
The Innovative Guide to Teaching Nonfiction Writing (2021)
Writing persuasively is an important skill for our students to develop. These skills will be helpful when writing a wide range of different persuasive text types, including these. Click the links for a detailed guide on each section.
Though the structures of the text types listed above may differ, many of the persuasive strategies and skills used in them are common.
This article will examine the top five persuasive writing skills our students will need to convince their readers to do or believe something.
The Top 5 Persuasive Writing Techniques
1. Understand the Audience/Build Rapport
One of the most important aspects of persuasive writing begins long before the student even puts their pen to paper.
Before students begin writing, they will need to determine who it is they are writing for. This is true regardless of the text type involved, but it’s especially imperative when persuasion is the name of the game.
When students respond to a writing prompt, they can often mine details of the intended audience from the prompt itself, either through a close analysis of the wording or by inferring an audience from the topic of the prompt itself.
Where a specific audience isn’t stated explicitly or implicitly, it is still good practice for the student writer to create an audience ‘avatar’ in their mind.
Having a clear picture of who they are writing to, helps students:
● build a rapport with their audience that they can later leverage as a persuasive strategy.
● create an intimate tone that builds trust with the reader.
● choose an appropriate language level.
● select the most relevant information to share.
● decide on which persuasive tools to employ and what tone to adopt.
As the student writes their persuasive text, they should keep a clear picture of their intended reader in their mind at all times. This will help them make decisions on tone and choose an appropriate language register. It will also help the student decide on which specific persuasive strategies to use and when to use them.
Each audience is different, with their own preferences and biases. A persuasive writer needs to understand this and use the knowledge to maximize the persuasive effect of their writing.
Persuasive Writing Practice Task: Create a Reader Profile
One effective way to help student writers keep their target audience in mind is to have them create a profile of their target reader. Though this profile will be essentially fictional, it will serve to help the student develop a more vivid picture of their intended audience in their mind’s eye.
To create a reader profile, students should consider a number of details, including:
- The reader’s age
- The reader’s sex
- Their level of education
- Their economic status
- Their values
- Their beliefs
- Their interests
- Their location
Students can add other categories according to the specific needs of the text they are writing. Students should keep their reader profile close to hand and refer to it constantly throughout the writing process.
2. Adopt a Strong Writing Structure
As we’ve mentioned, there are many different types of persuasive texts. Each of these has its own distinctive underlying structure. Over time, students will get to know the particular features of each of these many different persuasive text types, including persuasive essays, advertisements, letters, leaflets, and reviews. With experience, students will learn to select the appropriate structure for their specific text.
In the first instance, it is helpful for students to see these structures in action. To do this, gather together a selection of persuasive texts structured similarly to the one your students will write. In groups, have your students go through each text to identify and list the various structural features used.
Students can share their findings as a whole class at the end as you list the various elements and structural features on the whiteboard. They can then use this list as a guide when they come to produce their own persuasive text.
Persuasive Writing Practice Task: Use a Graphic Organizer
The chances are that your students will be familiar with graphic organizers and have used them in the past. For this activity, however, they’ll be challenged to design their own.
Designing their own graphic organizers forces students to pay attention to the various structural elements of the text type itself. They will also have to consider the relative position of each element as they lay out their template in a visual form. Finally, their graphic organizer will serve as an excellent planning tool and, best of all, it’s reusable!
This activity often works most effectively when completed as a group activity, as students will be able to share and discuss the merits of different ways of laying out their graphic organizer. While students can design their organizer freehand on paper, there are many excellent tools online that students can use to design professional-looking templates. One of the best of these graphic design tools is Canva.
3. Support with Evidence
We live in a cynical age. In days gone by, even the most outlandish of claims could work if delivered with a smile and some confidence. But times are getting harder and harder for the snake-oil salesmen among us. For a persuasive text to convince an educated reader to do or believe something, the writer better brings some proof along with their claims.
There are several types of evidence which students can use to support their persuasive efforts. The most common of these are:
Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.
Facts: As facts are indisputable by nature, they are perhaps the most powerful form of evidence available to our students. Facts are usually gathered during the planning and research stage of the writing process, though if the student is well-informed on the subject already they may already retain some relevant facts to support their assertions. It’s important that students do not confuse opinions and facts, especially as opinions are often presented as if they were facts.
Example Fact: All dogs are mammals.
Statistics: Numbers are concrete – or at least have the appearance of solidity. Though most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics’, most of us still find numbers to be highly persuasive. Although the careful selection of statistics can be used to prove almost anything, sourcing statistics from reliable and respected sources can go a long way to persuading even the most sceptical of readers. Often, the writer will also cite the source of any statistics to be used as evidence.
