Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques

Want to convince your readers to do something or agree with your point of view?

OK, that was a silly question. Of course you do.

Persuasion is generally an exercise in creating a win-win situation. You present a case that others find beneficial to agree with. You make them an offer they can’t refuse, but not in the manipulative Godfather sense.

It’s simply a good deal or a position that makes sense to that particular person.

But there are techniques that can make your job easier and your case more compelling. While this list is in no way comprehensive, these 10 strategies are used quite a bit because they work.

Repetition

Talk to anyone well versed in learning psychology, and they’ll tell you repetition is crucial. It’s also critical in persuasive writing, since a person can’t agree with you if they don’t truly get what you’re saying.

Of course, there’s good repetition and bad. To stay on the good side, make your point in several different ways, such as directly, using an example, in a story, via a quote from a famous person, and once more in your summary.

Reasons Why

Remember the power of the word because. Psychological studies have shown that people are more likely to comply with a request if you simply give them a reason why… even if that reason makes no sense.

The strategy itself does make sense if you think about it. We don’t like to be told things or asked to take action without a reasonable explanation. When you need people to be receptive to your line of thinking, always give reasons why.

Consistency

It’s been called the “hobgoblin of little minds,” but consistency in our thoughts and actions is a valued social trait. We don’t want to appear inconsistent, since, whether fair or not, that characteristic is associated with instability and flightiness, while consistency is associated with integrity and rational behavior.

Use this in your writing by getting the reader to agree with something up front that most people would have a hard time disagreeing with. Then rigorously make your case, with plenty of supporting evidence, all while relating your ultimate point back to the opening scenario that’s already been accepted.

Social Proof

Looking for guidance from others as to what to do and what to accept is one of the most powerful psychological forces in our lives. It can determine whether we deliver aid to a person in need, and it can determine whether we muster the courage to kill ourselves.

Obvious examples of social proof can be found in testimonials and outside referrals, and it’s the driving force behind social media. But you can also casually integrate elements of social proof in your writing, ranging from skillful alignment with outside authorities to blatant name dropping.

Comparisons

Metaphors, similes and analogies are the persuasive writer’s best friends. When you can relate your scenario to something that the reader already accepts as true, you’re well on your way to convincing someone to see things your way.

But comparisons work in other ways too. Sometimes you can be more persuasive by comparing apples to oranges (to use a tired but effective metaphor). Don’t compare the price of your home study course to the price of a similar course—compare it to the price of a live seminar or your hourly consulting rate.

Agitate and Solve

This is a persuasion theme that works as an overall approach to making your case. First, you identify the problem and qualify your audience. Then you agitate the reader’s pain before offering your solution as the answer that will make it all better.

The agitation phase is not about being sadistic; it’s about empathy. You want the reader to know unequivocally that you understand his problem because you’ve dealt with it and/or are experienced at eliminating it. The credibility of your solution goes way up if you demonstrate that you truly feel the prospect’s pain.

Prognosticate

Another persuasion theme involves providing your readers with a glimpse into the future. If you can convincingly present an extrapolation of current events into likely future outcomes, you may as well have a license to print money.

This entire strategy is built on credibility. If you have no idea what you’re talking about, you’ll end up looking foolish. But if you can back up your claims with your credentials or your obvious grasp of the subject matter, this is an extremely persuasive technique.

Go Tribal

Despite our attempts to be sophisticated, evolved beings, we humans are exclusionary by nature. Give someone a chance to be a part of a group that they want to be in—whether that be wealthy, or hip, or green, or even contrarian—and they’ll hop on board whatever train you’re driving.

This is the technique used in the greatest sales letter ever written. Find out what group people want to be in, and offer them an invitation to join while seemingly excluding others.

Address Objections

If you present your case and someone is left thinking “yeah, but…”, well, you’ve lost. This is why direct marketers use long copy—it’s not that they want you to read it all, it’s that they want you to read enough until you buy.

Addressing all the potential objections of at least the majority of your readers can be tough, but if you really know your subject the arguments against you should be fairly obvious. If you think there are no reasonable objections to your position, you’re in for a shock if you have comments enabled.

