© 2013 Steve Campsall
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writing that persuades
PERSUASION AND ARGUMENT
- what's the difference?
Okay, so you've been asked to write to persuade. But what's the difference between persuading and arguing? Well... not a lot! In fact, you'll be creating two very similar styles of writing. This is because they are both writing that has a similar purpose, that of seeking to influence. But, you've guessed it... there are key differences that the examiner looks for and knowing about these will help push up your marks and help you towards a higher grade!
When you set out to persuade someone, you want them to accept your opinion on an issue: you want to change that person's mind to your way of thinking. To do this, you will - just as with 'writing to argue' - be presenting a form of written argument; but when you are trying to persuade, your argument is expected to be more passionate, even more one-sided than the far more balanced presentation of views typical of "Writing to Argue". This is because persuasion is based on a personal conviction that your way of thinking is the right way.
This does not mean you should ignore your opponent's views - far from it. That's a sure fire way to 'put their back up' if ever there was one! And lose marks! You're looking only for success and high marks. Are you persuaded yet? Read on...
When writing to argue, you're expected to take account of opposing views and find ways to counter and overcome these, mostly through the use of well-reasoned points. This is because when you are asked to argue, you need to show you have recognises that other equally valid views exist on the subject.
This difference means that when you write to persuade, you can afford to be:
!!TWO TOP TIPS!!
TOP TIP NUMBER ONE
TOP TIP NUMBER TWO
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF YOU?
For coursework or exam, you will be asked:
to write in a particular form (i.e. format: a newspaper or magazine article, a formal or informal letter or the text of a speech); this means you need to know what the various genre conventions are of different forms, e.g. a formal letter, an article, a speech and so on.
to write for a particular kind of audience.
To gain a high grade, you will need to:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW...
The art of argument and persuasion is a very ancient art indeed. In fact, the ancient Greeks called the art of using language persuasively, rhetoric (hence, phrases you might have heard such as 'rhetorical language' and 'rhetorical devices' - these both refer to ways of using language that seem especially persuasive or powerful). Two of the most famous teachers of the ancient art of rhetoric were Plato's student, Aristotle and the Roman, Cicero.
If the two ancient teachers Aristotle and Cicero were helping you write to persuade, they would be trying to convince you (using rhetorical language, no doubt...) that the ideal form of argument was through the use of one thing and one thing alone... reason (which they called logos); however, these ancient scholars both realised that, humans being human after all, we were prone to being persuaded by two other techniques: an appeal to character (which they called ethos) and an appeal to emotion (which they called pathos).
HOW TO GAIN A HIGH GRADE
1. In all you write, never ignore your audience (i.e. your reader): always show you have thought closely about their needs
Just imagine how difficult it would be to persuade a stranger! Always 'get to know' your reader by working out what brought them to think the way they do. Showing a close awareness of your audience is a key aspect of the mark scheme for this particular question in the exam.
Follow these tips...
Be respectful... Use an appropriate level of formality by creating an effective register to suit your audience and purpose.
Be generous... 'What's in it for me?': people put their own interests first. What can you offer your readers to help them change their mind?
Be interesting... especially as you open and close your writing aim for maximum interest! Don't be shy - be different! It gains attention and it gains marks!
Be personal... Persuasion works best when you know your audience well so consider your reader, think about what their current views are and what has brought them to think that way - think about addressing them as a 'friend using the pronoun 'You'.
Be concerned... and show that you share your reader's concerns - even if your view is different.
Be reasonable... To change a person's mind, you need to recognise that they feel they hold a reasonable view already. You must use reason in return and show how much more reasonable your own position is.
Be diplomatic... Shouting is never a good idea if you're trying to persuade someone - harsh persuasive methods are rather like shouting. People rarely change their minds easily (do you?) so, whilst you obviously cannot agree with what the other side currently believe or do, you must work out the best way to show them that your way is a better way to think or act.
Be modest... no one will listen to an arrogant, impolite big-head.
Be trustworthy... Would you listen to someone you couldn't trust? Not likely! So find ways of convincing your readers that you are a sound individual with your feet firmly on the ground. Sound sincere and authentic - even earnest and passionate if it is appropriate to the cause. Let your audience know that you are worth listening to, that you know what you are talking about and that you have a good reason for holding the beliefs that you do.
