persuasive writing tips

During a recent MBL persuasive writing course in Manchester we addressed many of the same issues as on previous writing courses (see, for example: and and But there were also some specific questions which the delegates asked me to address in a blog post on persuasive writing tips. So here goes:

1. Alignment – Right justified or right ragged?

At the workshop, I admitted that my preference was for a ragged right rather than justification. Whilst it is not as aesthetically pleasing as justified text, I believe that it is easier to read. I’m always in favour of doing what is right for the reader rather than for the writer.

But I did a bit of research on the subject. There’s a designers view of the pros and cons here Typographers appear to favour justified text – especially for narrow columns such as those in newspapers.

I was surprised that I couldn’t find any psychological studies supporting the view that readability is enhanced with ragged right although I found a comment along the lines of “Science would tell us that inconsistent word-spacing as a result of justification may inhibit saccadic eye movement by creating irregular “jumps” for the eye to make”. There’s a lot of more recent material indicating that digital/web material avoids justification to maintain informality.

2. What make a good title?

As a rule of thumb, we are told to spend 50% of our time on the body of an article or blog and 50% in crafting the title. Titles need to be both good at attracting attention and in describing the content. There are many studies about what makes an effective title in digital marketing – so you should perhaps check some of those out. And then, of course, you need to think about ensuring your title is maximised for search engine purposes and contains your key words or phrase.

I thought I’d have a look around the professional services market to see if I could find some good examples of titles using different techniques. Here’s the result of my rather rapid search:

  • Imperatives for today’s retailers: Innovate, invest and evolve (Grant Thornton)
  • Budget 2017: Five things business owners must do now (Haines Watts)
  • Deloitte launches social impact strategy to improve one million lives (Deloitte)
  • Time for human rights to be on Olympic agenda from start to finish (Herbert Smith)
  • The basics of patent law – infringement and related actions (Gowling WLG)
  • Shoosmiths hits the right note for pop band The Orielles (Shoosmiths)
  • What JK Rowling Needed To Know About Intellectual Property law (Azrights)
  • 10 Jolly Good Reasons for Buying a Home in Thornbury (Clutton Cox)
  • London remains most attractive European real estate investment destination for sixth consecutive year (CBRE)
  • Renewing Blackpool: Rekindling the illuminations (Anderton Gables)

Other examples of good writing in professional service firms are included here:

3. What’s the inverted pyramid?

The inverted pyramid is where the entire story is encapsulated in the first sentence or paragraph. It is how journalists write stories. You also see the technique used in press and news releases. The idea is to ensure that all the main elements are covered up front so the reader gets the idea at the start and them reads the rest of the article to get more detail on who, where, why, how and where. This post on writing press and media releases provides more information:

4. What are the plots for storytelling?

Telling stories – particularly where the reader might identify with the main character – is a well-known method which is why case studies are so popular in the professions. As storytelling is so important for engagement, it’s natural we should look to the world of creative writing to learn about how to tell a good story. On the course we explore the seven basic story plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. The quest
  3. Journey and return
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Rebirth
  7. Rags to riches

We also considered the essential elements in stories:

  • A hero
  • The hero’s character flaw
  • Enabling circumstances
  • The hero’s ally
  • An opponent
  • The life-changing event
  • Jeopardy

Further details are included in these books: and

5. How do you inject warmth into technical writing?

There were numerous questions around how to make dry, technical content more engaging. The general answer is to make the content relevant to the reader by using empathy to tap into their fears, aims and interests. Empathy is an aspect of emotional intelligence (EQ) We know that emotion and personality (as conveyed through the tone of voice) are important for making a connection too.

We also talked about using links to topical events or unusual angles. Presenting technical information in a novel way might also increase interest so we considered a variety of structuring approaches including:

  • Problem/cause/solution
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Spatial/geographical
  • Theory/practice
  • Question and answer
  • Simple to complex
  • General to specific
  • Order of reader importance
  • SCRAP (Situation, Complication, Resolution, Action, Politeness)
  • SOAP (Situation, Objective, Appraisal, Proposal)

Details of future writing courses for lawyers, accountants and surveyors at MBL

Details of future writing courses for marketing and business development people through Professional Marketing Forum