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Persuasive Writing

3:14 am on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I commenting on Persuasive Writing as a result of another thread. I don't really want to hold myself up as an expert but it has been a skill that I've tried to learn. I would like to hear how others go about it.

Here is how I approach a topic. I first try to analyze my own viewpoint (or my clients). I try to see if the viewpoint is based on emotion or reason.

I don't write for a sympathetic audience. The real target is those who need to be persuaded. I try to think the issue through with an open mind. I try to stay away from starting with a conclusion and just gathering facts that prove my conclusion.

I also try to remember that debatable topics exist because there is no one right answer. My chief goal often is to convince the people to think about my viewpoint. To bolster my argument I try to present the arguements reasonably.

Here's an example. I've commented on spam. I try to persuade people that legislation will fail because the problem is largely outside the jurisdiction of the US. The majority of the most hated spam is coming from outside our borders. I try to focus the solution as a technical problem. What most anti-spammers want could be accomplished with changes to the current email standard.

I don't know if I persuade or just generate more heat than light, but people are at least hearing a different point of view. If you'll notice I try to stay with short paragraphs, active voice and present tense.

How do others try to persuade?

3:47 am on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I read books on critical thinking. I have one web site that has information on holistic health treatments for a set of a certain type of health problems. Of course it goes against the grain of many surgeon and hospital sites on the same subject that tend to advocate surgery and drug treatments and ignore the role of nutrition or exercise.

In some cases there are actually more research studies supporting my ideas than there are the conventional medical treatments. It's pretty cool with the Internet because I can just link to the studies I want to in medical databases and people can read for themselves the research that supports my ideas and contradicts what is on the conventional medical sites.

One book I have on critical thinking has a list of things to look for when people make invalid assumptions - they may be biased, they may have a finacial stake in a particular outcome, they may be mistaking cause and effect for what is merely a statistical association, they may be basing their claims on insufficient evidence, etc. I use these guidelines to compare the conventional medical sites dogma against actual research and point out where the dogma is incorrect, biased, jumping to conclusions, etc.

I also point out how holistic therapies have helped me personally and support this with links to research studies validating the holistic approach. Its great when I find a supportive nutrition article in a major medical journal. I also point out the cost vs benefits of holistic approaches conpared to having surgery where one of the downsides is instant death.

I didn't know how people would respond to my site when I first put it up, but I have many pages in the Directhit top ten and I've gotten thousands of really nice emails over the past few years, so I think my technique of persuasion through critical thinking has worked well for my site. I think this has been especially true for Google users who tend to be more intelligent and can appreciate logical arguments.

6:00 am on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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My take on writing for a web site.

- Get to the point immediately or they click away.
- The copy should be crystal clear. At a glance surfers should know what you have and why they need it.
- No cute stuff. No puns. No clever turns of a phrase. No humor. If it takes an extra nanosecond for the surfer to understand your point, he's gone.

10:11 am on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Many of the sites I linger on have captured my attention wih witty and funny copy. Concise sites are often are used and abused. Take the information and go.

I do think that people appreciate you taking the time to reach out to them during a sale. Its a pretty simple concept, smile and people smile with you.


3:26 pm on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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4:12 pm on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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<jest>The two word phrase "or else" can also be persuasive</jest>

"ORDER your XXX(keyword) TOLL-FREE at 1(800)123-4567."

On many products we put the toll-free number as part of the meta description so it appears in the search results. Capitalizing ORDER and TOLL FREE attracts the eye to those two terms. (It's also a way to logically repeat your keyword in the description.)

The thought behind this is that many people surf the internet at work but are reluctant to place an online order at their Company's computer. They may, however, pick up the office phone and call toll-free to order.
At any rate, the toll-free number is there for them to jot down whenever they return to the search results without having to go back into our site to find it. We always prefer a call from the customer as telephone sales conversions are 70-80% with additional products being sold to them as well.

4:48 pm on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Being a journalist, I have alwyas found the way we write is pretty good for Web copy too:

You start by covering your 4 'W's: Who, what, where, when. I might add how, why... That's your first paragraph. Not surprisingly, it is also the first paragraph that's the most important in view of SERPs.

The rest of your copy should be interesting, concise, witty -why not- or criticizing - give them something to think about. (the latter especially when your site has a lot of informative content as in an e-zine).

The 'special' about the Web is IMMHO, that you should put even more weight on the first para than journalists are accustomed to.

My two pennies...

6:15 pm on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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When writing persuasive copy, I find it works to:

1) Use a conversational tone. You aren't writing an essay... you're "talking" to a potential customer. Don't talk down to them, and don't talk like a salesman. Talk as if you are their own "inner voice".

2) Use a logical progression. Start with an idea (them purchasing your product, etc.), move on to address negative issues while emphasizing positive benefits. Conclude with a call to action.

3) Use "magic words". Words like "free", "you", "refund", etc.

7:17 pm on Aug 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

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They key for me has always been to focus on BENEFITS.

What will my product/information do for them? How will it help them fulfill their needs?

Also, I always try to gain a generic image of the person I'm writing to - an example of my target audience - and write as if I were talking to him and according to what I think he will want to know or hear.


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