Some of what I learned in teaching persuasive writing
1. Emphasize the connection between audience interests and client objectives
2. Everybody needs to get better at punctuation and proofreading
I just finished teaching a new course in persuasive writing at the Sage College of Albany called “Writing to Persuade and Get Paid.”
My plan was to give the class members an opportunity to explore and practice the different writing styles, approaches and mindsets needed to succeed in advertising, public relations, marketing and website applications.
One size does not fit all when you are writing to persuade. Approaches that work in advertising will not work in public relations or as website content. Approaches geared for mass audiences such as those used in advertising, public relations and websites are generally not effective for the narrow-focus writing required for marketing plans and business proposals. Each genre requires good, competent writing, but each has specific requirements that are different from the others.
Advertising has to be intrusive and attention-getting because it needs to grab your audiences’ attention away from all the other persuasive messages that are competing for their attention. It also has to overcome their reluctance to be the target of unwanted advertising.
Writing for public relations may not call for as much verbal flamboyance as advertising, but it requires an understanding of newsworthiness and relationship building.
Marketing plans and business proposals need to provide a compelling, credible story that shows (not just explains) why your product, service, business or idea is going to provide tangible and emotionally satisfying rewards if your target audience takes the action you are advocating.
Website content is different from the three types of writing described above in that it is usually something your target audience is actively searching for, so instead of needing to convince reluctant audiences to pay attention, your job is to reward time-pressured and frustrated searchers for having found what they have been looking for.
In each case, you need to understand your audiences’ objectives as well as your own. And you achieve your greatest success when you understand that fulfilling your audiences’ objectives is the most certain route to achieving your own.
The first semester of a new course is always a learning process for the teacher as well as the students. This was intended to be a course for good writers and those who wanted to become better writers. It turned out that although the class attracted students who definitely wanted to become better writers, we needed to spend a lot of effort working our way toward “good.”
While we were able to cover the basic writing formats and strategies for the different writing genres, the most valuable lessons involved studying up on punctuation and proofreading rather than persuasion.
Since we are being alliterative, it might be apropos to call it a prioritization process. Proper punctuation and proofreading are prerequisites for persuasion.