How to Write Persuasively
I worked with a very engaged intern not long ago who had complained to me that she felt that her degree in Marketing had failed to teach her how to be a persuasive writer. This is the advice I gave to her, and now she is a copywriter for an advertising agency in Chicago. Of course, I take no credit for her success. She made it on her own. But she has effectively used my advice to write copy that her clients appreciate. I thought since it helped her, it might help some of you too.
Write about the things that matter to you. – If you care about saving our oceans because you love to surf or boat on them and want to keep them safe for water sports, write about that. Writing from your heart is felt by your readers. Keep in mind, however, that a little emotion goes a long way. Don’t write a diary entry. Include emotions that would be commonly felt about a poignant experience – like feeling sincere gratitude for surfing on clear, blue waves that are free of garbage and chemical pollutants.
All persuasive writing should have a very clear and distinct audience. The broader the audience, the more difficult it is to appeal to everyone. It’s very different to write for people interested in the general topic of “water sports” than it is to write for a narrower audience of people interested in Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP).
Care about the things you write about. – If you think eating meat is an abomination, don’t write promotional materials for a steakhouse chain. That may be a simplistic example, but it’s a clear one. Don’t plug your nose on a topic and write a piece solely for the money, the credentials or the connections. Unless you are a master of deception, you will struggle through the piece, and it will end up being one of those projects you’d rather forget. You are also unlikely to be convincing or persuasive.
If you are connected to and believe in your topic, you will make it more compelling for the reader, because you’ll know what messages will resonate with others.
Share your experiences. – If you ski, and you love to ski, write about skiing from your point of view (POV) and experiences. This makes for a story, not just a perspective. Stories are compelling because in the story the reader can see himself or herself there. A talented writer gives the reader the power of being in the experience by writing from a real POV - not one just conjured up from online research and a few YouTube videos. A savvy reader can tell the difference between a real experience and a projected one. Be authentic.
Taking an authentic approach also gives you permission to go out and try some exciting new things, in the interest of “research” for a topic you want to cover. That’s the best part about writing from a genuine viewpoint. A world of experiences will unfold, if you allow it.
Always have a message. – You can write all kinds of matter without having purpose. But if you want to write persuasively, you need to have a core message. People respond to messages of love, compassion, hunger, anger and unity. Of course, there are many other human emotions to be represented in messaging – and there are many ways to define and describe them. What will be yours? It’s very helpful to have a few trusted readers review what you’ve written and repeat back to you the core message of the piece. If they can’t articulate it clearly, you will need to strengthen your message and try again. Ask for feedback.
Break the rules. – You are using words to evoke emotion. If you need to break the conventional rules of punctuation, then do it. But don’t take the reader for granted, or they will give up and move on from your story. Unless you are a poet or writing advertising copy, don’t get too fancy with content formatting.
And please don’t add emojis to your content, unless your readers are in grade school, you are posting to social media, or you are writing about the use of emojis.
Only use #hashtags if you are writing for a social media platform that supports them, like Twitter (and even then, keep them to a minimum).
Cite your sources. – Use in-line links, end notes, foot notes – whatever works for you (see the AP Stylebook if you’re unsure of how to cite sources). We are entering an era where facts will matter more to news services and publications. Even if your publishing partner doesn’t care about citing sources, you should make them handy for yourself in case you ever need to validate your facts or revisit those sources. Persuasive writing stands up to scrutiny by utilizing and sourcing facts – even in opinion pieces.
Try A/B testing with your headlines and content. – Some headlines convert better than others. You can test drive a headline using online tools, like the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer and it will offer scores for intellectual, empathetic and spiritual values. Try different word combinations to find a few strong headlines and then test them out on your audience. As far as your content is concerned, I suggest you try reorganizing and reformatting paragraphs within a piece and testing which of the content flows garner the best results, such as from click-thoughs, likes, social shares or reader comments. Use a link shortening tool to help you track clicks. I use Google URL shortener, but there are others, such as Bitly.
Have other suggestions? Please feel free to share them in the Comments.