Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side
From the former New York Times Op-Ed page editor, a definitive and entertaining resource for writers of every stripe on the neglected art of persuasion.
In the tradition of The Elements of Style comes Trish Hall’s essential new work on writing well—a sparkling instructional guide to persuading (almost) anyone, on (nearly) anything. As the person in charge of the Op-Ed page for the New York Times, Hall spent years immersed in argument, passion, and trendsetting ideas—but also in tangled sentences, migraine-inducing jargon, and dull-as-dishwater writing. Drawing on her vast experience editing everyone from Nobel Prize winners and global strongmen (Putin) to first-time pundits (Angelina Jolie), Hall presents the ultimate guide to writing persuasively for students, job applicants, and rookie authors looking to get published. She sets out the core principles for connecting with readers—laid out in illuminating chapters such as “Cultivate Empathy,” “Abandon Jargon,” and “Prune Ruthlessly.” Combining boisterous anecdotes with practical advice (relayed in “tracked changes” bubbles), Hall offers an infinitely accessible primer on the art of effectively communicating above the digital noise of the twenty-first century.
Hall (A Little Work) delivers an instructional guide to writing the sort of persuasively argued think pieces she oversaw during her four years as editor of the New York Times Op-Ed page. Writing broadly rather than in bullet points, and illustrating her observations with examples of submissions she handled during her tenure, she addresses the many aspects of writing that distinguish an exercise in expository writing and make it attract attention, such as drawing on a deeply personal experience to crystallize a generally relevant concern (she cites Angelina Jolie's column on her double mastectomy to raise breast cancer awareness) and playing on feelings to connect emotionally with one's audience. Some of her insights will seem obvious, if useful: don't make readers defensive by arguing, enliven a theme with storytelling, and prune one's prose of clich s and jargon, to name a few. Others are profound in their clarity: speaking about the different moral values to which people cling, she writes, "You can't expect someone to change their basic values, so you have to make your argument in a way that fits with their values." This book offers sound, well-reasoned advice that will benefit any writer.
This is not the book you’re looking for.
While this writer is an accomplished editor and story teller, she failed to persuade me that she is any kind of authority on persuasion. The book touches on elements of persuasion, but never shares a method or direction towards constructing a persuasive piece of writing. Too much time is spent on explaining her professional journey, interactions with staff, and how she writes from a neutral point of view. There is nothing to take away from this book that cannot be found elsewhere. The writing style is smooth but the substance is lacking.