Be convincing... The most important persuasive technique is to sound authentic and passionate (as if you really mean what you say!) and this requires a confident tone: sound like you are sincere and believable. Try things like rhetorical devices and emotive language. Back up claims with solid evidence. For more on these see below.
Be yourself... In an exam, what you write will - naturally - be purely made up: you are being tested on your writing skills, not on your ability to speak the truth and nothing but the truth. So the evidence you choose to support your case will need to be made up to suit the question. There is no problem with this, but you must make sure it is realistic and reasonable. Also, unless in the unlikely event that the exam question specifies differently, write as the sixteen-year-old school student that you are, never as some imaginary adult. Remember that sincerity and conviction are very convincing traits in a person pretending you are someone else will make it very difficult to sound sincere and authentic.
you have thought long and hard about why you are writing - your purpose
Read your question with care until you are absolutely absorbed into the scenario it requires: try to become the person that holds this viewpoint. Only then will you be at your most convincing.
But be realistic: your purpose is to change minds and sometimes a compromise is the most sensible next step in the process. Minds rarely change quickly and easily: take this into account when working out your objectives - maybe a meeting to discuss the issue is a sensible objective to hold?
clearly you have considered the needs of what you are creating - its form
Be sure you know the conventions required for various forms of writing
4. Show you know how to be persuasive
Writing that is coherent and fluent and which flows naturally, smoothly and with a sense of unity (i.e. singleness of purpose) is writing that seeks to help your reader trust and believe in you and your cause; it shows a sensitive understanding of their current beliefs; it seeks to forge common ground; it is consciously shaped and is a form of crafted persuasion that offers something in return to your 'opponent'...
All of this will show that you are using a sophisticated and subtle persuasive style. It is such points as these that will allow the examiner to give you the high grade you want.
Here is a small section of the mark scheme the examiners from a major examining board use when they award a grade A:
WRITING YOUR ESSAY FOR COURSEWORK OR EXAM...
THE OPENING PARAGRAPH
THE BODY (CENTRAL) PARAGRAPHS
THE CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH
Each year, literally thousands of students fail to achieve the marks they could. Don't be one of them ALWAYS CHECK YOUR WRITING BEFORE HANDING IN! HERE ARE SOME TIPS THAT COVER THE MAJOR ERRORS.
Read each sentence immediately after you write it
Use a variety of sentence types and styles and remember that shorter sentences are often clearer and crisper sounding. An occasional ultra-short sentence can add real impact to writing.
Read each sentence before you proceed to the next to check it is fluent, accurate and complete. Does it follow on logically from the previous sentence?
Check every paragraph
A paragraph is a series of sentences (often at least five) that develop from a single topic sentence used to introduce the point of the paragraph.
Avoid creating overly short paragraphs as this suggests either a) you do not know what a paragraph is or b) that you have no explained the point of the paragraph in sufficient detail. Try to make sure that each paragraph flows naturally on from its predecessor by using the final sentence of each paragraph to subtly 'hook into the topic of the next paragraph.
To correct a missed paragraph simply put this mark where you want in to be: // then, in your margin write: // = new paragraph. The examiner will not mark you down for this so long as you have not forgotten all of your paragraphs.
Examine each comma
A very common error and poor style - because it prevents your reader from reading your work as you actually wanted - is to use a comma instead of a full stop to end a sentence. This makes two or more stylish, short and crisp sentences into one long, drawn out and boring sentence! It's called 'comma splicing' and it creates 'run-on' sentences and the effect is deadening. Always end each sentence with a full stop - or, if the two sentences are closely linked, use a semi-colon.
Look at every apostrophe
Apostrophes are only ever used for two reasons - and yet many students fail to use them effectively. If two words are slurred into one, and a letter is missed out in the process, we need to write in a way that shows where the letter was 'slurred' or missed, and we do this by inserting an apostrophe. So 'should not' becomes shouldn't
And when one of two nouns belong to the other, show which one possesses which by adding apostrophe+s to its end. So the school's entrance is correct because the entrance is 'possessed by the school, also Alan's book shows a similar possession.
But watch out for your use of it's. With an apostrophe this is always a shortened form of it is or it has, as in it's cold. If you mean belonging to it, as in its fur is shiny and smooth, no apostrophe is needed.