Why persuasive writing often depends on compelling narrative

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Persuasive writing is sought after in all sorts of different contexts in the world at large, with marketing and advertising in particular relying heavily on this skill set.

Of course, just what constitutes “persuasive writing” is liable to change from one industry to another, and from one context to another. The construction industry will obviously be subject to different standards and expectations than the music industry, for example.

Nonetheless, one thing remains largely consistent: persuasive writing very often depends primarily on a compelling narrative, rather than on other factors, such as a great volume of technical detail.

Here are some reasons why persuasive writing often depends on compelling narrative.

Because data is only ever a means to an end

Although it may seem that it would be compelling and relevant to include as much data as possible about a product in your marketing materials, it’s important to realise that data is only ever a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.

That is to say, when a prospective buyer looks at the specifications for a particular product, the specifications are only relevant in terms of how effectively they will help the individual in question to achieve specific goals, or to resolve a particular issue that they are dealing with.

Ultimately, everything comes back to narrative. What is the problem or desire in question? How well do you, or the company who is selling the product, understand the perspective of the potential client? In what ways does life for the customer or client look better after purchasing the product?

The examples given here are marketing-related, but the same principle applies in all forms of persuasive writing.

Data should primarily be used to highlight more qualitative considerations.

Because we largely perceive the world in a narrative sense

Narrative isn’t just a particular structure that is found in TV, film, and novels. In fact, human beings in general largely perceive the world in a narrative sense.

When we go about our day-to-day lives, we have a sense of where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we desire to head to. We look for patterns in the behaviours of others that make sense in a broader framework and context. We are motivated by things like opportunities for overcoming obstacles.

Persuasive writing relies on good narrative, because human perception and interaction relies on a narrative sense as well.

Because our emotions are mostly tied up in a narrative understanding of things

Emotion is arguably at the core of all forms of persuasion and decision-making, because even when we are trying to get the right rational criteria worked out in order to deal with things in a sensible manner, we will still tend to be motivated by our underlying emotional responses to things.

If you have a viscerally negative reaction to a particular hotel, you probably won’t be rushing to book a room there for the night, even if it’s well situated for your needs.

A lot of our emotions, like our overall perceptions, are tied up in a narrative understanding of things.

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