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Finding an Effective Style in Persuasive Writing

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Are you a persuasive person? How about when it comes to writing? In this lesson we will learn how to effectively select diction and tone to create our voice and style when conveying purpose in persuasive writing.

The Art of Persuasion

Did you ever have to convince a parent to let you do something? Maybe you persuaded them to let you stay out late, go to a party, or hang out with a boy/girl without supervision. Whatever the case, do you realize that you are already a pro at persuasion?

We persuade those around us on a daily basis, whether it be deciding which restaurant to eat at or not letting our friend call their ex. All of these daily situations fall into the category of the art of persuasion. Read on to learn about how to transfer these skills into effective persuasive writing.

Definitions

Before we can begin to learn methods surrounding persuasive writing, we need to know the terms associated with the persuasive genre. The place to start is diction. Diction is the writer's word choices. These word choices and phrases typically convey the tone. Tone is the writer's attitude toward a subject or audience.

As you can see, these terms do not stand independently of each other; they work together to make up a writer's craft. Tone and diction are found in the piece itself and come together to form a writer's style and voice. The writer's voice can be thought of in terms of how the words sound together while you read, just as if someone was speaking them to you, but voice is based on each individual writer's thoughts and the way those thoughts are expressed. Voice is a combination of diction, syntax, punctuation, and emotion which is unique to every writer. Just as we can decipher a friend's voice without seeing their face, the same can be said for one's writing.

When we combine everything listed above, we find a writer's style or the overall impression of a piece. Some writers use short, staccato sentences, some use long, complex sentences, while others may ramble on for lines, challenging the rules of grammar. Some writers use diction that is more formal, while others choose slang with a conversational tone. There is no one right style, and different occasions call for different styles. All of these factors are dependent upon the author's purpose and the message they wish to convey.

Intention

As previously stated, there is no one right way to write a persuasive piece. The style is dependent upon the author's intention regarding how a piece will be written and then interpreted. First, the writer must ask:

  • What is my purpose?: What am I trying to argue for or against?
  • Who is my audience?: Who am I trying to persuade?
  • What are my main points?: What am I trying to say?

Once the writer has answered these questions, they can begin to write.

Purpose

If someone is giving a speech at the White House about gun control, one would hope the diction and tone would be different from a parent trying to persuade their town to build a new library. While both messages are important, the tone when speaking on gun control should be far more serious than the tone used when speaking of a library. The intention of winning the argument is the same, but the tone should follow the purpose of the persuasion. We have to be aware of where our persuasion falls of the scale of importance and severity and our tone should match.

Audience

Before we can start writing, we need to know who are we are writing to. If we are writing a letter to government about gun control, we want to make sure we are using appropriate diction, such as formal, academic writing that is geared to a higher education level. Words such as 'think about' can be changed to 'consider' or phrases such as 'a pressing matter' may be used over 'an important situation'.

We also need to consider the connotations of the words we use. In politics we often see biased language with unintentional connotations. A Hillary supporter might say Trump 'glared' at Hillary, when in actuality, he simply looked at her while she spoke. Every word counts.

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