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Principles of Persuasion Steve Whitmore January 2010 Learning Objectives By the end of this module, you will be able to write more persuasively by following these methods: Analyzing audience and purpose Attending to tone and connotation Utilizing persuasive appeals

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principles of persuasion

Principles of Persuasion

Steve Whitmore

January 2010

Principles of Persuasion

learning objectives
Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to write more persuasively by following these methods:

  • Analyzing audience and purpose
  • Attending to tone and connotation
  • Utilizing persuasive appeals
  • Employing inclusive language

Principles of Persuasion

  • Persuasive (reports, proposals, resumes, everything?)
  • Informative (reports, design specs, scientific articles)
  • Instructional (user’s and technical manuals, procedures)
  • Regulatory (standards, regulations, codes)
  • Heuristic (functional specs, brainstorming, free-writing)
  • Imaginative (newsletters, promotional literature)
  • Persuasive  Focus on beliefs, feelings, and values
  • Informative  Focus on perceptions and cognitions

Principles of Persuasion

some engineering documents
Some Engineering Documents

Principles of Persuasion

analyze your audience
Analyze Your Audience
  • Power (subordinates, peers, supervisors)
  • Age (vision, crystallized vs. fluid intelligence)
  • Needs/Values (money, environs, politics, information)
  • Expertise (high, moderate, low, mixed)
  • Ethics (honesty, credibility, accuracy)


  • Secondary Audiences?

Principles of Persuasion

audience profile of academics
Audience Profile of Academics
  • Age  Varies
  • Attitudes  Busy, fair, and respectful; sceptical but open-minded
  • Favourite Subject  Area under study
  • Likes  Books, journals, high quality writing,proper referencing
  • Dislikes  Avoidable errors, over-generalization, waffling

Principles of Persuasion

  • Connotation plays a very powerful role in persuasion.
  • The connotation of a word is the set of associations implied by the word in addition to its literal meaning.
  • The connotation of a word is determined by the audience, not the writer/speaker!
  • Consider the word environmentalist in “The environmentalist will address the association’s board of directors.”
  • If the association is Greenpeace, the connotation of the word is positive; if the association is the Fraser Institute, the connotation of the word is negative.

Principles of Persuasion

connotation and persuasion
Connotation and Persuasion

Connotations are contextual meanings





Atmospheric Emission Dispersion System (AEDS)

Connotation Continuum

Principles of Persuasion

example connotation problem
Example Connotation Problem

From: Angry User

Date: Tuesday, August 29, 1995 4:01 PM

To: General Discussion

Subject: What! No Jewel Case!

C'mon Microsoft! What kinda cheesy decision was that? I got the Win95 Upgrade and Plus! pak, and both had el cheapo cardboard sleeves for their respective CD's. What possessed you? Who came up with that hare-brained stunt?! Doesn't any corporate butthead up there give a hot damn about your users? $144 calls for something more secure than a couple of cardboard sleeves! Did your jewel case supplier suddenly run out?

Am I the only one that's pissed off over this!? I find that hard to believe...

Principles of Persuasion

example connotation problem10
Example Connotation Problem

From: Microsoft Representative

Date: Sunday, September 03, 1995 7:57 AM

To: General Discussion

Subject: RE: What! No Jewel Case!

Hi John,

While I can certainly understand your position on this, I am going to have to ask you to refrain from using profanity on the forum.


Microsoft Representative


Principles of Persuasion

connotation problem
Connotation Problem?

From: Steve_Whitmore

Date: Monday, September 04, 1995 12:54 AM

To: General Discussion

Subject: Piss off, eh! ;-)

Hi Bill & John,

Sometimes when people are frustrated, profanity is the only way for them to vent their feelings. Let's not tun MSN into another AOL!! There they kick people off the net because they get angry. That's BS. And by the way, John had a good point -- it was kinda cheesy for MS to use the cardboard covers. (Although John, I gotta say that you haven't really lived until you've dealt with COREL Corp. -- they just stuff the CDs between the pages of the manuals, and then you get to clean the ink off the CDs. Lotsa fun. So I can't say I'm very upset about the cardboard covers.) Chill out, both of you, eh.


