Why All Writing is Persuasive Writing

I was recently asked to give a talk to a persuasive writing class at Tallahasee Community College. This is really in my wheelhouse since, as a public policy analyst and researcher, I’ve been writing commentary (argumentative writing) for nearly three decades. In fact, my first commentary appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1985 (on Sweden’s then failing economy). Since then, I have written hundreds of opeds and commentaries, many of them nationally syndicated and some appearing in leading newspaper such as The Wasington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. I’ve also edited hundreds of others by other authors.

So, I thought I would open up by talking about some of these commentaries and what makes a good commentary. There is both skill and art in distilling a major public policy issue into 700 words or less.

But, as I was putting my notes together, I realized that just about everything I write is persuasive or argumentative. In fact, anything anyone writes is implicitly persuasive, whether someone is writing conventional commentary or a novel.

Why? Because authors write with intent: We are trying to communicate ideas to our readers, whether through plot, action, characters, setting, or staightforward argumentation in an editorial. Thus, everytime we put pen to paper, we are engaged in persuasion. In fiction, we are trying to convince our readers that our characters really are good, evil, or just like them. We are crafting our stories so that our readers can see the same things we do as the originators of the story (although they often see more). Our characters serve a purpose. Our plots serve a purpose. Our setting serves a purpose. And the way we combine them tells a story; it works when we craft a story that is persuasive to our readers.

This is one reason why the old writing addage “every word counts” is so important. Any extraneous word dilutes the message or story. This is true for fiction and non-fiction.

Thanks Paula Anderson for requiring me to be self-reflective enough with my own writing to come to this realization!

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