Persuasive Writing for Activists: The Purpose

This blog post is part of a series on persuasive writing for activists. Check back weekly for new content.

Last week I talked about how to do a prewrite. This planning will give you a better sense of what you are trying to accomplish, who you are trying to reach, and what you want them to do.

This week we’ll focus on purpose. What is the issue you’re concerned about? Why are you writing about it? What do you hope to accomplish? What are your short term and long term goals?

Here is an example of a bad purpose for persuasive writing: “I want people to know about how big a problem my issue is!” What’s missing here? There’s nothing for them to do.

Here’s an even worse one: “I can’t believe how awful this is! I just have to get it off my chest!” Then it’s not even persuasive writing at all. It’s a vent session. There’s nothing wrong with a vent session — just don’t try to make it into something it’s not.

So let’s turn this around. Let’s say that instead of wanting to express how horrifically bad everything is, we want to convince people that it can be made better. If so, how? Do you have a big picture vision? If so, what is a small step that someone can do that will get them involved?

Once you figure all this out, you’ll be ready to persuade your audience of three things: first, that your issue is a big problem; second, that you have at least part of the solution; and third, that they can take an action to contribute to the solution.

Here’s an example from the United Opt Out website. This article has several purposes:

1. To inform people that there is a problem with the release of confidential student records.

2. To persuade people that it’s important to act on this problem.

3. To ask people to take a specific action.

It begins,

Did you know that Jefferson County Public Schools will share confidential and personal student records with a corporation and store them on a data “cloud” without parental consent?

This is already persuasive, because it will immediately concern parents. The entry also goes on to add more details about what kind of information will be released.

One thing that is missing is that this particular article doesn’t work to convince people that they have a solution. There is a broad solution elsewhere on the web site – the group is “dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education.” So that’s good. But there isn’t a solution presented for this particular issue. Can this release of data be stopped? How? Maybe nobody knows. Activism would be a lot easier if we had all the solutions.

Finally, this article has an ask. The purpose isn’t just to alarm people, it’s to work toward a solution. Here’s the ask:

Please join concerned parents and education activists on May 16th starting at 8:00 a.m., for a rally right outside the front doors of the Colorado Department of Education, and then attend the 9:00-11:00 A.M. public study session, hosted by the CO State Dept. of Ed., to learn more about inBloom.

Check back next week for an entry on knowing your audience.

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