Persuade readers with an appeal to logos

Photo Credit: soukup via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: soukup via Compfight cc

People who have influence at work know how to write persuasively. Persuasion is how you successfully lobby for resources from your boss or win funding from an investor. Research found that persuasion was central to the success of 10-30% of all internal, written communication in an organization.

The negative connotation of persuasion is created by trust (ethos) problems with the organizations where writers work. (Or with some individual writers.) And also the fact that unethical individuals often rely solely upon appeals to audience emotion (pathos) rather than reason (logos). Workplace writers can use written language both (a) to sell the need for higher health insurance co-pays to their company’s employees while the CEO buys a villa in France or (b) to sell the value of alternative energy sources to government representatives. The writer’s intent — not the writer’s prose — is the key to differentiating between these two messages.

Creating persuasive prose is briefly explained in Chapter 4 of Revising Professional Writing in Science and Technology, Business, and the Social Sciences (3rd edition). If you’re using the book in an academic setting, you’ll find many exercises in that chapter, requiring you to practice identifying and fixing problems with persuasion in professional texts. But here are some additional resources to help you become a more persuasive writer:

  • a sample document, including both an original and revised version
  • a brief video tutorial
  • a list of research articles supporting my guidance

Enter feedback in the comments below if I can do something to make the resources more useful.

Sample Document

Read this executive summary from a business plan, 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 it has developed an innovative product at reasonable cost with high market demand

Here’s a revised version of that business plan’s executive summary, with more persuasive content.

Video Tutorial

The business plan’s executive summary, along with other examples, is included in this video about persuasion in workplace documents. My goal is to provide a succinct guide to the essentials of writing more persuasively by appealing to your reader’s logos (reason). This content is not easy to grasp. Although this tutorial follows my rule for length (it’s less than 12 minutes long), you’ll have to pause and read at several points in order to follow the material.

Related Readings

There are posts here at Pros Write that deal with persuasion in workplace documents. Just enter the term in the search field near the top of this page. If you want to see the research supporting my guidance, you might check out the following sources.

Cialdini, R.B. (2001). Harnessing the science of persuasion. Harvard Business Review, 79(9), pp. 72-79.

Gilsdorf, J.W. (1986). Executives’ and academics’ perceptions on the need for instruction in written persuasion. Journal of Business Communication, 23(4), pp. 55-68.

Halmari, H. & Virtanen, T. (Eds.) (2005). Persuasion Across Genres: A linguistic approach (Pragmatics & Beyond, New Series). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sproat, E., et al. (2012). Aristotle’s Rhetorical Situation.  Purdue OWL. The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University.

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