7.04.2017

The Art of Persuasion

Journalists follow a few basic principles. The first line must grab the reader’s attention right away, or she’ll skip over it and read the next article. As hard as that first sentence may be to write, what follows is equally as difficult. The writer must keep presenting material that the reader regards as factually correct.

In this Orwellian age of relative truths, what the reader should believe is harder to define, but the underlying principle remains the same. As a writer, no matter how learned you are, any reader starting the book feels that your opinion is only as good as his opinion. You must marshal other forces on your side that support your case(s).

That’s why journalism is hard. A reporter must go out and find the facts, whether that consists of research, inside information, or different opinions of people who know more about the subject than the reader. That task is onerous enough when you’re writing an article. What happens when you’re facing an entire book?

This is when you have to get out of your armchair. Fervent belief does not necessarily mean laziness, but it is a severe impediment all the same. You have to find other authors, and they must be qualified enough for the reader to regard them as experts on that chosen topic. You must find examples of people suffering from an affliction or succeeding using a method.

Perhaps a useful starting point is asking yourself this question. If I were writing only for the experts in the field that I admire, what would I say? That is the sort of rigor another type of writer, a college professor, has to endure. You have to convince your colleagues because they will weigh in if the book is published, and possibly destroy your credibility.

If it sounds like I am setting the bar high, you’re right. If you think your arguments have merit, then prove it. What you don’t want is, at the end, finding your book in the ebook trash bin, read by a few hundred and left unregarded. If you want to matter, start by building a bigger army than the other guys.

Exercise: If you have already written the manuscript, or part of it, review each paragraph’s topic sentence. If it represents a new point you are making, write it down on a list. Now read other books, articles, clinical studies, etc., on the same subject. When you see a quotation that backs up a point you made on your list, copy it and use the quoted material in the paragraph as expert testimony backing up your point.

“Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”
—John Kenneth Galbraith

 Copyright @ 2017, John Paine


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