Analysing Persuasive Language

When you read an article, it’s important to clarify the issue being debated. When you’re identifying the issue, phrasing something as a question can often help clearly state what is being argued over.

– Should teens have the right to private medical appointments?

– Should euthanasia be legalised?

– Should fox poisoning be banned?

– Should heroin be decriminalised?

IDENTIFYING THE CONTENTION

Contention is simply another word for point-of-view or opinion. Read the piece of persuasive writing carefully. What does the writer believe? Starting a sentence with the word ‘that’ can help you identify the writer’s contention.

– That reality television is a waste of time.

– That teens should have access to private medical appointments

– That fox baiting should be banned.

IDENTIFYING TONE

Tone refers to the overall feeling of a piece of writing. Here are some useful words to help you describe tone.

Logical: rational, reasonable, analytical, cogent.

Neutral: impartial, balanced, objective, unbiased.

Informed: knowledgeable, well-read.

Passionate: emotional, emotive, ardent, vehement.

Witty: humorous, satirical, lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek.

PERSUASIVE TECHNIQUES

Writers can use a range of techniques to persuade. When you’re reading persuasive writing—or writing persuasively yourself—you need to think carefully about how techniques like these are used to position the reader to accept a particular point of view.

Adjective. Describing words, often used to make the reader feel a particular way about an issue.

e.g. “Reality shows allow us to feel a bland, artificial version of that incredible thrill you get from having a crack and chasing your ambitions.”

Adverbs. Adverbs are words that modify adjectives or verbs. Like adjectives, they are selected to make a reader think or feel about something in a particular way.

e.g. “In a recent article, I wrote about my dogs, a kelpie and a blue heeler, dying from 1080 fox bait. They had eaten it during a weekend trip to the high country and died horribly.”

Alliteration. The repetition of words starting with the same to create emphasis.

e.g. ”And I can tell you it is distressing beyond words to watch an animal suffer like that and not be able to alleviate its agony.”

Appeals. Writers often appeal to different emotions, such as a reader’s sense of fairness, justice or patriotism.

Anecdotes. Short, personal stories that help to illustrate a point.

e.g. “For my three most recent books, on motherhood, cancer and nursing, I interviewed more than 300 people about the nuts and bolts of what our incredibly short time on this planet is really about – life, death, family and love. If there is one thing I can guarantee, it’s that there will never be a person who lies on their deathbed, shaking with rage, sobbing, ‘Dear God, I wish I’d spent more time watching MasterChef.'”

Everyday language. Writers will often use everyday language, sometimes called colloquial language, to make themselves seem down-to-earth.

e.g. “Fairness is the cornerstone of our constitution and our national identity. But as we head into an election year, I think we need to ask ourselves whether we really believe in a fair go for all.”

Cliches. An overused expression. Although they should be avoided, cliches give writers an opportunity to express an idea to their readers quickly.

Here are some examples of cliches:

• Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

• Alls well that ends well.

• As light as a feather.

• Time will tell.

Connotations. All words have connotations or associations. Some words, for example, may have the same literal meaning but very different connotations. Connotations may be negative or positive. Think about the word ‘thin’. There are lots of words that share this meaning—slender, lithe, slim, skinny, lean, slight, lanky, undernourished, wasted, gangly, rake-like, anorexic, spindly. If someone was describing your body, you would probably prefer to be called ‘slender’ or ‘slim’ rather than ‘lanky’ or ‘anorexic’. When people are writing an argument, they think very carefully about the words that they select and the impact these words will have on their audience.

Emotive words. Words that provoke an emotional reaction from the audience.

e.g. “But no, people from the bush were saying it is cruel to kill foxes with a poison that causes a slow, agonising death.”

Exaggeration. Writers often exaggerate or overstate something to help persuade readers of their point of view.

e.g. “Our experts will tell you a million reasons why it can’t or shouldn’t be done here. They have turned excuse-making into an art form.”

Evidence. Writers will often use evidence – which might take the form of facts, figures, quotes or graphs – to help support their argument.

e.g. “According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, males are 400 per cent more likely to commit an offence intended to cause injury than are females.”

Expert opinion. Sometimes writers will use the opinion of experts to give further weight to their argument.

e.g. “A new research report by Victorian doctors illustrates why: because when kids are worried their parents will be told their private medical details, they simply don’t go to the doctor.”

Inclusive language. Inclusive language – using the words ‘we’ or ‘us’ – is often used to get a reader onside.

e.g. “We might not like it, but our kids’ right to confidential medical advice should take precedence over our right to know about it.”

Imagery. Descriptive writing can be a powerful persuasive technique. Describing something vividly can persuade readers.

Logic. A logical, well-structured argument can be very persuasive.

Metaphor. Metaphors, when one thing is described as another, help to persuade by describing.

e.g. “I’ve been dying of it all week and can hardly type this column because of the Niagra of snot pouring down my face and the painful fires of a thousand suns burning in my joints and muscles, which being manly muscles are able to carry a much heavier load of pain than lady muscles.”

