Amateurs equate persuasion with manipulation

Most amateurs and at least some pros are willing to ascribe the unethical intentions of individuals to linguistic forms. (See my post on passive voice.) No where is this more obvious than in the case of “persuasive” language.  Yes. Workplace writers can use language to

  • market unhealthy food to the children of their customers
  • convince government regulators their company was not responsible for an accident
  • sell the need for higher health insurance co-pays to their company’s employees while the CEO buys a villa in France

But workplace writers can also use language to

  • market local, organic produce to their customers
  • convince their CEO to invest in an onsite daycare facility
  • sell the value of alternative energy sources to government representatives

The writer’s intent is the key to differentiating between these two lists–not the writer’s prose.

I believe the negative connotation of persuasion is created by trust (ethos) problems with the organizations where writers work. And also the fact that unethical individuals often rely upon appeals to audience emotion (pathos) rather than reason (logos). (The links take you to definitions of these terms from the Purdue OWL.)

I’m proud of the role I’ve played in helping amateurs write persuasively. It not only helps them become pro writers, it EMPOWERS them. The video tutorial on persuasive prose I’m updating gives amateurs some guidance in the use of reason based on a chapter in Revising Professional Writing. It refers to a page from a Business Plan for Investors, which was adapted by me based on a sample available from the Center for Business Planning (businessplans.org).

  • Writer: the owner of a manufacturing company
  • Readers: potential investors (like venture capitalists)
  • Bottom line message: the company is a good investment because they’ve got an innovative product at reasonable cost with high market demand

One thought on “Amateurs equate persuasion with manipulation

  1. “And also the fact that unethical individuals often rely upon appeals to audience emotion (pathos) rather than reason (logos)”
    I often think about this but I didn’t know how to say this clearly. Thanks!

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