My formula for persuasive writing

When I write sales copy, presentations, books, or blog posts, I often use a formula that makes it more likely the reader or listener will do what I want them to do.

I may want them to buy something, do something, or remember something. The formula works the same way.

The persuasive writing formula I use (no, I didn’t invent it) has five parts:

  1. State the PROBLEM (here’s what’s wrong, what you don’t have, what will happen if you don’t do anything about it.)
  2. AGITATE the problem (dramatize the pain, here’s more about how bad it could get, here’s other ways this will affect you)
  3. Present the SOLUTION (what can be done to stop the problem)
  4. Describe the BENEFITS (relieve your pain, other good things you get with this solution)
  5. CALL TO ACTION (what to do to get the solution and benefits)

Try this formula the next time you write something. You may find it helpful to start with the call to action. What do you want them to do? What’s the key takeaway?

Then, either work backwards through the other parts (ie., the benefits they will get when they do what you want them to do, the solution that delivers those benefits, etc.) or go to the beginning, describe the problem, and work forwards.

Anyway, an article in the Harvard Business Journal presents a similar formula based on classical story structure. In “Structure your presentation like a story,” author Nancy Duarte says:

After studying hundreds of speeches, I’ve found that the most effective presenters use the same techniques as great storytellers: By reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way, they set up a conflict that needs to be resolved.

That tension helps them persuade the audience to adopt a new mindset or behave differently — to move from what is to what could be. And by following Aristotle’s three-part story structure (beginning, middle, end), they create a message that’s easy to digest, remember, and retell.

Persuasive writing is about creating tension (or identifying it) and then relieving it. If you want someone to hire you, show them the status quo and the path to a better way: “You’ve got this problem that’s only going to get worse; if you hire me, I will solve that problem (or help you take the first step towards solving it); here’s how you’ll be better off; here’s what to do to get started.”

Tell them a dramatic story that makes them angry or afraid. Just make sure it has a happy ending.

Do you know the formula for earning more in your practice? Go here.

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