Pun. A play on words often relying on homophones, homonyms or rhymes.

e.g. “It’s been a trying year for rugby league, what with betting scandals, controversies over players’ alleged off-field behaviour and an unseemly on-field brawl that marred the sport’s reputation on approach to the finals.”

e.g. “Racism is no black and white issue”.

Repetition. The repetition of words, phrases and ideas can be used to reinforce an argument and drive home the message to a reader.

e.g “It has been well established here and overseas that if teenagers think they can see a doctor in confidence, they are more likely to do so, more likely to go back for repeat visits, and more likely to disclose sensitive information.”

Rhetorical question. A question where the answer is obvious, can help lead readers to a particular conclusion.

e.g. “It has been well established here and overseas that if teenagers think they can see a doctor in confidence, they are more likely to do so, more likely to go back for repeat visits, and more likely to disclose sensitive information. And isn’t this the outcome we want? “

Sarcasm. A mocking tone.

e.g. “Not all of us can write Max Walker’s How to Hypnotise Chooks, you know – for many years the biggest-selling title in Australian literary history.”

Simile. Similes, when one thing is compared to another, can help to persuade by describing.

e.g. “…as dumb as a sack of hammers…”

Tone. The tone of an article or speech refers to its overall feeling. Is it passionate? Logical? Reasonable? Mocking? Humorous?

THINKING ABOUT PERSUASIVE LANGUAGE

The best way to understand how persuasive language can be used to convey a point of view is by reading examples of persuasive writing. Read the newspaper on a daily basis, particularly the editorials and opinion pages. This will not only help you keep abreast of current events, it will also help you develop the language skills necessary to do persuasive writing yourself.

Read the following articles and answer the questions below to help you develop an understanding of how writers persuade.

They’re pests but cruelty is inexcusable

Life’s too short for reality TV

Should teens have the right to see a doctor in private?

Reading and annotating

Before you get started, you need read the text carefully and annotate it, identify:

  • issue
  • contention
  • tone
  • audience
  • arguments
  • language
  • persuasive devices

You can use this planning sheet to help you think about an article.

Persuasive technique

Emotive language

Connotation

Example

“They had eaten it during a weekend trip to the high country and died horribly.”

“…stop foxes being culled in this barbaric manner. Use your voice, they said, spread the news and stop an inhumane practice.”

Effect

Makes the reader feel sorry for the animals who eat the bait and builds a case for a ban on the poison.

The word “barbaric” makes the reader feel like this is uncivilized. The word “inhumane” has a powerful effect on the reader convincing them that it is cruel.

Argument analysis essay

In English, you will often be asked to write an essay about how writers or speakers have used language to persuade.

An introduction to an argument analysis essay describes the issue generally, the author’s contention and tone. When remembering what to include in the introduction to an argument analysis essay, you can use the acronym FATCAT. 

  • Form. What is the form of the piece of writing? An opinion piece? Letter to the editor? Speech?
  • Author. Who wrote the piece? What is their involvement in the issue?
  • Title. Make sure you include the title somewhere in your introduction. 
  • Contention. What is the writer’s point of view?
  • Audience. Who is the intended audience of the article?
  • Tone. What tone does the writer adopt?

Here is an example argument analysis about an article about poisoning foxes:

There has recently been considerable controversy over the use of 1080 fox bait to control Victoria’s fox population. In his opinion article ‘They’re pests but cruelty is inexcusable’, writer Dmitri Kakmi argues in a logical and, at times, emotive tone that fox baiting is cruel and inhumane, attempting to persuade both Victorians and lawmakers that we must change this barbaric practice.

Body paragraph

In the body paragraphs of an argument analysis essay, you will identify an argument, then discuss the persuasive techniques that a writer uses to support that argument. Always make reference to how different techniques make the reader feel or react.

We use the AAPEE structure when writing about this article.

  • Argument, Identify an argument.
  • Analysis. Analyse how the writer makes the argument overall.
  • Persuasive technique. Identify a persuasive technique used to make this argument.
  • Example. Given an example of that technique
  • Effect. Explain its effect on the audience.

You may repeat the PEE part as many times as you like!

O’Brien argues that parents should trust the professionalism of doctors, allowing teens to have private medical appointments. In making this argument, O’Brien recognises that, when it comes to their children, parents are likely to be swayed by the advice of experts, which means she approaches this in a logical manner relying heavily on evidence and the suggestion that parents should trust medical professionals. She supports this argument with the use of evidence, referring to “a new research report from Victorian doctors” which indicates children should have the right to private medical appointments. This use of expert opinion suggests that O’Brien’s contention has widespread support by a trusted body of professionals and her use of this evidence positions parents to contemplate whether their right to know surpasses their children’s health. Furthermore, O’Brien uses the positive connotations of the word “professional” when she states there are times when parents should “defer to other professionals whose job it is to protect our kids”. The word ‘professionals’ has connotations of experiencing and training, further emphasising their credibility in the eyes of parents who might be wary of allowing their teenagers to have private medical appointments.  

Writing a conclusion

Analyse the writer’s conclusion. Conclude by discussing how the writer makes their final argument. Why does the article end in that way? The last paragraph will often be a final plea to the reader, a call to action or a dramatic statement intended to linger in their reader’s mind.