What do you find convincing about this example of academic writing (pdf), composed by a final-year student of English under examination conditions? What rhetorical devices does the writer use to persuade us of his or her argument? Can you identify any other points of style which make the argument clearer and/or more credible?
Now click here to access feedback for comparison with your answers.
Tips for 'clear' writing
Persuasive writing is always clear writing. Here are some tips to improve the clarity of your writing:
- Use the first sentence of each paragraph to introduce the main point of the paragraph
- Make clear transitions between points. Linking words and phrases shows the logic between one point and another
- Write concisely, eliminating unnecessary words and phrases. The inclusion of words which do not serve a specific purpose ultimately detracts from your argument
- Using subordinate clauses allows you to emphasize certain ideas more than others, thus making clear the hierarchical relationships between points of information in your sentences.
Compare these two examples:
- ‘Dickens frequently uses humour in his portrayal of politicians and the court, but this serves the larger purpose of a serious critique of social institutions in nineteenth-century England.’
- ‘Although Dickens frequently uses humour in his portrayal of politicians and the court, this serves the larger purpose of a serious critique of social institutions in nineteenth-century England.’
The use of a subordinate clause in (b), introduced with ‘Although’, makes the point more clearly than than the two equally weighted clauses of (a), separated with ‘but’. It is clearer because it mirrors in the structure of the sentence itself the hierarchy of the points being made: the second half of the sentence is more important than the first.
Tips on 'style' and 'rhetoric'
Here are some tips on using style and rhetoric to persuade:
- The use of rhythmic variety in your sentences suggests that you are fully in control of your material. Think about varying the length of your sentences. A series of short sentences gives the impression of undeveloped thought; a series of long sentences suggests pomposity or longwindedness. Try to mix up long and short sentences in order to add variety, interest and impact to your writing style
- Careful referencing and polished presentation always help to establish scholarliness and academic credibility
- An authoritative voice can also be established through the manipulation of syntax. Try to put information which is more ‘basic’ in a subordinate clause, as it suggests that you know that this information is only your starting-point, and certainly shared by your reader.
Compare these two examples:
- ‘Dickens is a humorous writer, but the major theme of his work is one of great seriousness: the terrible poverty experienced by the underclasses in Victorian Britain.’
- ‘Although Dickens is certainly a humorous writer, the major theme of his work is one of great seriousness: the terrible poverty experienced by the underclasses in Victorian Britain.’
The use of the subordinate clause in (b), and the addition of the word ‘certainly’, suggest that the writer knows that s/he does not need to spend time elaborating this point because it is an obvious one.
Look over one of your essays and underline any techniques of persuasive writing you are already using. In your next essay, try out one or more of the techniques you have learnt in this section.