Structure and tone—Persuasive writing #4

Structure and tone

How you put your pitch together is crucial. You need to get the structure and the language right if you want to turn your reader’s head and then keep them looking. If you have the other elements in play (facts, understanding and motivation), you don’t want to blow your opportunity for a result by poor construction.

The opener

Start strongly. You need to make an impression from the beginning. Imagine you have only 30 seconds of their time before they put your appeal aside. Maybe they’ll pick it up later, but maybe they won’t. Don’t take that risk.

Using what you know of your reader, think what would work best as an opener. A fact? A personal anecdote? A direct appeal? If you know what they are used to seeing, perhaps try something different. You want it to register.

Choosing and placing words

Keep your language as simple as possible. It does not talk down to your audience. Remember, you want this to be read, to be understood and to generate a response. If your subject is technically difficult, instead of tricking up language with jargon or density, give it space to let the reader reflect. The more complex the topic, the plainer the language needs to be.

Use a mix of short and long sentences. This allows the reader to absorb detail without being overwhelmed. A full stop is a chance to rest. The sentences should follow each other, linking logically. Similarly, paragraphs—look at the final sentence of each paragraph and make sure it links to the first sentence of the next. Keep paragraphs short and be sure to only introduce one concept or cluster of ideas in each.

No surprises

Let your reader see what lies ahead. Helping them to link the elements together draws them inescapably to the conclusion, your conclusion. Build your momentum. Repeating a phrase or term is a good way to do this. You want your reader to think ‘Yes,’ or ‘I see it,’ or ‘This makes sense,’ by the time they reach the end.

Keeping your reader onside means no surprises. You don’t want to trigger anxiety. And you are not writing a whodunit so leave your reader with closing words which recap your position.

No mistakes

Finally, keep it clean. Grammatical mistakes look careless. And you care. If you can’t be sure about getting this right, ask for a second opinion.

This has been my last instalment of the persuasive writing masterclass, giving you tools for writing prose to persuade. You can read more at www.yourseconddraft.com. I’d love to hear thoughts on it and other writing techniques you would like to learn more about or have found useful.

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