What is effective writing?
Effective writing is writing that enables the author to achieve a desired goal or produce a specific outcome. We prefer the term “effective writing” rather than “good writing” because the latter can be so subjective. That means effective writing isn’t just clear and well-structured; it’s persuasive .
In turn, writing persuasive content means understanding how to create a document so that it meets reader needs, is useful, and helps readers access the information they need when they need it. In the end, that’s the only way to get a reader to change his/her mind or to take a desired action.
The idea behind persuasion is that readers make judgments about the writer and about the company or organization based on the written documents we generate. You can probably think of a document or two that you’ve read and thought, “Wow! That organization can’t even put together a decent letter; I’m not going to do business with them!”
It goes without saying that effective writing needs to be competent and professional, but that’s not necessarily sufficient . Effective writing requires using the right persuasive techniques too.
What are the top three persuasive techniques?
To make your writing persuasive, keep these three keys in mind:
- Argue your case with strong evidence and clear logic.
- Present yourself as credible, competent, and cooperative.
- Generate positive emotions in your readers.
Argue your case with strong evidence and clear logic
You need to present to your readers the hard facts and information they need— and no more. This means that you must look at your writing from your readers’ point of view: What information are they looking for to make a decision or to understand a situation? Do they need facts and figures? Do they need to see dollar amounts and schedules? Do they need some history of the situation or some background? Do they wish to know the opinions of experts other than yourself?
In addition to presenting all the necessary facts, your role is to interpret for your readers. This demands that you draw logical, clearly explained conclusions from that information. Sometimes a simple chart, graph, or table is the most logical way to present and interpret information. Sometimes, you’ll need to write a paragraph that explains how the facts are connected and what conclusions they lead to. Your conclusions must be logical and unexaggerated, your cause-and-effect claims must be sensible, and you must acknowledge counter-arguments and deal with them fairly.
Strong evidence and logical thinking are the first key to persuasive, effective writing.
Present yourself as credible, competent, and cooperative
Some professionals believe that fact-based, reasonable argument or explanation is enough of a persuasive technique to convince readers. It’s not. You must also make your readers believe in you. They must believe that you are honest and reliable, that you’ve done your best to gather all relevant information and to interpret it fairly, and that you have their best interests at heart.
- First, you must satisfy your readers’ need for information and logic (see Key #1). If you fail to do this, you’ve already lost your readers’ confidence.
- Second, your writing should adopt an appropriate tone. In most cases, you want to come across as confident and knowledgeable but not condescending or know-it-all. You want to suggest a “we’re all in this together” rather than an adversarial, defensive, or superior attitude.
- Third, your writing should be clear, correct, and straightforward. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but writing that is clear, concise, and precise will make you appear competent, believable, and considerate. Sloppy writing and pompous or jargon-filled language will have the opposite effect.
Generate positive emotions in your reader
Some people assume that effective writing doesn’t deal in emotion, and it’s true that the sad-eyed-little-orphan or precious-puppy school of writing that you might find in a mailer from a nonprofit organization asking for donations isn’t appropriate in most business contexts. But even in a straightforward business proposal or corporate report, you’ll be generating some kind of emotional response in your readers, intentionally or not. Your readers, after all, aren’t robots.
Obviously, you don’t want to generate anger, frustration, disappointment, disgust, boredom, or apathy in your readers. If your document displays poor writing, tangled organization, confusing design, weak evidence, poor logic, or an offensive tone, it might generate any or all of these negative emotions.
However, a well-researched, well-written, thoughtfully designed, and well-meaning document will generate any number of positive emotions in your readers: pleasure, satisfaction, confidence, interest, and goodwill, for example. Occasionally (rarely), a business document might even dip its toes in the pond of humor. But only occasionally, for the right readers.
The Art of Persuasion and Effective Writing
We must give credit where credit is due: The idea that the art of persuasion depends on evidence and logic, the writer’s credibility, and the generation of positive emotions really goes back thousands of years—all the way to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He called these concepts logos (logic/evidence), ethos (credibility/goodwill), and pathos (emotion). Thank you, Aristotle—your ideas are still alive and well and helping business writers persuade readers in the 21st Century.
With the persuasive techniques pioneered by Aristotle and outlined in this article, writers can generate documents that readers will find to be trustworthy, and compelling.
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