Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Persuading
Persuasion is an important aspect of all academic writing. Although it is often said that, for example, the main purpose of a scientific research article is to present an account of the procedure followed without any kind of judgement in order for the procedure to be repeated, as Susan Hunston has made clear in the case of experimental reports (1994), the main goal of reports of experiments is persuasion. Their aim is to persuade the reader to accept the new knowledge claims.
As people are not persuaded until they are convinced that something is true, the act of persuading involves showing how something is true or how it can be shown to be true.
In a typical research article, for example, the persuasive goal of each stage of an academic or business report: can be summarised as follows
The purpose of the introduction section is to convince the reader that the research is necessary and useful.
The purpose of the methods section is to convince the reader that the research was done well.
The purpose of the results section is to convince the reader that, for example, the statistical methods used were useful and informative.
The purpose of the discussion section is to convince the reader that the results make sense and contribute to a consistent body of knowledge
Or in the case of student writing, the purpose of the student text is to convince the reader – for example, the lecturer – that the assignment purpose has been achieved.
The persuasion, though, is usually implicit. The opinions that are usually associated with the language of persuasion are usually lacking in formal academic writing. As Latour & Woolgar (1986, p. 240) emphasise ” the result of rhetorical persuasion … is that the participants are convinced that they have not been convinced.”
Since people are not persuaded until they are convinced that something is true, the act of persuasion involves demonstrating how something is true or how it can be shown to be true.
In order to be convincing, you need to:
Make your claims clear.
This could involve:
- Defining: Writing Functions: Defining
- Taking a stance: Writing Functions: Stance
- Expressing degree of certainty: Writing Functions: Certainty
- Expressing reasons and explanations: Writing Functions: Reasons
- Generalising: Writing Functions: Generalising
- Discussing: Writing Functions: Discussing
- Recommending: Writing Functions: Recommending
Supporting – Writing Functions: Supporting
This can be done by
- Giving examples: Writing Functions: Examples
- Including tables and charts: Writing Functions: Charts & Diagrams
- Presenting findings from statistical analyses: Writing Functions: Presenting Findings from Statistical Analyses
- Presenting findings from interviews: Writing Functions: Presenting Findings from Interviews
- As well as comparing your claims to others.
- Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences: Writing Functions: Comparing
- Evaluating other points of view: Writing Functions: Evaluating
In order to