Storytelling

Storytelling is really a catch-all technique—you can and should use it in combination with any and all of the previous nine strategies. But the reason why storytelling works so well lies at the heart of what persuasion really is.

Stories allow people to persuade themselves, and that’s what it’s really all about. You might say that we never convince anyone of anything—we simply help others independently decide that we’re right. Do everything you can to tell better stories, and you’ll find that you are a terribly persuasive person.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (242)

  1. says

    Brian,

    This is flat-out one of the best posts you’ve ever written.

    One of the best posts I’ve ever read, for that matter.

    This incredibly useful information is immediately being printed out and taped to my wall.

    Thanks,

    – Mason

  2. says

    Yeah, I’m spreading this around to my friends in sales and marketing. Thanks for all the links back to older content, too. I haven’t been reading the site faithfully for very long, so that’s helping me catch up with the gems that have been posted earlier.

  3. says

    Wonderful post! I think the storytelling approach is one of the best. Readers of any background or age group can get into a good story and if it’s about how the writer (the normal guy/gal) sticks it to “the man” or “the system”, all the better. If “the man” or “the system” has horribly wronged the writer to some unbelievable degree, that works just as well. Thanks for the great info once again.

  4. says

    Regarding consistency, when I read this post I couldn’t help remembering with a smile the characters in the movie Next Stop Wonderland. They reminded us that what Emerson actually said was that only “foolish” consistencies are the hobgoblins of little minds. The kinds of consistencies you describe are the good and useful kind.

    Thanks for a great list. Very practical and, like the others, I’ll be taping it to the wall

  5. says

    They reminded us that what Emerson actually said was that only “foolish” consistencies are the hobgoblins of little minds.

    Ahhh… it’s moments like this when I regain my faith in humanity. Very smart recollection, David.

  6. says

    I’m gonna have to agree with the tribe, this is one of the finer posts of all time.

    The comparison portion was worth the cost of admission all by itself.

    Great info, great intra-links, great all around.

  7. says

    Brian;

    Well done!

    Many of these persuasive strategies are used in the development of white papers (although perhaps with different names like trends rather that social proof).

    As usual you show your grasp of persuasion with elegance.

    Mike

  8. freddie says

    This post is like the cliff-notes of marketing! You just cost the gurus a lot of book sales, cd sales, membership and conference fees :) All you need to know is right here.

  9. says

    I’m a big believer in the rule of threes. Typically, people believe something if they hear if from three different sources. Keep that in mind when attempting to write persuasively and it will give you an advantage.

  10. says

    I forget to really tie the reader back in during the ending. Thank you for the most crucial and important reminder.

    You are like a waterfall of constant inspiration. thanks

  11. says

    Great post. Like you said, these are things we already know, but it’s always good to be reminded.

    Your point on consistency is supported by the fact we elected an idiot to be President, twice, because the masses assumed his consistent message meant that the man had integrity and was rational.

  12. everthonVS says

    i totally disagree with you, so this techniques didn’t really work…

    just kidding… :) it’s a great post!

  13. says

    “Don’t compare the price of your home study course to the price of a similar course—compare it to the price of a live seminar or your hourly consulting rate.”

    In some cases, you can also compare it to the cost of NOT buying the home study course (or whatever your product is).

  14. says

    Brian, this is one of the best articles I have come across on the topic of Copywriting. I like your site and am definitely going to read the previous stuff.. Peace

  15. says

    Excellent post! We have learned to use these techniques over the years, but to have them all tied together is a precious gift. Thanks!

  16. says

    It’s a great list, but why do you seem to never have numbers beside your Top X lists? I don’t know about others, but its nice to know which number I’m on so that I know how many I have left to read.

