Persuasive writing, or the art of rhetoric, has been taught since the days of Aristotle in ancient Greece. We all use rhetoric, whether in writing or in speech, to convince others to share our views. Aristotle believed rhetoric could be taught and considered it an indispensable element of a good education. Understanding the main objectives of persuasive writing will help you to use it when the opportunity inevitably arises.
Advocate a Position
The most familiar use of persuasive writing is the selling of an idea. Political pundits often compose opinion pieces for major daily newspapers with the intent of coaxing others into adopting their position on some matter. One of the most famous persuasive speeches of all time was the "Funeral Oration" delivered by ancient Athenian general Pericles. According to history professor Paul Halsall, Pericles successfully attempted to convince his fellow Athenians that a war with Sparta was in their best interests.
Sell a Product
Virtually every advertisement relies upon persuasive writing. Scour a popular magazine and you’ll find a slew of written arguments attempting to seduce you into embracing the superior virtues of a product and to buy it. Aristotle would have considered this kind of persuasive writing an emotional appeal rather than a logical argument. Nevertheless, it can be effective and is a pervasive part of our commercial culture.
Sometimes the purpose of persuasive writing is motivational, designed to inspire others to act in a particular kind of way. Political speeches often are fashioned with the intent to encourage citizens to alter their behavior. A common example of this is campaign rhetoric, which attempts to cajole citizens into voting for a particular candidate. Public service announcements often try to convince viewers to stop engaging in a harmful behavior (like smoking) or to begin a helpful one (like recycling).
Advertise Yourself and Discredit Others
One way for a writer to bolster a persuasive argument is to sell his own virtues or discredit his adversaries. In a way, this is the most fundamental form of persuasion since every successful argument rests on the basic reliability of the person who forwards it. Others will be more inclined to believe someone who has demonstrated his trustworthiness or, at the very least, has undermined the trustworthiness of his opponents.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Aristotle’s Rhetoric; Works on Rhetoric
- Fordham University; Ancient History Sourcebook; Thucydides (c.460/455-c.399 BCE): Pericles' Funeral Oration from the Peloponnesian War (Book 2.34-46); Paul Halsall
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Aristotle’s Rhetoric; Aristotelian Rhetoric as Proof Centered and Pertinent
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Aristotle’s Rhetoric; Three Means of Persuasion
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