Step by Step Checklist: Crafting the Persuasive Letter
Choose your topic–your reader and their belief. Start by making a list of three, and live with them for a few hours, imagining the letter you’d write. The topic that produces the most developed letter–a thesis and the subjects of the body paragraphs would be ideal–is the one you want to go with.
Make a good faith effort to see matters from your reader’s eyes. Try to do so without judgment. What feelings, concepts, and rationalizations underlie your reader’s belief or behavior? Note them. Developing a clear, accurate understanding of your reader’s belief or behavior in your efforts to move them from it, and this exercise will help you to avoid a potentially fatal pitfall: Little is more lethal to the efforts of a persuasive writer than a mistaken assumption about what their reader thinks.
Assess the rhetorical situation, and if necessary, research your subject. Our aim is to write a letter that balances its appeals. Because you know your reader, the emotional appeals you’ll make will likely come more easily to you. Be sure to consider your letter’s logical aspects, and assess to what extent your letter might profit from research. We research for two reasons. We research to strengthen our support. Also, we research simply to achieve the sort of command of our subject matter that is needed to write credibly about it. If you need to brush up on your subject, now is the time.
Develop your thesis/main claim. The thesis is the central point of your letter, the point that unifies all the material within it. Succinctly and clearly, it needs to transact two tasks. 1. It needs to communicate what you want your reader to change. 2. It needs to communicate the major reasons why they should change it. (A smart strategy for structuring your argument is to make each “why” the subject of a body paragraph.)
Outline your letter, This is a document for you. It can be as complex or as simple as you wish. Minimally, nail down the thesis/main claim and subjects for the body paragraphs. During outlining, listen to what your outline tells you about your project. The places in the outline that fill you with uneasiness are the places in your letter that are asking for your attention. Resolve as many issues as you can before starting the draft. The time needed to fix a problem during prewriting is usually far less than the time needed to fix the same problem during revision.
Write your draft. Try to hear your words as you type. Imagine that you’re in a conversation but can freeze it in order to choose the words you like best. Your language should be mindful of the rhetorical situation and your ethos, or your credibility. Consider your relationship to the reader and to the subject matter, and pitch your language to be taken seriously.
Put your draft away before you revise. Step 7 is: do nothing for a while–literally. Step 7 wins “Best Step.” To revise is to re-see, and after drafting, when we’ve spent so much time looking at a project, we experience a kind of eye fatigue that stops us from seeing it clearly. Avoid skipping this step. Put one sleep between the end of drafting and the start of revision. And whatever you do, do not submit your draft now. A certain perspective afflicts developing writers that sees the final period on the rough draft as the end of the process–few attitudes are more harmful to the grades that papers earn.
Revise your draft. Revision focuses on the conceptual characteristics of your draft, the ideas your language proposes, the emotions it evokes, the depth, coherence, and order of the world your words conjure–not punctuation and grammar. If possible, engage a trusted reader, a friend, or family member whose judgment you trust, to offer feedback. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
Edit your draft. Correct usage, spelling, mechanical, and grammatical errors. For the many for whom this is something less than straightforward (How am I supposed to correct the mistakes, if I’m the one who made them in the first place?) you are encouraged to make cautious use of spell and grammar check software, such as Grammarly, to engage a second reader whose editorial skills you trust, and to direct your attention to this courses appendices or any resource you like and trust.
Ensure your letter complies with MLA formatting and if applicable, citation guidelines.
Assignment Prompt
For this assignment, you will be writing a letter compelling a friend or family member to change either a behavior or a belief with which you disagree. Choose your own topic, but for example, this letter could petition an enthusiastic neighbor to scale down his blinding Christmas decorations, an immature cousin to take a gap year between high school and college, a grandparent to vote to pass the new school district budget, a friend to stop drinking, or a spouse to reconcile with an estranged sibling. Because the letter will be written to an individual of your choosing, you must tailor your language and logic to the person to whom you are writing.
Assignment-Specific Requirements:
Length: This assignment should be at least 750 words.
Thesis: Underline your thesis statement or the main claim of your letter.
Sources Needed: None required. Cite if used, following MLA guidelines.
