Category Archives: concrete tools

Tools for K-12 teachers, activists, and anybody who feels too intimidated to write.

Persuasive Writing for Activists: Knowing Your Audience

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

Last week we talked about the purpose:  what you’re trying to accomplish with your piece of persuasive writing. This week we’ll talk about who you’re writing it for. 

Getting to Know Your Audience

Many activists are so dedicated to the issue they care about that they forget that their audience might not be. Here are five important facts about your audience. 

  1. They are probably too busy to read your piece from start to finish. 
  2. They might not know little or nothing about the issue. 
  3. They might not know the jargon. 
  4. They might be skeptical of activists. 
  5. Despite all that, they might care deeply about the issue and want to act! 

Consider the Demographics 

I’m a white woman who is relatively well off and has a bit of free time, which is why I can write and do activism. If I’m not careful, I imagine my audience is too. They’re not. Think about people’s racial heritage, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability/disability, age, occupation, and financial situations.They’re all different! Different people will have different perspectives and care about different aspects of the issue. 

You Have Multiple Audiences 

Bear in mind that you have multiple audiences. Some know a lot about the issue and some know next to nothing. Some like activists and some don’t. Some share your racial heritage and some don’t. 

Go Meet Them 

Get to know your audience. Get out and talk to people about your issue. But don’t lecture. Listen more than you talk. I am surprised every single time I talk to people, and I learn a lot. I learn what people care about and what people don’t. I learn the language they use. I learn how not to act like an activist geek. I learn what they know and don’t know. 

Stay tuned: Next week we’ll talk about targeting your piece to your audience.

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.

Persuasive Writing for Activists: The Prewrite

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

Too often, when an activist decides to write persuasive material, they sit right down and write it. That’s a mistake. They write something that seems convincing and logical to them. In fact, they write something that would convince them or people in their immediate social circles.

But is that all you want to do? Persuade somebody like you?

Another common mistake is to convince somebody that there is a problem, and stop there. That’s just a downer. It might persuade someone that there’s a problem but give them no tools to solve it and no hope.

So it’s important to do some prewrite planning. Get out a sheet of paper and divide it into thirds. Give it three headings:

  1. Purpose
  2. Audience
  3. Action Item

Then brainstorm as much as possible for each item.


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?


Are you writing for one audience or multiple audiences? What gender are you targeting? Age? Religion? Culture? Ethnicity? Gender identity? Are they likely to be easily convinced or is there a sticking point?

How much do you think your audience knows about your topic? You often can’t count on them knowing anything and you might have to start at ground zero.

You’ll be much more successful at reaching your audience if you have already talked to similar people about the same topic and heard what they have to say, both positive and negative, about your issue.

Action Item:

Go back to your purpose and think about your long-term and short-term goals. Then find some simple, quick action that people can take and suggest it. Otherwise, they are going to leave discouraged and, most importantly, do nothing. Then give them a timeframe to do it in.

Go on, get out that paper. Now.

Persuasive Writing for Activists: Intro

If you know me, you know that to say I have progressive politics is an understatement. If I see a progressive make an argument I agree with, half of me says, “Right ON!” And the other half is saying, “Seriously? You expect that to persuade anybody? You’re preaching to the converted.”

Here’s what I mean: somebody has a vision for societal change. And it’s a good vision. And they think, “I should share this vision!” So they make the best arguments they can, from their point of view. It is well received — but only by people who already mostly agree with them.

That’s a problem I know how to fix. Want to know where I learned it? Listen to my background and see if you can guess. I got a degree in creative writing, then went on to become a technical writer, then taught technical and business writing, and then left the job market to pursue the job of Full-Time Mom, Part-Time Writer, Part-Time Activist.

Which of these jobs do you suppose taught me the most about persuasive writing?

If you guessed “being a mom,” that’s a fair guess. It’s hard work persuading my kids to eat their dinner. But no. I learned it when I taught business writing.

Corporations know how to persuade. They know how to market to people, and that is persuasion.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing what I know. Check back every week and see what’s new. The topics I’ll cover are:

The Prewrite



  • Targeting your piece to your audience


  • Using ethos, logos, and pathos to persuade
  • Being credible and using specifics
  • Overcoming your audience’s objections
  • Asking for action

Tone and Style

  • Having positive emphasis
  • Using the appropriate level of formality
  • Having a goodwill close

Layout and Illustration

  • Drawing the reader in
  • Looking good on the page


  • A bad example
  • Who will it reach?
  • A good example

Persuasive Writing for Activists

This was a first attempt to introduce this topic, but I’ve done it better elsewhere. Check out I’ll be adding content about once a week. — 4/11/2013.

If you know me, you know that to say I have progressive politics is an understatement. If I see a progressive make an argument I agree with, half of me says, “Right ON!”

And the other half is saying, “Seriously? You expect that to persuade anybody? Preaching to the converted, folks.”

As much as I disagree with the conservative point of view, I have to give conservatives props for effective persuasive writing. And honestly, they get empathy points for at least knowing their audience.

There’s a reason for that. The corporate world teaches persuasive writing. And they teach it well.

How do I know? Back at the beginning of the millenium, I taught business writing at a university. That’s where I learned to do persuasive writing. I keep thinking I should create a document “Persuasive Writing for Activists” or make a Power Point and teach a course. That’s one on my list of several hundred things I wish I had time to do.

But until I get around to it, here’s a teaser: the grading matrix I used for the business writing course. (This was back in 2002, when some people still used memos.)

With an offer of free advice! Progressive activists: if you would like, I will grade your persuasive writing. Post a comment with your writing, or include a link to it. Then tell me who your intended audience is. I’ll tell you where it went wrong and where it went right.

(P.S. I would grade this blog post as follows: Content – 2; Organization – N/A; Tone and style – 2; Layout – 3; Mechanics – ?. We’re not always at our best, are we?)