  17. says

    Hello Brian,
    what you are telling here is really intresting, do you know where this is coming from? 😉 It is NLP (the other side of that self-healing stuff). Things like the use of negation (your unconsciousness does not recognise it) and storytelling (hypnosis, works also on single&flirt-websites^^), the use of “but” (it changes the meaning of the sentence before) a.s.o. All that is really interesting and it can be dangerous, but if you really have to persuade people, this stuff works – it is the dark side of the force. I’ve tried about a year in my main job and everyday conversations and I’ve been frighten about myself.
    Please excuse my english, I just can read it good 😉

  18. anonymous says

    this would really boost my english essays… you’ve done a good deed to the nation or perhaps … the world ! 😛

  19. says

    Having re-read it since it was first published, I noticed I still have learned something new. An awesome article. Thanks.

  20. says

    Then you agitate the reader’s pain before offering your solution as the answer that will make it all better.
    This sounds very much like Churchill. “Social proof”, anyone?

    Anyway, thanks for the tips!

  21. says

    This is a good site but i suggest that this website needs a catergory of some samples of persuasive writing so it gives students the potential for them to understand persuasive writing and give them the oppotunity to express what persuasive writing they have in mind.

    so yeah this is my suggestion of this website thank-you to allthe people who are reading my comment.

    Mahonri.Manaia

  22. Thomas says

    What writer, would be so kind, as to assist those who compete with him? Apparently, you have such grace of character, that you are able to resist the vanity inherent in writing. Thank you, for your surprisingly objective insights, and unexpected compassions.

  23. Sharon B says

    I’m a student, and this article here has been a big help in my persuasive letter writing. Thank you so much. ; )

  24. says

    This is really a great posts and I really learn a lot from the techniques shared here about persuasive writing. I would use these techniques to attract readers to my site.

  25. Martin Turow says

    Nice post. There are even more you left out.
    Can you reference the psychological study you found which shows that telling people the reason why increases compliance? That doesn’t ring true for me. Personally, if someone tells me the “reason why” and it “makes no sense,” then I’m even less likely to comply, and it strengthens my resolve to keep not complying. Even with kids, I some point you have to give up giving reasons and say, “Because I said so.”

  26. says

    Martin, there’s a link for you to follow at “makes no sense” that provides the source of the study and the actual results.

  27. Quetzalcoatl says

    I am applauding you on this end in the most worshipful manner I can muster.

  28. Ricardo from Chile says

    I found this post and I thought to my self, wow, this is the best resume that a journalist could ever had on how doing his job. My profession? Guess what?

  29. Fabulous @_@ says

    These tips seriously have to be the Ten Commandments of Persuasive Writing.
    I can definatly score a 6 on my Eng 12 speach w/ these techniques.
    Thks ;D

  30. says

    Getting all the objections can be hard especially if you are attached to the product yourself. I find it’s good if you ask people directly “Why wouldn’t you buy this?” and to ask myself that question too.

  31. says

    I find too much repetition annoying. Some of these sales messages go on for pages until your eyes glaze over.
    Better than sleeping pills for insomniacs!

  32. says

    We all want more success, don’t we?

    We all want to be respected and stay ethical, right?

    Well that’s what real persuasive copywriting is all about.

    Reaching out to the clients needs and showing them how our product will meet or benefit those needs, without disrespecting them or powerselling them.

    Good copywriting is the essence of success when you are selling something and I found these tips definately helpful.

  33. says

    Hi! thanks for such a nice post, its very informative but the best thing i found in it and story telling and i believe in word of mouth marketing as it results best in the long run….any way keep it up….cheers!!!

  34. says

    I liked the Tribal thing. The people living in the western United states only 250 years ago were all totally tribal.

    I didn’t understand that “because” is such a powerful word but I will try using it more just because.
    Rick

  35. says

    This is a great article. It would have been extremely beneficial if I knew all this information before I got started myself.

    Great Job!

  36. says

    Hey Brian,

    A story tied in with other persuasive techniques results in the ultimate writing.

    A personal story can show your experience and results – social proof. Your experience also acts as a prognosis for the reader’s future: if I could do it, so can you, and here’s how.

    If your story is an amplified version of yourself, you go tribal and become super-relatable to those similar to you.

    Add to the mix agitating and solving their problem while addressing any objections they have, and your writing becomes insanely persuasive.

