I recently read Write This, Not That: The 45 Anti-Persuasion Mistakes by Joshua Lisec and there are quite a lot of mistakes I’ve detected in my own writing.
Whether it was my blog, email or even social post. The small things that I ignored made a huge difference.
Sharing 10 mistakes and lessons I’ve learnt to write persuasive content-
1.Writing language that’s understood by a niche
For example using technical terminologies or jargons. When I started writing, I assumed writing technical and fancy words will appeal the reader. ‘They’ll learn something new’. Turns out using jargons puts off the reader. They lose interest, resulting in not reading the entire thing.
Rather than using jargons, use simple term that you are 100% sure your readers will be familiar with.
2. Giving hypothetical examples
For example asking your reader to think of a scenario. When writing non-fiction, don’t give hypothetical examples. It won’t persuade your reader.
Instead give real life examples, either from your or someone else’s life. That’ll go a long way and have a long lasting impact.
3. Adding very, quite, just, so, pretty etc.
As much as you think these adverbs add meaning and information, they don’t. Instead of using adverbs, use stronger verbs.
For example, to write it was very cold last night. Change ‘very cold’ to freezing. It’s more visual and does the job.
4. Writing what NOT to do
When writing affirmations we don’t write what we don’t want. The reason being- ‘Our subconscious has a difficult time understanding not or can't.’
To persuade your readers, write about what you want them to imagine. For example- When writing a blog on healthy eating, don’t say- ‘Don’t think of Pizza’. Instead, say what you want them to think about.
5. Hiding behind your opinion
Joshua pointed out this mistake and it felt like a personal attack. I’ve seen this in most of the academic journals and articles. And I’m guilty of using it too.
It is commonly know as ‘hedging’. For example- ‘I feel’, ‘In my opinion’, ‘I think’. This sounds more like you are hesitant about what you are sharing. Totally anti-persuasive. Sound confidant in your writing by using imperative verbs. Tell people what to do, not what you ‘think’ they should do.
6. Having a confusing CTA
Another common mistake. Either you will see no call to action or too many calls to action. What you really need to persuade your readers is 1 solid CTA.
Tell them 1 action to take.
7. Writing above the fifth grade reading level
Unless your audience is medical or academic, your content should ‘basically read itself’. When writing for general audience keep your writing as basic and simple as possible. Keep sentences short and action oriented.
8. Making wrong predictions about your audience
Honestly, I was never confident enough to predict what my audience would be thinking or feeling while reading my content. Maybe that's why I never wrote- ‘you're probably thinking, or right now you're feeling.’ Probably because I knew it was good in my head and I needed to talk to more customers.
Persuasion comes after you truly know what your audience wants and thinks of the topic. Only then you can predict what they feel while reading your content.
9. Not making your ‘Why’ clear
Why are your readers here? Why are they reading your content? Will your advice help them in starting, improving or getting things done? Or is it a list of things they ‘should’ do?
In Joshua’s words- ‘Don't should all over people. Explain why they must follow your advice.’ Make it clear why they MUST follow your advice.
I was hesitant of using imperative verbs but after reading this, I questioned myself. If I’m not sure of my advice myself, why will others be confident in following it?
10. Editing to make it ‘look’ right
I’ve heard this several times- You don’t merely read the text but you listen to it in your mind. Editing to make it look right is the first level. The next level is when you read your content out loud to make it sound and feel right.
Focus on making your content ‘punchier, snappier, or clearer.’. Is there a rhythm in your writing? Does it sound appealing to the ears? If yes then you are close to persuading your audience.
One last mistake which nobody pointed out until now is-
Writing identical sentence structures
Elon launched Space X to make space travel cheep. Elon is one of the richest man in the world. Elon is from South Africa. Elon co-founded Paypal.
Identical sentence structures get boring. What Joshua suggests instead is- ‘For balanced writing, varied writing, subject, verb, sentence construction, followed by just a verb, an imperative command’.
Having a balance is important. Especially when writing for general audience.
I’ve taken up Influence- The psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini to get better at this.
If you liked this list, you’ll definitely like the book too. I’ll share my learnings as I read it.