Start, Continue, Finish
Its 11:46PM… you have 14 minutes to submit your assignment to Desire to Learn. You’re 200 words short of the minimum word-count. You’re so close, but you’ve exhausted all of your talking points. What do you result to? A little bit of rambling, using a few SAT vocabulary words, and adding useless clauses that make your sentence structure more complex, but not more effective. While this sort of strategy is useful when writing for length, it has no place in writing in the ‘real world’ where nobody has the time or desire to read your dissociated thoughts. By ‘real world’ I mean writing in the workplace, which at some point or another we will all be doing. How can I improve my writing to be more persuasive and effective you may ask? Well I have just the thing…
Enter rhetorical awareness and user-centered design. These two concepts will take your writing to the next level – from Intro to Business mediocre to Senior Capstone professional. Wow your co-workers with your no-nonsense style or influence your boss into giving you that raise – all is within your reach when using the fundamentals of rhetorical awareness.
Persuasion should be the first word that comes to mind when thinking of rhetorical analysis. The art of persuasion is centered on the idea of getting someone to do or believe something. Your workplace writing will have one of two goals: getting someone to do something or getting someone to believe something. Therefore it is vital that you nail down the principles of persuasive writing:
- Purpose: What is it that you want your reader to take away from what you are writing? Drive them to act upon something, think in a different way, or learn something – understanding your objective will help you achieve it.
- Audience: Ideally, who would you want reading and appreciating your work? Also, think of those who may stumble upon your work – what would you want them to think?
- Stakeholders: Who might be impacted by what you are writing? Yourself, your co-workers, your family?
- Context: Essentially, why was this document created in the first place? Does it need to be written and what will its effect be?
… exactly, answer Peter’s question.
Considering these four ideas before you start writing is a simple way to increase the readability, persuasiveness, and level of engagement of your work.
Moving beyond rhetorical analysis, we will look into user-centered design. User-centered design brings the focus of your writing onto the reader and how to optimally express your message to them. There are three things to keep in mind when implementing user-centered design: document design, information design and sentence design.
1) Document design is as simple as how your document is laid out. Is it aesthetic? Does it flow well? Are your ideas organized on the page? It helps to frame your ideas in an outline form so that your reader can keep track of your objective.
2) Information design concerns how your thoughts are laid out. In most instances, it is better to move from general to specific in how information is presented. Start with a global thesis and move into the insights that a reader will . These broad starts help to find a common ground with you and the reader – a starting place. This starting place should help to entice the reader, which will hopefully lead them through the rest of the piece.
3) Keep sentences short. User-centered design should be easy to read. What comes to mind when easy-reading is mentioned isn’t typically the punctilious prose of Dickens, but rather the pleasantly simple sentences presented by the great Dr. Seuss. Ideally, the subject of your sentence will be towards the beginning with the verb following. Just like The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss:
“Have no fear!” said the cat.
“I will not let you fall.
I will hold you up high
As I stand on a ball.
With a book on one hand!
And a cup on my hat!
But that is not ALL I can do!’
Said the cat…”
Complex sentence structure should also be avoided when possible. Longer, more complex sentences tend to be more confusing and difficult to read. You wouldn’t want to belabor the stranger reading your work (but you may want to put your English teacher through the rigors, I get it). Elaborate and technical vocabulary should also be kept to a minimum. It is important to keep in mind that your readers may come from a diverse background including different levels of education and interests.
Few things in writing can turn a reader off to your work more than using complex language. Again, the goal of user-centered design is to write to your reader – present them with the knowledge in a way that they don’t have to work for it.
Brining it all together
Rhetorical analysis is a tool to use to improve the persuasiveness of your writing and user-centered design helps to engage your reader by making the writing easy for them to read. My hope is that these simple and easy to implement suggestions will help you to improve the persuasiveness and effectiveness of your writing!