Persuasive text is all around you, but do you ever take the time to truly analyze it? This lesson describes how to identify the main idea, purpose, and intended audience for persuasive writing.
What Is Persuasive Writing?
Our world is filled with countless forms of writing, each with a different purpose. It's imperative to analyze each form of text you read in order to properly evaluate the content and the message. One type of writing is persuasive, which is any writing that aims to convince the reader to believe in something or do some action.
Every speech from a politician or editorial in the newspaper is an example of a persuasive form of writing. For those types of pieces, you need to be able to identify the main idea, purpose, and the intended audience in order to be able to effectively evaluate the author's argument.
The first aspect of persuasive text you need to be able to identify is the main idea. This refers to the overall or central concept of the piece of writing. To discover the main idea, think about the underlying topic that is the foundation for the whole piece. If this topic is obvious, then you have easily identified the main idea. However, sometimes the main idea is not as obvious. In these cases review the very first paragraph and the final paragraph. Both of these will usually state the main idea of the whole text.
For example, think about any speech any President of the United States has given. Almost each one will begin and end with the main point he wanted to make to the citizens. Most persuasive writing will do this in order to grab the reader's attention and then leave the reader with the main idea as the final thought.
A lot of blogs are examples of persuasive writing. One might start with 'How can stores still use plastic bags at the checkout?' and end with 'I hope you will bring your own reusable bag next time you shop.' The main idea here is reducing waste.
If the main idea still escapes you, ask yourself any one of the following questions:
- If someone asked me what the writing is about, what would I say?
- How could I explain this piece of writing in one sentence?
- What is the first or the final thought of the writer?
The answer is your main idea.
Purpose of Persuasive Writing
The second facet of persuasive writing is the purpose, or the reason the author is writing. Remember, every persuasive piece tries to convince the reader to believe or do something. If it's the latter, this is called a call to action, which is a command that will influence a consumer to try a product or service.
That commercial for your local burger joint? They're pushing you to come in and buy something. That political flier in the mail? They're trying to pressure you to vote for a certain person. These are both calls to action.
Similar to the main idea, the best way to identify the purpose is to reread the final paragraph. When writing persuasively, most authors strive to leave the reader with the central message. This is why the purpose of the text will often become obvious in the final section or paragraph. Something like, 'So come in today for a great deal on car tires' or 'I hope you'll vote no on measure 31 because you love animals.'
If you cannot discover what the author wants of you as the reader, here are some questions you can ask yourself. Again, the answers will tell you the purpose of the persuasive piece.
- What does the author believe?
- What does he or she want me to do?
- If I agreed with the writer, what does that mean? What if I disagree?
The final characteristic of persuasive writing is the intended audience. This refers to the specific group of people to which the author is speaking. When identifying the intended audience, think about the specific types of people for which the author is writing. Most authors have a specific audience in mind when they write, and they tailor their message accordingly. Keep this in mind, as you may be a part of that audience and susceptible to the persuasive techniques the author will use to manipulate the reader.
For example, every four years we see commercials and read articles promoting a presidential candidate. The specific audience for these persuasive pieces includes all Americans over the age of 18, since you must be a citizen and an adult in order to vote. Furthermore, most of these will specify an even narrower audience, focusing on Democrats, Republicans, women, or some other demographic.
The main way to identify the intended audience is to discover who could be affected by this piece of writing. Here are several questions you can use to identify the intended audience of any persuasive text:
- Who would benefit from reading this?
- Who is able to do the action?
- Who is affected by this topic or issue?
To review, some pieces of writing are persuasive, which is any writing that aims to convince the reader to believe in something or do some action. In order to sufficiently interpret this type of text, identify the main idea, purpose, and intended audience.
- The main idea is the central concept or topic for the piece of writing. Reviewing the first and final paragraph will usually clarify the main idea.
- The purpose of persuasive writing is the reason the author is writing, which is the belief or the action the author wants to convince the reader to believe or do. Reviewing the final paragraph or looking for action words said to the reader will provide insight into the purpose.
- The intended audience is the group of people to which the author is speaking. To discover this, analyze who is affected by the topic or who is able to do the desired action.