When the teaching of technical writing first emerged in university engineering schools, it was defined as rigorously objective in writing style—even to the extent of using the passive voice instead of the first person singular "I." The standard model was the primary research report. However, since then, it has become clear that technical writers must often engage in persuasive communication efforts in their primary work.

What Is Persuasion?

The infrastructure essential in proposals and progress reports is persuasion. To convince people to hire you to do a project and to reassure them that the project is going well, you need persuasive strategies. This chapter reviews the common persuasive strategies to get you ready to write those kinds of documents—as well as persuasive technical documents. Understanding general persuasive writing strategies, you will be well-equipped to develop these kinds of documents:

Note: See examples of persuasion.

Persuasion is the communicative effort to convince people to think a certain or act a certain way—to vote for a city-wide recycling program, to oppose the building of more coal-fired electricity plants, and so on—or the opposite!

In the view of some, persuasion is not a legitimate tool for technical communication. For them, technical writing is supposed to be "scientific," "objective," "neutral." However, if you grant that proposals, progress reports, resumes, application letters, and even complaint letters are instances of technical communication because they often must convey technical information, then you see that persuasion is an important tool in technical communication.

What Are the Tools of Persuasion?

The classical approach to persuasion, laid down my Aristotle (384–322 BCE) in the Art of Rhetoric, involves these appeals to readers and listeners (remember your Rhetoric and Composition 101?):

You may also have encountered the "stylistic" appeal: the use of language and visual effects to increase the persuasive impact. For example, a glossy, fancy design for a resume can have a positive impact just as much as the content.

In your rhetoric and composition studies, you may also have encountered something called the Toulmin approach to persuasion. The complete system involves claims, grounds, warrant, backing, and rebuttal, but a particularly useful element is the rebuttal, and another known as the concession.

What Are the Common Flaws in Persuasion?

You should be aware too of the logical fallacies commonly found in persuasive efforts:

How to Write a Persuasive Document

Here are guidelines on writing persuasively in a technical-writing content:

How to Format Persuasive Documents?

Here are a few suggestions on format as they relate specifically to persuasive documents.