You also want to use strong visuals—especially if you want to portray data. Informational writing relies on facts, data, and statistics, but these need to be portrayed in easy, understandable ways, and visuals really help with that. Choose clear diagrams, tables, figures, and/or images to illustrate your point. Document design can also help—things such as bullets, headings and subheadings, bolded key terms or definitions, call-out boxes, color, and even white space.
Even in informational writing, you can appeal to the emotions of your audience. For instance, consider including some type of story, example, or case study that connects with your audience because it will help them see the relevance of your point. You can even consider whether adding some humor would be appropriate. When you conclude, try to tie in your conclusion to your introduction and leave your audience with something memorable. Ask yourself, "What do I want my audience to remember?" End with that.
As opposed to informational writing, if your goal is to persuade or get your audience to do or think something, then you're making an argument. There's a whole field of study called Rhetoric that goes back to ancient times where people examine the best ways to persuade or influence others. When writing an argument, your objective is to propose a solution to a current problem, to have your audience see your opinion, point, or research claim as valid, true, and valuable. In other words, your purpose is to persuade, convince, motivate, or move readers toward a certain point of view or action. In fact, a lot of persuasive writing ends with a "Call to Action" where you overtly ask your audience to—you guessed it—take some kind of action.
In academic circles, persuasion is best done through published articles or presentations that focus on methods, data, results; but when it comes to general audiences, the focus changes first, to catching people's attention and then to convincing them with a mix of appeals to logic, character, and emotion.
A Word on Narrative
One particularly poignant tool to use in general audience writing is narrative—especially personal stories. As mentioned in Chapter 5: Style, we as humans are hard-wired to remember stories. Narratives that are personal, detailed, and interesting can be a point of convincing evidence that has the power to mold and change your readers' thinking much more than statistics or data alone can.
Watch this 3-minute video about the power of storytelling from one of the greatest group of storytellers in modern times: Pixar.
Harness the power of storytelling by adding global storytelling (having an arc to your writing with a beginning, middle, and end, etc.) and local storytelling elements (like including an incident that happened to you). Review Chapter 5: Style for more ideas.
Context and Genre
One last consideration to keep in mind is the context in which you're communicating and whether there's an established genre or form your writing needs to fit into. To review the concepts of genre and context, see Chapter 2: Writing Tools. Whether it be an online blog post, a resume, a poster presentation or a tweet, you need to understand the conventions people usually use when communicating. In fact, sometimes knowing the genre is all the information you need to understand the message.
For example, in the town where I live, there's an odd tradition that when high schoolers ask someone to a school dance, they usually do so in a creative way. Like, really creative. Like, Instagram-worthy. So one day, my family found this message on our doorstep.
Even though the words of Abby's message themselves weren't intelligible, we immediately understood the message because we understood the genre (unusual items left on doorsteps are usually dance invitations) and the context (we've seen the movie The Guardians of the Galaxy, so we caught the reference to the plant creature who speaks using only one phrase: "I am Groot."). In fact, by referencing a popular movie and challenging the typical genre of dance invitations, Abby made a better—and funnier—invitation than if she'd simply said her message straight out. This is why understanding genre and context can really help you get your own message across—even in your love life.
The rest of this Unit of the textbook (General Audiences) will be devoted to specific genres of general audience writing, so for help with particular types of communication like resumes, blog posts, or presentations, go to those chapters. In the meantime, let's finish our discussion with the best strategies for connecting with general audiences.