Developing Persuasive Writing Strategies
About this Strategy Guide
This strategy guide describes the techniques used in effective persuasive writing and shares activities you can use to help students understand and use persuasion in their writing and critical thinking.
Effective persuasion depends upon attention to the audience throughout the writing process. Simply following a traditional formula will not necessarily result in good persuasive writing. Students need to investigate how audience and purpose affect persuasive writing to arrive at persuasive strategies that work. Formulas are only part of the process. Fran Claggett explains, “We must not depend on artificial structures that ultimately reduce the act of composition to formulaic practices” (3). Persuasion requires a wider understanding of how to use a formula as a guide, modifying it strategically to fit the needs of the audience and purpose.
Strategy in Practice
Persuasion is the process of one person trying to convince someone to do something. A writer might try to persuade someone to take an action, to support a cause, or to change a habit. Regardless of the purpose, the general process for writing a persuasive text begins with thinking about determining the reader’s feelings on the topic and then deciding what it will take to convince that reader to act. Here are some strategies you can use to help students become effective persuasive writers:
- Analyze persuasive texts from your class textbook or other media like political speeches and letters to the editor. Ask students to identify the audience and purpose for the text. The Purpose and Audience Analysis sheet includes some questions that you can use as part of your analysis.
- Choose authentic writing assignments that give students a real-world audience to communicate with and a real-world goal to work toward. The more concrete and real an assignment is, the better. Such authentic writing activities help students write more effectively because their intended readers are real people whom they can identify and their goals are real things that they hope to accomplish.
- Ask students to analyze the audience and purpose for their persuasive writing. Use the Basic Questions about Audience and/or the Purpose and Audience Analysis sheet to guide students’ analyses. Challenge students to identify specific details about their readers and to think carefully about how characteristics of those readers relate to their purpose.
- Review the general structure for persuasive writing, using the Persuasion Map Planning Sheet.
- Students can use the Persuasion Map to organize and expand their ideas. Explain that the tool may not fit every persuasive text that they will write. For some audiences and purposes, they will have more reasons than will fit in the tool. Other times, they may have fewer reasons. Remind them that the tool helps them gather their notes and does not have to be a strict outline.
- Incorporate peer review activities. Have students explain whom their readers are and what goals they want to accomplish. Ask peer reviewers to think about how convincing the text will be for the intended readers and goal. If appropriate for the assignment, you can use the Letter to the Editor Peer Review Questions or the Endorsement Letter Peer Review Questions to guide students’ review.
- Publish students’ work. Deliver students’ texts to their intended readers, when possible. If students have written letters to the editor of the school newspaper, for example, send them on to the newspaper. Seeing their writing actually persuade someone gives students a better understanding of the power of persuasion. Likewise, if they see that their writing fails to convince their readers, they can be motivated to work harder to identify the characteristics of their audience and to ensure that their text is more effective.
Encourage students to pay attention to the persuasion that they encounter in their daily lives—from commercials and ads to passages from the literature they read in and out of class. Bring this range and variety to the assignments you use as well. If students recognize the power of effective persuasive writing in and out of the classroom, they will better understand why learning to build persuasive arguments is valuable.