Want to Sharpen Your Persuasive Writing Skills?

Girl smiles while doing homework
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This 5th-grade assignment shows you how. Can you do it?

A few months ago, I found one of my son’s old fifth-grade school assignments. The directions read, Create a thoughtful, one-page advertisement that shows the dangers of smoking. There was a specific list of items the advert had to include.

You may find yourself dismissing a grade school assignment as mild amusement. After all, it’s the stuff of childhood nostalgia — lunchroom antics, art projects, chalk dust (for some of us), and the unadulterated joy of summer vacation.

Let me assure you, it’s much more.

The assignment broke down the components of persuasive content. Make no mistake. Every piece of content hinges its success on its ability to persuade. It could be as subtle as convincing the reader to stick around to read the next sentence or as forthright as a bold call to action.

Whatever your moniker — writer, business owner, entrepreneur, marketer, salesperson — the basics of persuasive strategy isn’t an ought-to-know . . . it’s a must-know.

If you want to ensure your efforts are worthy of an A grade, don’t skimp on the assignment’s three required elements:

1. A Catchy Title

A headline is the single most important component of your marketing piece and serves several functions:

  • It’s a reader’s first encounter with you or your brand.
  • It’s a promise of what’s inside.
  • It grabs a person’s attention and will (hopefully) get them to read the next sentence.

Have you ever heard of the 3–30–3 rule? A person will give your content about three seconds of their time. In those moments he or she will determine if it’s worth more. If yes, your reader will give your article/ad/email/web page/booklet 30 additional seconds. If they continue to find it compelling, you will get roughly three more minutes. After that, comes the moment of truth when they will decide to read it more thoroughly or scrap it.

Guess where those critical first three seconds are spent? That’s right, your irresistible title.

2. The 3 Greeks

Pathos. Pathos represents an appeal to a reader’s emotion. There are many different ways you can achieve this. Using stories, creating a metaphor, or calling attention to powerful feelings such as insecurity, doubt, love, fear, vanity, curiosity, or nostalgia are all quite effective. Concluding calls-to-action (CTAs) often use pathos. Extra credit point: can you find where I used pathos in this article?

Logos. Many argue that using emotion to lead someone to make a decision (e.g. spending money) is manipulative. This is why logos is important. To the Ancient Greeks, logos is an appeal to logic and reason. These are the facts, the analysis, and the sensible reasoning portion of a communication piece. Reputable sources, case studies, success stories, white papers, frequently asked questions (FAQ) pages, content-driven sell sheets — these are all ways to position your solution as the logical answer.

Ethos. Let’s imagine a reader has been touched emotionally and agrees with the logic of the marketing message. Without ethos, that reader may take their consumer intentions to another company. Ethos is an appeal to credibility. Your credibility. If you don’t give a prospect proof of your expertise and character, your credibility will be questioned. Achieve ethos with testimonials, success stories, blogs, articles, speaking engagements, and coordinated branding.

3. Visual Appeal

Images are powerful. They add instant depth and personality to a communication piece and serve as a visual magnet to a potential reader’s eyeballs, heart, and mind. Many people don’t realize that font or typeface also fall into this category.

In the absence of pictures, typeface becomes your imagery. Typeface conveys a mood and a feeling. If your business is selling tractors to a construction outfit, a light, billowy script won’t be appropriate. When evaluating your typeface choices, set your own preferences aside and consider what your customers would like.

Class dismissed!