Writing persuasive scripts and copy

writingThere are a few simple rhetorical devices that I have found really useful for persuasive writing. When you write a script for a video or presentation, or produce copy for a communication, it really helps to start with some sort of guide to structure the form of your content. By using some of these tried and tested rhetorical themes you can help your writing be more engaging and more persuasive.

There are a number of theories, from Aristotle to Derrida, why particular language forms work well in particular cultures. What is certain is that these devices have stood the test of time, from ancient Greek and Latin discourse to American presidential speeches, they can add power to your language.

President Lincoln’s rhetoric

President JFK’s inaugural address

Categories for writing persuasive copy

I would think of my persuasive writing as presenting an argument to an audience. To make this argument feel rounded, there are four categories you should include:

Logos – use a logical argument

Pathos – appeal to the audience’s emotions

Ethos – the status, experience, or credibility of the person speaking

Kairos – a stress on why the audience should act now

An example:

“I’m a dentist (Ethos) and scientific studies have shown (Logos) that for a clean, bright, attractive smile (Pathos) you should use Krelm toothpaste before your teeth suffer irreversible yellowing. (Kairos, Logos, Pathos)”

Lists and oppositions

The ‘clean, bright, attractive smile’ is also a rhetorical device: A list of three. Using three attributes to describe something feels right and is well used in advertising, literature, and music: ‘work, rest, and play’ (Mars), ‘ready, aim, fire! ‘or ‘in, out, shake it all about’ (Hokey Cokey).

Particularly in the west, we use contrast as a definition in our language: ‘river deep, mountain high’, cruel to be kind’ It feels quite natural to define something as having a positive attribute, and this is enhanced by adding an opposite, maybe negative, definition of what it is not.

An example:

“These walking socks won’t leave your feet damp and prone to blisters, they wick away moisture to leave your feet dry and fresh.”

Persuasive sounds

The interaction of the sounds of words add to the mood too. Alliteration uses similar first phonemes to give power to a description: ‘short, sharp, shock’. Assonance uses repeated vowel sounds: ‘Light my fire’, or ‘cat out of the bag’.

These devices can be used as simple guides to content and presentation of persuasive writing. Rhetoric has been used since ancient Greece and Rome as a form of discourse to motivate or persuade, and it is fitting that the translation of Horace’s Latin poetic ‘call to action’ retains the rhetorical devices:

In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away.
Seize the present; trust tomorrow even as little as you may.

Horace, Odes 1.11

‘Seize the present’, Carpe Diem, is a general form of Kairos. Seize the day is more usual in the UK, so seize your day and use some rhetorical devices in your next piece of writing.

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