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Writing Persuasively: Why and How to do it

At some point you’ll no doubt want to write something that expresses your opinion and tries to convince others to agree with you. For example, you may want to email your local newspaper or news website on a controversial issue in your community. Or perhaps you work for an organization, either as a job or a volunteer, and you want to convince your colleagues to undertake a course of action.

Your work might be called an editorial, persuasive writing, or maybe have no formal name—you just know you want to influence other people to take your side.

So here are six steps to follow in persuasive writing:

1. Identify your audience

You must narrow your potential audience down. It’s not enough to say “my readers.” Who exactly are they? You won’t write this information in your finished work; it’s only for your use. But determining who you want to reach helps narrow your thinking and keeps you on track.

2. Provide the background

Your actual writing starts here. You must assume that your readers may not be as familiar with the issue as you are. So give them some basic facts. Don’t write a dissertation; just present enough information to give your readers an understanding of the issue.

3. State your opinion

Be as specific as possible in saying what you want. (In a moment you’ll explain why you want it.) This section needs to be short and to the point. Be careful to not delve into irrelevant side issues. Stay focused on what you’re seeking.

4. Support your viewpoint

Here’s where you go into detail about why you want what you do. Again, be sure to provide only relevant arguments.

5. Anticipate your opponents’ arguments

This is an important part of any persuasive writing. Inevitably there will be people who take the opposite stance to yours. You must figure out how your opponents will counter you and provide answers to their arguments. It’s useful to write something like “some may say” or “other people may argue that . . .”

6. Suggest solutions

It’s easy to say you support or oppose an idea. But you must go beyond that and provide solutions.

Sample editorial

We’ll use this concept as an example: we want to get a law passed that would require all drivers who are convicted of DUI to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

The audience is your state’s legislators. (This is step 1--identifying your audience.)

The editorial starts here:

Drinking and driving crashes cause about 10,000 to 12,000 deaths a year. That’s about 30 deaths every day. Additionally, these crashes result in hundreds of thousands of injuries and billions of dollars in monetary costs. MADD says about one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders. (This is step 2— providing the background.)

The tragedies caused by drinking and driving are entirely preventable. Everyone convicted of a DUI-related crash should be required to install an ignition interlock device* on their vehicle. (This is step 3—stating your opinion.)

According to MADD, a majority (50 to 75 percent) of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive on a suspended license. States that are enforcing all-offender ignition interlock laws, such as Arizona and Oregon, have cut DUI deaths in half, largely due to comprehensive interlock laws requiring that all convicted drunk drivers receive the device. Furthermore, The National Transportation Safety Board said the devices are currently the best available solution to reducing drinking and driving deaths. (This is step 4—supporting your viewpoint.)

The American Beverage Institute opposes the use of ignition-interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders. They say the devices would prevent anyone with relatively small amounts of alcohol in their blood from driving. But the fact is that any amount of alcohol lessens a person’s ability to safely drive a vehicle. (This is step 5— anticipating your opponents’ arguments)

I am asking the state legislature to pass a law that would require all drivers who are convicted of DUI to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. Those convicted of DUI would be required to pay for the devices. (This is step 6—suggesting solutions.)

# # #

Writing editorials is good writing practice because they force us to think logically and express ideas clearly. Follow the format above and you’ll be more likely to persuade others to agree with you.

*FYI, here’s how the devices work: Drivers breathe into breathalyzers mounted on the vehicle's dashboard. If their breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the device's programmed limit — usually a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent or .04 percent — then the engine won't start.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Joe Wisinski