Since the beginning of time, humans have spent a great deal of time trying to persuade each other to do something. As time progressed, a certain structure developed that still works today. Let’s look at an easy to remember structure you can use for any form of persuasive writing.
First, consider this. When you tell a joke, it follows a certain structure. Frequently, they start with a three part structure, such as “A lawyer, judge, and paralegal headed to a pub” (the first two parts are pretty similar), but the third thing is where something unexpected (and funny) takes place.
The same applies to writing. There is a good chance that you learned to take a journalistic approach to writing term papers and essays, referred to as an inverted pyramid, when you were in high school. Using this approach, you start with the most important point and add your details below.
Remember, this is a journalistic approach to writing that was designed specifically for newspapers. In newspapers, if there is only limited space available, the last few paragraphs are often cut out. So, the inverted pyramid is perfect…if you want your readers to lose interest and stop reading somewhere in the middle.
You have to use a different structure when you are writing with the intend of persuading someone.
The 4 P’s of Persuasion
Persuasive writing is structured akin to a joke. You build up to a climax that is intended to evoke a response. Now, this doesn’t mean that your beginning isn’t important. In fact, it is crucial that you immediately capture your reader’s attention. That’s why the beginning gets its very own P.
Most writers start by attempting to get their reader in a certain mood, whether that is happy, angry, motivated, sad, or whatever else. While this works well for poetry, it is not worth your time when you are completing persuasive writing.
When persuasive writing, you have to identify something your reader wants and promise it to them. To determine what your reader wants, you have to have a real understanding of your audience. This is going to require that you do a bit of research to determine exactly what their interests are.
Then, you make your promise, but be sure that it is a promise you will be able to keep.
This requires the use of your creativity in order to create a mental image for your reader. Let’s take a minute and consider descriptive writing. When you hear the word “beautiful”, what do you think of? What about the word “great”? These words mean something different from one reader to another so it is entirely impossible to picture.
This is why using descriptions such as “great service” or a “beautiful assortment” are completely ineffective. Yes, your service may be great or your assortment beautiful, but these are not words that suggest a vivid image.
Instead, you should describe specific details that actually make your assortment beautiful or give tangible examples of great service. The more precise your description is, the easier it will be for your reader to picture what you are trying to say.
When you are stating your case, you have to present specific statements as fact. Rhetoricians, otherwise known as people who like to argue, refer to these statements as “claims.” This requires that your reader shelves his or her current thoughts long enough for you to prove your claim’s truth.
How you prove your claim is dependent on your audience. For some audiences, testimonials persuade, while other audiences, such as scientists, may require hard data and independent studies from experts. One of the best ways to prove something works is by giving an explanation of how it works. You can use everything from statistics to before and after pictures and case studies to prove your point.
Some people opt to eliminate this step, but this is a huge risk. While people make decisions based on their emotions, they then require proof to justify them.
Never assume anything! You have to be specific about what your reader should do next. This is critical because if you make your reader try to figure out something for themselves, it often results in a moment of hesitation that can lead to confusion. Confusion always equals NO.
How do you go for the sale? One of the easiest and most effective techniques involves providing dual conversion paths. For example,
- Provide a “Buy Now” button for those who are ready to purchase.
- Underneath “Buy Now” place “hesitation text” for those who aren’t quite convinced it is time to buy. You may link this to a fact sheet, signup form that provides additional information by email, or a number to call for more info. This gives you another chance to persuade.
Designing a path
Persuasive copywriting is similar to building a train track. However, you use paragraphs, sentences, and words instead of rails, spikes, and cross-ties. Just as a person building a train track wants to create an effortless, smooth path, a copywriter needs to do the same for their reader.
A final thought
There is both a science and an art to persuasion. Even when you use the right structure, there is a chance your copywriting could fail to persuade. We recommend taking an analytical approach where you run tests and measure the changes. Copywriting is very much an iterative process. Even after all our years of experience we still need to do rewrites of text over time.