Steve W.

Principles of Persuasion

persuasive appeals
Persuasive Appeals

Classical Appeals to the Audience (Aristotle)

  • Appeal to logic or reason (Logos)
  • Appeal to emotions (Pathos)
  • Appeal to values/Appeal from your credibility (Ethos)

Principles of Persuasion

logos the critical stance in persuasion
Logos: The Critical Stance in Persuasion*
  • State your purpose in what you write to make it clear to your readers
  • Create a logical structure for your account that assists you with developing your argument, and make it clear to your readers
  • State your own main claims clearly to help your readers understand your argument
  • Assume that your readers adopt askeptical stance to your work, so you must convince them by supporting your claims as far as possible
  • Avoid making sweeping generalizations in your writing which you cannot justify to your readers

* The material on this page and the next has been excerpted from L. Poulson and M Wallace, 2004, Learning to Read Critically in

Teaching and Learning, Sage Publications, London.

Principles of Persuasion

logos the critical stance in persuasion14
Logos: The Critical Stance in Persuasion
  • Define the key terms you employ in your account so that your readers are clear what you mean and use the terms consistently
  • Make explicit any values that guide what you write
  • Avoid attacking authors as people but be skeptical about what they write
  • Assume that your readers are open-minded about your work and are willing to be convinced if you adequately support your claims
  • Sustain your focus throughout your account, and avoid irrelevancies and digressions in what you write
  • Ensure that your referencing in the text and the reference list is complete and accurate so that your readers are in a position to check your sources

Principles of Persuasion

pathos aims to move e motion
Pathos Aims to Move (E-motion)
  • Rarely used in academic or professional writing
  • Can be a very powerful tool in motivational speeches:

Winston Churchill

  • Also used as a powerful public relations tool:

Harp Seal Pup

Clearcuts in Clayoquot Sound

Principles of Persuasion

principles of ethos
Principles of Ethos
  • Generally implied in academic or professional writing
  • Emphasizes credibility of writer (e.g., age, expertise, accomplishments, standing in community, etc.)
  • Quality of evidence, logical argument, speaking with respect, clarity of writing, referencing conventions
  • Can be used (sometimes ineptly) by citation of well-known authorities
  • Key point is to generate identification with the audience through use of shared metaphors, conventions, language, images, ideas, and methods
  • Identification may be impossible to achieve if the audience holds a set of values differing greatly from that of the writer (e.g., pro-life vs. pro-choice)

Principles of Persuasion

example of identification appeals
Example of Identification/Appeals

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 13:56:06 -0700



Subject: Let's cool it!

Forgive an old man for not keeping his mouth shut when he sees the institution to which he has devoted the better part of his life deteriorate into internal feuding at a time when unity among those labouring within it is more important than ever in the light of external threats.

It appears that some individual members of APSA as well as some individual members of SFUFA have taken offence to comments and suggestions of other individuals expressed in these fora. Offence and insult, like beauty, rests in the eyes of the beholder, so I shall refrain from passing judgment on the legitimacy of the feelings generated. ("De gustibus non disputandum.").

However, I should like to remind everybody, that the free, open, and public expression of opinion is of fundamental value in our society and even more so in an institution such as a university. This freedom carries a price tag, namely that from time to time we shall be exposed to opinions that either in form or in substance may offend some of us or even on occasion most of us.

Principles of Persuasion

example continued
Example Continued

The appropriate defence in such a situation is best exemplified by a German proverb: "Was von mir ein Esel spricht, das acht ich nicht." Freely translated that means: "I am not going to dignify silly talk about me by paying any attention to it.“

To try to impose censorship is definitely NOT an acceptable response.

Finally let us remember that members of APSA as well as of SFUFA are serving a common goal and that the behaviour of any individuals in either group that may on occasion displease us is no reason to interfere with our general appreciation of each others role, let alone become a stumbling block to full cooperation in the pursuit of these common goals.

So, lets cool those flames and not fan them further!

Cheers to all of you including offenders and offended!

Principles of Persuasion



  • How will you apply the principles of persuasion to your next 2 assignments?
  • Read pp. 72-94 of Strategies for Engineering Communication

Principles of Persuasion