Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Writing Life: Writing to Persuade Your Readers

Whether you write for like-minded readers or readers you hope to persuade, spotting the weak parts of your argument will help you and your readers.

1. Pros and cons. Pretend you hold the opposite point of view and list all the benefits of that argument. Now make a list of the benefits of the topic from your point of view. If there are more than two opposing views of a subject, list them all.

2. Gather evidence. For each benefit, find support from recognized authorities. If you can find no support, then what appeared to be a valid point may have no basis in reality. You can eliminate it and focus on the strong points.

3. Think it through. Study your biases carefully. Are your main points broad, sweeping claims or narrowly focused statements? Have you listed statistical facts, opinions of acknowledged leaders, or unsupported statements from sources that may be nothing more than a non-expert's opinion? You will have to come up with a lot more evidence to support a claim using language like: a majority, all, or never.

4. Study your writing trends. Look at what you've written before. How have you framed your arguments? Do you create analogies, appeal to authority, pity or ignorance, or make sweeping generalizations? Have these techniques engaged your reader? If you are looking at something you wrote a long time ago, has your opinion changed on the issue? If so, are there areas where your writing or your assumptions are weak? What can you do in your current project to avoid these weaknesses?

5. Are you being fair? If you are challenging the beliefs of an opponent or group of people, are your statements about them accurate? Be sure to stick to differences in point of view and refrain from personal attack. Avoid using phrases like, has no merit.

6. Do your homework. Double and triple check your facts. Make sure your supporting material is relevant to the point you are making. If you are trying to engage a reader with no opinion, or persuade a reader holding a different opinion, you must be familiar with all sides of an issue. Anyone can vent on a page, but if you want to engage, enlighten or persuade your reader, you have to understand the reader's mindset. You can disagree with someone and still be respectful.

If a topic is important enough to write about, then it is worth taking the time to research and develop a deeper understanding. Often your own thinking becomes clearer, which makes your writing stronger.

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