Writing With Clarity

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To be Persuasive, Use Vivid Details

When you want to induce someone to comply with your request, you can be more persuasive if you use words and description that are vivid, rather than relying on statistics and dry narrative.

By presenting the audience with information that has imagery, you make your point more forcefully because people can visualize the benefits or consequences. Take, for example, an experiment that two psychologists conducted in California. Residents were not enrolling in a statewide energy conservation program in high numbers, so the psychologists, Marti Gonzales and Elliot Aronson, trained energy auditors to make their appeal more vivid when they talked with residents.

“If you were to add up all the cracks around and under the doors of your home, you’d have the equivalent of a hole the size of a football in your living room wall,” the auditors told homeowners. “Think about all the heat that would escape from a hole that size … And your attic totally lacks insulation. We call that a ‘naked attic.’ It’s as if your attic is facing winter not just without an overcoat but without any clothing at all.”

Another team of auditors, a control group, was not trained to be more vivid. The results showed that a significantly higher number of people who had heard the more visual presentation enrolled in the program.

That’s because a crack is seen as minor, but a hole the size of a football feels disastrous, Gonzales explained in a social psychology journal. And while people might not know much about insulation, the thought of being naked in the winter focuses a person’s attention and increases the likelihood that the person will take action.

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