Understanding the Moves that Matter
Persuasion is an attempt to sway others to your way of thinking or acting. Whenever someone tries to persuade you to do or think something, they make a series of "moves" that they believe will be effective in changing your mind. If you want to become more smart about recognizing HOW someone is trying to persuade you, there are a few sub-categories of "moves" that you may want to pay attention to.
Here's an example to think about as you read through the following list of questions: Imagine that you're listening to a friend who's trying to convince his mom or dad that he should be allowed to go camping on the weekend before high school graduation. If you were trying to judge the persuasive moves he was making, these are some of the questions you might ask:
- What do you know about the audience? Are they likely to be receptive, neutral, or hostile?
- What is this audience's past experience with the topic and with the speaker/writer?
- What do you know about the audience's values?
- Can you tell what the speaker/writer wants to accomplish with his/her work? (Is the primary purpose to inform, to persuade, to entertain, etc.? What clues are there about the goal of the work?)
- Can you tell what the speaker's/writer's main point (thesis) is? Is that thesis clearly stated, or is it implicit?
Once you’ve closely thought about the audience and purpose, you can begin to explore the “moves” that might help the speaker/writer to successfully persuade the audience.
Structure and Development
- What are the parts of the speaker/writer's strategy? (Does he start by flattering his parent?)
- What is the order of those parts? Why? (For example, why might he start with a compliment?)
- What is the timing of those parts? (Where does he spend a lot of time on a single move?)
- How well-developed are the various sections of the persuasive effort? Why might someone choose to leave details out?
Sources and Evidence
- What types of evidence might be persuasive for this audience? (Types of evidence include statistics, facts, historical events, expert testimony, the speaker/writer's personal experience/observation, anecdotes, examples, "common sense," etc.)
- How much evidence is necessary for the speaker/writer to establish/maintain credibility? (If you are credible, that means that you are worthy of being trusted. Arguments are generally more persuasive if the speaker/writer is considered credible.)
- Are there places where the speaker/writer could add more evidence?
Tone and Conventions
- What is the appropriate tone for the audience? (Whining? Authoritative? Condescending? Apologetic?)
- Does the speaker/writer use appropriate language and word choice for the situation?
- Does the speaker/writer follow the "expectations" for this type of situation? What are the expectations?