Example Statistic: Mandarin Chinese is the language with the largest number of native speakers in the world. Source: Ethnologue (2019, 22nd edition)
Quotes: Using quotes from experts in the field, or similar authorities, can lend weight to students’ arguments. However, as with statistics, students need to choose their sources carefully. A poorly selected source can do more harm than good. For a quote to carry its full weight, the reader will often need to know who that source is and why they should be listened to on that topic. Therefore, if the reader cannot be reasonably expected to know who the source is, then the writer must identify them adequately in the text.
Example Quote: However, not everyone believes the Olympic Games offer good value for money. Paula Radcliffe, a six-time world champion runner, argues that “the money could be thrown at other areas such as grass-roots sports.”
Anecdotes: Anecdotes are a form of evidence usually based on personal observations or experiences. Unlike statistics, this form of evidence is collected in a casual, non-systematic manner. Given their informal nature, anecdotes are sometimes looked down on as a form of evidence. However, they can be very effective, as the widespread use of testimonials in advertising reveals.
Example Anecdote: It is time that zoos are banned. A recent visit to my local zoo revealed cramped, inhumane conditions for the majority of animals who all appeared miserable and poorly cared for.
Persuasive Writing Practice Task: Put the Tools to the Test
For this activity, provide students with or allow students to choose a debate topic. For example:
● All zoos should be banned.
● Physical education is as important as academic education.
● The Olympic Games are a waste of money.
Students should choose a side on the issue and then provide an example of each of the four different evidence types supporting their position.
4. Employ Powerfully Persuasive Writing Strategies
As with any text type, persuasive writing has its own tools and tricks specific to its purpose. Your students won’t be able to produce truly compelling persuasive writing without a firm grasp of at least some of these strategies.
There are many possible persuasive strategies for students to choose from, and it will take time to familiarize your students with them all, but here are five of the most effective.
i. Directly Addressing the Reader: This persuasive strategy works by connecting directly with the reader using second-person pronouns such as you and your. While a very effective technique, readers don’t like to be ordered around, so it’s essential to first build rapport with the reader. Which very smoothly brings us to our next strategy!
ii. Build Rapport and Trust with the Reader: Persuasion is an art, and we are much more likely to be persuaded by someone we like and trust. One way to create a sense of intimacy in writing is to adopt a conversational style. This will be much easier to do if the writer has already clearly defined their reader persona. To help create trust in the reader, students might establish their credibility at the outset by relating why they are qualified to speak on this topic.
iii. Humor: Using humor in a text also helps build that all-important rapport with the reader, but it also makes the idea expressed more memorable. For this reason, it is a common strategy employed in advertising and debates especially. Of course, students will need to consider whether or not it is appropriate in each instance. For some more serious topics, humor is more likely to offend than persuade.
iv. Flattery: Praising the reader can help convince them to give up one idea for another. Sometimes our student writers make the mistake of thinking that if they aggressively attack the current beliefs of the reader, this will help convince them of the error of their ways. The reverse is often true. When we feel attacked, we often shut down and refuse to accept any of the arguments made by the person doing the attacking.
v. Presumption: This technique works by shutting down space for the reader to disagree with the writer’s position. It subtly implies that the matter has already been decided and that any opposition to it is foolish. It can be easily be identified by the use of phrases such as ‘As everybody knows,’ ‘Everyone agrees,’ or ‘Of course, we all know that…’
Persuasive Writing Practice Task: Offer the students a range of persuasive writing topics to choose from, some topics are listed in the previous activity. Challenge your students to write a single paragraph using each of the persuasive strategies above for their chosen topic.
5. Use Persuasive Images
While not every persuasive genre requires the use of images, text types such as advertisements and persuasive leaflets often use images to great effect.
Images and their accompanying captions can help catch and hold a reader’s attention. They can come in many forms, e.g. photos, pictures, infographics, diagrams, logos, etc. Visuals can help lead the reader’s eye into the text as well as support the text’s overall persuasiveness.
Persuasive Writing Practice Task: Create a Persuasive Image
Nowadays, many free stock photo websites such as Pixabay and Unsplash and online graphic design tools such as Canva and Gravit can help students create their visual masterpieces.
Challenge students to play with the above tools to create their own persuasive image to accompany one of the paragraphs they wrote in the previous activity. Can they write a suitable caption to accompany their image too?
As with any writing, when students have completed their persuasive text, it’s time to edit and proofread.
The main focus in these final stages of writing will be to establish whether or not the text succeeds in convincing the reader to do or believe something. This is the primary measure of success for any persuasive text and with mastery of the skills outlined above, the answer should be a resounding “Yes!”