5 Ways to Write More Persuasively

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—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

July 8, 2020 

5 Ways to Write More Persuasively

“Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. The ability to persuade, to change hearts and minds, is perhaps the single greatest skill that will give you a competitive edge in the knowledge economy—an age where ideas matter more than ever.”

—Carmine Gallo

Aristotle may be the dean of persuasion, but the wiliest negotiator I know is my four-year-old daughter, who could sell a MacBook to Bill Gates.

One minute she'll divert her brother’s attention from a toy they both want by selling him on a "better" alternative. The next minute she'll launch an elaborate negotiation that ends with my wife and me thanking her for watching 15 extra minutes of cartoons.

My four-year-old knows that persuasive pitches should seem selfless instead of self-serving.

The same principle applies when you write to persuade. Your business writing will be more convincing when you focus on how your reader will benefit rather than what you stand to gain.

How can I persuade readers?

Use these five strategies to write a convincing message tailored to your reader's needs, values, and desires.

1. Get to know your reader.

Target a single reader, even when writing to a general audience. That way you can cater your message directly to the specific needs of a specific person. Ask and answer questions to get to know the person better.

  • What is my reader’s professional position?
  • What is my relationship with the person?
  • What does my reader know or need to know?
  • What action do I want my reader to take?
  • What typically motivates my reader to act?
  • What benefits will my reader gain from taking this action?
  • What objections might my reader have to the action?

2. Analyze your reader’s needs.

Everyone has a set of needs that extends from simple survival to career achievement. You can apply the information you gathered about your reader to the hierarchy of needs developed by Abraham Maslow. The lowest level of the pyramid includes physical needs, which must be met before the next level becomes important, and so on.

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs

Using the pyramid, think specifically about what motivates your reader. Then brainstorm different ways your idea, product, or service fulfills that need. Draw on those needs in your pitch. Notice how the content of your message would change based on different needs:

I know my reader is seeking employment, so my message will need to show how my idea will enhance the person’s job security or employability.

I know my reader has a steady job but wants to advance up the corporate ladder, so my message will need to speak to achievement, confidence, and self-esteem.

3. Focus on benefits, not features.

The features of your subject may sound impressive, but that doesn’t necessarily make them persuasive. Instead of simply identifying the features, describe why and how the features benefit your reader.

Don't Say

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Do Say

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4. Maintain a reader-focused voice.

Shift your tone from a writer-focused we voice to a reader-focused you voice. 

Writer Focused

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Reader Focused

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5. Organize for interest.

Organize your ideas to capture and sustain your reader's interest. Follow the AIDA model: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

  • Opening—Get your reader's Attention and present your idea, cause, or product. Focus on your reader’s needs, and consider the outcome you want.
  • Middle—Build your reader's Interest and Desire by explaining the value of your position and showing how your reader will benefit. Also address any concerns you think your reader may have. This provides you the opportunity to answer questions up front.
  • Closing—Confidently call the reader to Action.

The Big Take-Away

When you focus on readers’ needs, your writing will persuade them. Now excuse me—I have to go strike a deal with a four-year-old.

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Play the Editor!

In an effort to get a local coffee shop to enroll in the Music Alive program, the Davistown Arts Council intends to send the following letter to the coffee shop's owner. However, the letter focuses more on promoting Music Alive and less on its benefits to the reader. Revise the letter in these ways:

  • Highlight how the reader would benefit from participating in Music Alive. 
  • Include details that speak to the reader's needs: employment (increased sales), achievement, and self-esteem.
  • Shift from a writer-focused we voice to a reader-focused you voice. 
  • Reorder the paragraphs so they follow the AIDA pattern.  

Dear Aisha Brown:

Music Alive brings talented local musicians to perform at businesses. The musicians include singer-songwriters, classical guitarists, jazz quartets, and even a harpist. 

Our musicians sound amazing and put on entertaining performances. We handle the set-up, sound, and clean up.

Our Music Alive program turns any local business into a destination for great live music. We at the Davistown Arts Council sponsored this program because we think our city would benefit from hearing our talented musicians. We’d like if Brewster’s Coffee would be a part of our program.  

Enrollment is easy and free. We ask that you simply fill out the enclosed form, indicating music-style preferences and scheduling times performers can play at your establishment. We look forward to hearing the sound of Music Alive at your place! 

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Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and past eTips for more support for persuasive writing.

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Editor’s Recommendations

This revised letter speaks directly to the reader, meets the reader's needs (self-esteem, achievement), highlights the benefits of enrolling in Music Alive, and follows the AIDA pattern.
 

Dear Aisha Brown:

Brewster’s Coffee is Davistown’s number one destination for coffee and sweets. With the Music Alive program, you have an opportunity to also become a top destination for great live music—with minimal effort and no upfront cost. 

Sponsored by the Davistown Arts Council, Music Alive brings talented local musicians to perform at businesses just like yours. The musicians include singer-songwriters, classical guitarists, jazz quartets, and even a harpist. 

Your business would be a perfect host for these performers—attracting customers and adding ambiance to your already thriving establishment. You simply provide the space. We provide the set-up, sound, and clean up.

Enrollment is easy and free. Fill out the enclosed form, indicating your music-style preferences and the times you could host performers. We can't wait to hear the sound of Music Alive with a delicious Brewster's coffee in hand!