    Great tips Brian, they’re indeed timeless and will be used in whatever form writing evolves to next after blogging,
    Oleg

  37. says

    I got to agree this is one the best posts I have seen since I found copyblogger. It really strikes at the heart of what we all are trying to do “influence the reader to a point of action” very well done.

  38. says

    I forget to really tie the reader back in during the ending. Thank you for the most crucial and important reminder.

    You are like a waterfall of constant inspiration. thanks

  39. annabel says

    wow thanks so much for this!! really helped me with my english assignment!! they’re seriously good tips! thanks a million, maybe now I will pass college!

  40. says

    Bingo! Your insight is spot on & inspires to write with a purpose, which sometimes gets lost in the assignment or deadline to produce a well written, persuasive piece. Thank you copyblogger again (and again) for providing valuable and motivational copy for all writers!

  41. Sami D. says

    Oh! this is really like a God`s gift for novice students like me. really thank you Brian!

  42. says

    Nice post, thanks. The idea of storytelling (your last point) is a really important one.

    Lots of people make sense of the world through political or religious narratives. And in their personal lives, people love casting themselves as the hero, villain or love interest depending on their circumstances. Just listen to people talking on their cell phones next time you’re out in town!

    So stories are potentially very powerful tools for copywriters. If you can deliver you copy messages through a well-written story, you can make strong emotional connections with your readers. And that’s got to be a good thing. . .

  43. Vanessa says

    Thank you so much for your help! This should really improve my GCSE English grade.

  44. says

    Found the article on Ten Timeless Persuasive writing techniques to be very good. Even though I’m a professional copywriter, I think the tips will help me write with even more persuasive impact.

  45. says

    I appreciate your ideas so much. I’m a content writer and writing content for 5 years. I used to take 1 hrs for write a article but now your technique would be more useful for me.

  46. says

    I also know one of the best Japanese proverb: ” No One Ca Do this, so I am Sure I will DO this” well with this attitude thay made country very good in very recent time. nice article

  47. says

    This was great! You’re right, there are sooooo many ways to be persuasive. One thing that I do (when it fits) is to take a subject or idea that I’m attempting to share and dramatize it. Exaggerate it. It helps to get a point across. For example, a friend of mine just wrote a great radio ad for a business that wanted to let everyone know of ALL their many services. Which is no easy feat if you’re trying to stay away from being boring. So, he wrote an ad for the business as if you were ordering their services at a drive-thru fast food joint. This particular concept also would fit into your “Comparison” tip.

  48. Floribeth says

    wow, that really helped!! I’m in the eighth grade, and the writing test in a month or two is really important to pass. My ELA teacher has only taught us a few persuasive writing techniques, and I’m so glad to find more ways to persuade than just the few (maybe like, four) ways she has told us about. Wow, I feel a bit more confident about (probably) getting a persuasive topic for the writing test!

  49. Karen Topakian says

    Brian, i’m a freelance writer who would love to pull a quote from this blog and post it on my website in a tips section. what’s the protocol for doing so? thanks, Karen

  50. says

    Another persuasive technique to use is Scarcity – letting the reader think there is a limited availability of something.

    It is used by Amazon a lot where they display things like – ‘only 5 copies of your DVD left’. Scarcity acts as a call to action prompting the reader to put more value in the product/ebook/service you provide.

    This concept also works by showing a scarcity of time (‘only available today’) on sales sites.

    It can work on information sites too when showing access to information may be hard to get at (e.g. membership only data, mailing list only special webcasts/information/etc).

    Super post BTW

    • says

      Combining the scarcity with exclusivity can be a killer plan. People want to know that they have the chance to be part of something that no one else is, and they love the idea that it is only for a limited time – stroking the ego!

      Andee

  51. says

    I agree with Mason Hipp that this is one of the best posts I’ve read here (interesting considering it was on the topic of persuasion). You convinced us you know your stuff! And the advice to study past advertising copy that works is EXCELLENT. Amazing how easy it is to overlook the simple things that can make the most difference.


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