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Persuasive Writing

  • Persuasive communication
    • Clear, purposeful communication can
      • Influence behavior
      • Speed decision-making and action
    • Start with problem, build concern, present solution
    • Source credibility most important for persuasion
      • Trustworthiness is most important aspect for source credibility
        • If you have low credibility:
          • Hard, specific facts
          • First-hand experience

    • Rational or emotional appeals
      • Depends on personality, education of audience
      • Emotional appeals can work well, but source often forgotten
      • Combination best

    • Steps to persuasion
      1. Presentation
      2. Attention
      3. Comprehension
      4. Yielding    A  --------->  B
      5. Retention
      6. Overt behavior

      • Say specifically what you want reader to do.
        • Agree with your solution

    • Types of persuasion
      • Reasoning based
        • Logical statements
        • Examples and evidence
      • Values based
        • Common goals and ideals
        • Framed ideas

    • Reasoning with logic
      • If-then
      • Cause-effect
      • Because
      • Cost and benefits

    • Reasoning with example, evidence
      • Use real or realistic statements
        • Examples
        • Prior experiences
        • Facts
        • Data
        • Observations
        • Quotes from experts
        • See Fig. 13.2 (4th ed.) for example: briefing by NASA on global warming

      • Observations & data: Cosmos: The World Set Free
        • Greenhouse warming from volcanoes' carbon dioxide on Venus led to loss of oceans

        • Carbon dioxide (CO2) on Earth
          • Climate-regulating gas of our atmosphere
            • Delicate balance of CO2 in our atmosphere
              • < 3 molecules per 10,000
            • Temperature range for life as we know it
            • Regulated primarily by forests, inhale in spring, exhale in fall
          • Oceans and permafrost have stored carbon

          • Climatic record of carbon-dioxide levels
            • Annual layers of stored carbon in polar ice measured with isotope analysis
            • Unbroken record for 800,000 years

          • Carbon dioxide
            • Increase in CO2 can influence Earth's climate
              • Greenhouse effect, increased average temperatures

              • Bill Nye experiment, Climate Change 101
                • CO2 and causation


          • Only seasonal fluctuations over 800,000 years
            • Volcanoes issue 500 million tons of CO2 per year
            • The amount in atmosphere never rose by more than 0.003% (3/100ths of 1%)
            • Since 1900, has risen 40%
          • Now in atmosphere, 30 billion tons of CO2 per year (500 million x 60)

            • Correlates with amount relased by burning coal, oil and gas
              • Distinct chemical signature at atomic level
                • Distinct from carbon released by volcanoes

          • No more than 300 parts per million in 800,000 years, until 1950
    • 2016 hottest year on record
      • Average temperature, land and sea, was 1.62°F above 20th century average
        • Fifth record set since 2000
        • Records set in Alaska and eastern states
        • Record warmth spread around world
    • 'Explosive' increase in CO2 in 2015
    • NOAA: CO2 reached record level in 2015
      • Rising more swiftly than in 100,000s of years
      • Increased by 3.05 parts per million
      • Record increase in 56 years of study
      • “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”
      • Fourth consecutive year that CO2 increased by more than 2 ppm
      • Driven by El Nino and continued emissions
  • Sea Level Rise
  • Effects on us
    • Scientific consensus
    • Doom & Gloom?

      “If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're fd.”

      Tweet by glaciologist Jason Box,
      Ohio State University Polar & Climate Research Center, Greenland

      • Pretraumatic Stress

        “Among climate activists, gloom is building….”
        A  study of longtime activists found the “most frequently reported feeling is sadness, followed by fear and anger.”

        The “melancholy mood” dated to “the failure of the 2009 climate conference and the gradual shift from hope of prevention to plans for adaptation.”

        John H. Richardson,
        “When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job,” Esquire,

    • Fact-based arguments can fail
      • Reading information that undermines identity can trigger “feelings of anger and dismay,” making it difficult to accept new facts
      • Network of information justifying current perspective
        • New information must overwhelm old information
          • Often by integrating some of the old information
            • Bacteria in yogurt
          • If not, persuasion fails or backfires
            • Old information burns “even more fiercely”

            The British Psychological Society, Research Digest, “Why is it so hard to persuade people with facts?"
            from G. Trevors, et al. (2016).
            “Identity and Epistemic Emotions during Knowledge Revision:
            A Potential Account for the Backfire Effect,” Discourse Process

    • Persuading with values
      • More subtle than reasoning-based persuasion
      • Trying to convince readers to identify with you
      • Two forms
        • Shared goals and ideals (research)
        • Frames Frame from readers’ perspective
        • Emphasize facts that appeal to readers’ sense of values

  • Message Strategy

    • Communicating science to nonscientists
      • David Herring, science writer, director of communication, NOAA
        • Master’s degree in scientific and technical writing

      • Herring's Observations

        • Most communicators have tendency to tell publics all we know
        • Many publics not eager to be fed knowledge
        • Must be predisposed to accept the core assumptions

        • All publics

          • Overloaded
          • Distracted by immediate concerns
          • Trust what we already believe
          • Respond to emotions
          • Listen selectively and simplify
            • Filter and simplify

        • Many People

          Fear uncertainty and doubt (FUD)

        • People
          • Filter and simplify based on Values—important to connect with values
            • Emotions
            • Preconceptions
            • Past experiences
            • Trusted informants—actually sought out
            • World view
            • Others’ opinions
            • Culture


    • Message
      • Start with what they value
      • Simple clear messages
      • Repeated often
      • From sources they trust

      • NOAA message
        • It’s real.
        • It’s us.
        • It’s bad.
        • And scientists agree we can solve it.

      • Call to Action

      “I think action [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions] is needed urgently, because we are on the precipice of a climate system 'tipping point.’

      “I believe the evidence shows with reasonable clarity that the level of additional global warming that would put us into dangerous territory is at most 1°C.”

      Professor James E. Hansen, 2007
      Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
      [On planet cooling, 1940-1970, in normal 100,000-year cycle
      but warming due to CO2 emissions]  

    • Solutions
      • Reduce carbon footprint
        • Reduce fossil fuel use
          • Coal, oil, gas
      • Upgrade infrastructure
        • 43% emissions
      • Move closer to work
        • 2nd leading cause
      • Consume less, unplug
        • From autos to bags
      • Be efficient
        • From autos to lights
      • Eat smart
        • Foods w/less impact
      • Save trees
        • Harvesting=20% emissions
        • Plant trees (store carbon)
      • Carbon tax
      • One child
        • 9.7 billion by 2050
      • Future fuels
      • Future Earth
        • geoengineering
    • Persuasion tactics used
      • Rational
      • Emotional
      • Fact-based reasoning
      • Values
      • Cause-effect
        • experiement
      • Cost-benefit
      • Example/evidence
      • Prior Experience
      • Facts
        • Reliable sources
      • Data
      • Observations
      • Quotes from experts
      • Call to action!