Page Formatting: Use MLA guidelines. Also add an opening salutation (e.g. Dear Sarah, or Hello, Jon.), and a closing salutation & signature (Best regards, Tom or Sincerely, Liza)
MLA Requirements: See Formatting your Essay: MLA 8th Edition
Rhetorical Mode
The goal of persuasive writing is to get a reader (your audience) to agree with your point of view. Persuasive writing blends facts and emotion to convince the reader that the writer is right. This genre relies on opinion and emotion to a greater extent than argumentative writing, but in moving a reader, the successful persuasive letter also deploys logically sound argumentation and quite often researched support and fact.
Rhetorical Considerations
The purpose of drafting a persuasive letter is to move your reader to agree with your point of view. Persuasion is single-minded; it is based on a conviction that a particular way of thinking or acting is the only way to go; all of the energy of the letter works toward this end. As a writer, you will present one side–your side. While an opposing point should be mentioned, it is only mentioned to be refuted or dismissed in the service of your position.
Persuasive writing is almost always written with a particular audience in mind. For this piece of writing, you will direct your persuasive letter to one person. Thus, your audience is not imagined, but rather very real, and that person and their characteristics will inform many of the choices you make as a writer. The persuasive letter requires constant negotiation with another person’s mind. At every phase of the writing process, as you prewrite, draft, and revise, this assignment will ask you to imagine and anticipate how your reader feels, responds, and thinks.
This piece of writing will be presented using a letter format. Thus, while you still need an MLA-style heading to format your work for submission, you will address your letter directly to your reader with a formal letter salutation.
Five Features of a Persuasive Letter
Rhetorical Situation: Persuasive Writing vs. Argumentative Writing: Persuasive writing, in a way, is a form of argumentative writing; however, the goal of persuasive writing is to get a reader or group of readers to agree with you/your point of view on a particular topic, and the goal of argumentative writing is to get the reader to acknowledge that your side is valid and is worth considering. Persuasive writing blends facts with emotion in an attempt to convince the reader that the writer is “right,” while in argumentative writing, the writer cites relevant reasons, credible facts, and sufficient evidence in order to convince the reader to consider a particular perspective. The nuances are subtle but important to consider. (Later in this course you will be crafting an argument and will see the differences in these genres of writing with greater clarity. The letter makes balanced use of the three rhetorical appeals to persuade a reader to change a behavior or belief. The three appeals, which come to us from that consequential deceased Greek, Aristotle, are:
Ethos: a writer’s or speaker’s credibility. In your letter, therefore, ethos is you, sort of. It’s the “you” that your writing transmits to your reader, the sum total of your tone and language choices, and also the values and intelligence that your writing communicates. Therefore, be vigilant with your work because ethos is the appeal that’s most immediately harmed by faulty word choices, punctuation mistakes, and lapses in tone.
Pathos: the appeal to a reader’s emotions and values. Get your reader to feel. Play (in a non-evil way) on their emotions–their compassion, their fears, their sense of community.
Logos: the appeal to a reader’s logic or reason. Ensure your claims are logical, free of fallacies, and backed with specific support.
Organization: Organize using argumentative structure: an introduction with a thesis/main claim, body paragraphs that advance points in support of the thesis/main claim, and a conclusion.
Transitions: Uses transitional phrases to connect your ideas and move the reader forward smoothly and logically between sentences.
Known Audience: The letter’s appeals are personalized to the reader’s characteristics–their professional role and its obligations, as well as their values and emotions.
Formal or Informal Writing? The tone of the letter depends upon the recipient and your relationship and also upon subject matter. The tone should enhance the letter’s persuasive efforts, not undermine them. Always strive for a respectful approach.
Mini-Lesson on ETHOS – PATHOS – LOGOS
Plan to use these appeals heavily throughout your Persuasive Letter.
This is an ethical appeal. It relies on your reliability and credibility as the author.
Includes reliable sources
Is written from an unbiased perspective
Shows the writer’s expertise through the presentation of careful insight and research
This is an emotional appeal. It relies on the construction of careful connection between the claims presented and the emotions of the readers.
Includes the writer’s values and beliefs
Uses stories or examples that convey emotion
Contains broader appeal and focus
This is an appeal to logic and reason. It relies on facts and figures that can convince the reader of the claims.
Relies on fact and opinion
Focuses on reasonable claims and organization of ideas
Only includes relevant material with a narrow focus