Appealing to your audience with persuasive writing

The goal of persuasive writing is to get the reader to take action and can be used in any type of writing you do. When writing it’s important to consider your audience and medium; how you appeal to them will differ depending on where you’re reaching them.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. It is the technique that people use to inform, persuade, and motivate their audiences. There are three types of rhetoric writers can use to appeal to their audiences: logos, ethos, and pathos.

  • Logos: Appeals to the audience’s reason, building up logical arguments.
  • Ethos: Appeals to the speaker’s status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them.
  • Pathos: Appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic.

The next important consideration when writing persuasively is a Call to action (CTA). A CTA prompts readers to take an action like signing up, buying a product, leaving a response, sending a message, etc.

You’ll see calls to action in all marketing materials, from sales scripts to advertising messages to web pages to social media posts.

A CTA is usually:

  • An imperative sentence.
  • Uses active voice.
  • Encourages an action.
  • A positive statement.
  • Short and clear.
  • Front and centre.

Consider your audience

Who will be reading what you write? How will that change how you write it?

Your audience may change from post to post, and from medium to medium — there will be different audiences for social media, newsletters, emails, etc.

Considering your audience may change how you appeal to the reader, what call to action you use, the language you use (e.g the reading level, or the formality), the length of the piece, and what information is included.

It also may be helpful to formulate a persona for the audience. A persona is a fictional representation of an individual in your audience. Writing to a group of people can be difficult — sometimes it’s easier to think about one person and write for them. This is also handy for developing services and planning events. 

Make My Persona is a great online tool for developing a persona, or you can brainstorm on your own. A few elements to consider when developing a persona include:

  • Name: Pick a name appropriate to the age, gender and ethnicity of your persona.
  • Age: Choose an average, and consider your most common audience members.
  • Ethnicity/background & gender: Get specific! Create a character.
  • Choose a picture to represent your persona.
  • Goals: What goals or aspirations does your persona have? How will that affect your writing?
  • Values: What personal values does your persona hold?

Once you have formed a persona, then ask yourself: how would this person want information portrayed to them?

Persuasive writing in different media

When writing, you should consider how you will use rhetoric for each medium, and the best way to appeal to the audience you’ll be reaching.

For emails, you should have clear communication. This can save everyone a lot of time and strengthen your pitches. Most emails ask someone to act, and you want your ask to be persuasive.

When writing emails, your audience is varied and your strategy should change depending on the audience. The call to action should be in the email’s subject line (briefly) and the first sentence should clearly state your request. For rhetoric, it’s best to focus on logic (logos) and authority (ethos).

In this great video from Harvard Business Review, Jeff Su gives some actionable tips for improving your email etiquette, including how to make your emails more persuasive.

Newsletters, especially those sent through email, can be an incredibly effective communication and marketing tool because they are sent to people interested in and who care about your organization. 

It is important to note there could be many CTAs in an email newsletter; in print, the CTA may not be as obvious. But the rhetoric should focus on emotion and storytelling (pathos).

With websites, user behaviour is key to writing effective website content. Remember that you’re writing for both desktop and mobile — too many long stretches of words are hard to read on smaller screens. For both platforms, add headlines, subheads, and lists makes content easier to scan and read.

The website audience is people looking for information about the organization, so remember they already care enough to find your website and are intrigued by your information. Each page should have a call to action, often leading elsewhere on the website. For rhetoric, there are opportunities for logos, ethos, and pathos in the right places on a website.

Each social media channel has its own best practices to follow. On all platforms, write clearly and keep it short; always use an image or video, research hashtags you plan to use, and keep the tone friendly and professional.

  • Facebook: The audience is individuals; this platform doesn’t use hashtags.
  • Instagram: The audience is individuals and organizations; high-quality photos are critical; there are no links; use hashtags liberally.
  • X (Twitter): The audience is individuals and organizations; use hashtags sparingly due to word count limitations.
  • LinkedIn: The audience is individuals with a business focus; use hashtags, but not too many.

Improving and supporting your writing practice

There are plenty of ways to support and improve your writing practice; here are a few free tools and resources for supporting your writing practice.

  • ChatGPT: Good for proofreading, reading level, brainstorming, and researching.*
  • Grammarly: Solid grammar support and also a good source of grammar content.
  • Twitter Character Counter: A simple tool that helps you write X posts that fit the word count.
  • Grammar Girl: A great resource for learning more about writing and learning grammar rules.

*It’s important to remember that the content AI writes tends to be wordy, repetitive, overly descriptive, and lacking personality. If you use AI to write, be critical of the output, and expect to refine and expand on it, as though you are a substantive editor.

Key takeaways

Writing is a craft and skill you can improve. Using tools like logos, ethos and pathos to appeal to readers can improve your ability to persuade the readers.

Also, your writing should include a call to action — a direct request for the reader to perform. The reader should clearly understand what action you want them to take.

Finally, consider your audience, and try writing to a particular person or persona. This makes it easier to relate to the audience, thus making it easier to apply a certain style or rhetoric to your writing.