Book Review – Persuasive writing (how to harness the power of words) by Peter Frederick

Posted on: January 16, 2016

I review lots of books on persuasive writing (see the list below) to identify those that will prove useful to the lawyers, accountants, surveyors and marketers who attend my writing courses. As the importance of good quality content increases, there is continuing demand for those who can write persuasive copy for a variety of print and digital media.

I like this book because it starts with the absolute basics, provides a process and then goes on to cover fundamentals about grammar and structure whilst addressing the key elements of persuasion science (including material covered by Cialdini – see: http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/faq/how-can-i-improve-my-persuasion-skills/ and http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/book-review-small-big-small-changes-spark-big-influence-steve-j-martin-noah-j-goldstein-robert-b-cialdini-persuasion-science/) And it ends with some excellent flowcharts and checklists and 27 helpful writing rules.

Much of the author’s past was in writing bid documents (with a speciality in bids for research funding which is reflected in the book and would be helpful to charities) so he really understands how to sell with writing. He starts by saying that “persuasive writing is any writing that aims to get a result” and he frequently reminds the reader that “if following a rule makes your writing less persuasive, break it”.

Adapt to the audience

The author says that most people will only absorb one message from any one communication. Happily, the first part of the book provides guidance on how to think about your audience and adapt your style (he notes that in the UK about half of all people writing at work will have been to university and warns that academic writing tends to very non-committal).

He argues that reader response is made of two parts – the emotional response (the feeling created) and the intent response (what they intend to do as a result of these feelings).

Use persuasion tools

Aristotle’s ethos (respect), logos (logic) and pathos (emotion) are described. Then emotions and loaded words and old favourites such as personally addressing the reader and translating features into benefits. There’s an interesting section on storytelling.

The author ventures into decision-making theory and dips into neuroscience by looking at primacy and recency effects, availability, consistency, justification and evidence, simplicity and loss and reward, social proof, conformity, repetition, anchoring and the power of three. Then there’s an interesting diversion into advertising slogans and the use of positive and negative words.

Be concise and accurate

The author states “Concise writing achieves the correct reader response in the most efficient manner” and he urges you to cut out the jargon, avoid supersized words and keep sentences short (an average of 15-20 words) but vary the length.

There’s a great section on cutting down on adjectives, adverbs and lazy words. And using examples and analogies to aid understanding. There’s also a seven step concise writing process.

There’s then an interesting chapter on “verbs equal vigour” which contains a short grammar refresher and guidance on use of the active voice. The chapter on mistakes looks at commonly confused words as well as punctuation errors.

Plan and structure

Visual and analytical planning tools are considered and there’s some great ideas on different structures. Readability tools are considered.

There’s a section on layout, fonts and formatting which includes guidance on the use of white space, justification, headings, bullets, tables, diagrams and images.

The tips for common documents focusses on emails, web sites (a page being between two and five screens), CV/resumes, executive summaries and grant funding (including storytelling, logic trains and the power of because).

Towards the end, there’s an interesting diversion into “the dark arts” of persuasion with warnings about the risks and consequences. There’s an excellent section on the abuse of statistics with comments about confirmation and attributional bias

Chapters:

  1. What is persuasive writing?
  2. Tools for persuasive writing
  3. Persuasion – beyond logic
  4. Commercial break – advertisement slogans
  5. Conciseness equals clarity
  6. Verbs equal vigour
  7. Mistakes
  8. Planning and structuring
  9. Layout, fonts and formatting
  10. Tips for common documents
  11. Persuasion – the Dark Arts

Other writing-related book reviews:

http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/book-review-business-writing-how-to-write-to-engage-persuade-and-sell-by-ian-atkinson/

http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/book-review-hypnotic-writing-how-to-seduce-and-persuade-customers-with-only-your-words-by-joe-vitale/

http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/book-review-how-to-be-great-at-the-stuff-you-hate-the-straight-talking-guide-to-persuading-networking-and-selling-by-nick-davies/

http://kimtasso1.wpengine.com/book-review-valuable-content-marketing-by-sonja-jefferson-and-sharon-tanton/

The next public writing course I am presenting for marketers “Marketing and business development writing workshop” (half a day) is on 17th March 2015 http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training/ Please contact me at kim@kimtasso.com for details of in-house persuasive writing courses for lawyers, accountants and surveyors.

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