The task: writing an essay on the author’s persuasive language and techniques.
See: The Language of Persuasion: an essay-writing guide
By now, you will have been introduced to an extensive list of persuasive techniques. You will have discussed how authors use dramatic and evocative words, expert opinion, hyperbole, puns, analogies, a heartfelt plea for sympathy or a deprecating tone to position their argument. Are these techniques sufficiently persuasive to convince us?
You must read between the lines. Think about the sub-text and what the author implies, assumes and expects of you as the reader. You will also need to demonstrate an understanding of the words, phrases, terminology and/or codes required to discuss an author’s techniques.
The challenge is to build a logical and fluent essay around the most significant techniques in the text. You will also need to be clear about the targeted audience when evaluating how the persuasive language positions readers and whether it is effective. Which groups are likely to be most influenced? Your experiences and attitudes will also colour your response.
There is so much to say, so where do I start?
Start with the techniques and word choices that are critical to the development of the author’s viewpoint.
Firstly, tackle the author’s introduction and opening paragraphs. How does the language in the introduction set up your response from the start? What is the hook? How does it seek to persuade the audience?
Then consider the development of the author’s argument. How have they structured their opinion piece?
What evidence do they rely on? This is often a clue to their supporting reasons. In order to reach out directly and spontaneously to our emotions, authors often depict real-life examples, human interest stories or anecdotes (evidence). An argument should be based on facts and reliable research. The use of statistics enables authors to mount a compelling case and draw convincing conclusions. Which experts have been quoted and how do their views enhance the argument? What words do they use? Can we trust the author?
- Reasoning strategies: What conclusions does the author draw based on the evidence? Are their significant comparisons that are critical to the argument? Think about how they reinforce the author’s argument and the words that are used to depict alternative or contrasting views, characters, experiences or issues.
- Attack: The method of attack as a technique is also bound to be near the top of your list. In order to present the superiority of their own views, authors frequently attack those of their opponents. What words are used to depict opponents? What do they imply? Think carefully about the effect. How does it seek to prevent you from identifying with the views of the opponent?
- Appeals are also a clue to this author’s values and priorities: emotional appeals that arouse sympathy, anger or fear often provide a unifying thread throughout the paragraph. For example, if the author depicts people in the position of the victim, they will probably use colourful and emotive words, figurative language and an appropriate tone —warm, thoughtful, sentimental, poignant, indignant, reasonable and/or passionate. Sometimes a range of techniques may have the common purpose of setting up a climate of fear or encourage us to vent our anger at something that is unfair or unjust.
- Embed the visual text: Consider the mood of the image and how it enhances or contrasts with the views expressed in the article. Often images have a more direct emotional and dramatic impact. The belief that the “camera never lies” often leads us to the conclusion, often incorrectly, that the image conveys the “truth”.
- Cartoons: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a cartoonist must summarise a message in a caption that might contain no more than 10 words. Often the strength of a cartoon lies in its appearance of spontaneity and simplicity. Cartoons are very economical and characters are pared down to the bare essentials. However, don’t be fooled. Often what appears to be a naïve drawing is, in fact, quite sophisticated and complicated. Compare the differences between the visual and written texts and make conclusions as to their effectiveness.
By now, you will be able to confidently identify many of an author’s persuasive techniques and be familiar with a variety of tone words. The next stage is to turn your annotations into a fluent essay. You will need to have a sound grasp of the author’s views and reasons in order to prioritise the key persuasive strategies and identify the author’s strategic word choices. Which words and strategies are critical to the author’s views and their attempt to encourage you to see the issue through their emotional and/or logical framework?
The guided paragraph and essay maps in this workbook help you identify a common purpose in a range of overlapping techniques. This is the key to a fluent and cohesive essay.