Written Communication: Informative Versus Persuasive Messages

Composing messages in written form is a fundamental skill that any professional communicator should know and improve upon. Understanding the difference between informative and persuasive messages can be complicated so examining the approaches to drafting these two types of messages is necessary. Examining the different approaches to creating informative and persuasive messages ensures that a communicator constructs messages in an ethical and authentic manner. Furthermore, by analyzing why informative and persuasive messages are different a professional communicator can introduce important messages to unreceptive audiences.

Foundations of Writing Informative and Persuasive Messages

Almost every written message contains elements that include identifying the purpose of the message, analyzing the audience for key elements, considering the context of communication, and selecting the appropriate medium for distribution (Walker, 2015). However, informative messages and persuasive messages differ in structure, organization, and presentation of content. Informative messages identify the topic, whether through direct or indirect approaches. The direct approach states the purpose and provides an abridgment of information at the beginning of the message (Walker, 2015). The direct approach is most often used for business communication for positive message distribution. The indirect approach is a common method for conveying unpleasant information or bad news. Restructuring information so that the negative information is not first and the message is supplemented with positive information at the end is a common practice for developing an indirect message.

Persuasive messages require a professional communicator to self-analyze, research, support, and demonstrate information to compose a compelling message. The structure of a persuasive message includes a claim, evidence, and an appeal to a schema of logos, ethos, or pathos (Walker, 2015). Schemas “function to control the encoding, storage, and retrieval of information…and serve as frameworks for comprehending new data, guiding actions, and bridging gaps in information” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 460). Claims and evidence demonstrate the ability to reason and establish a foundation of knowledge for persuading an audience (Walker, 2015), whereas claims and evidence are not used to influence an audience in informative messages. Although making a claim and providing supporting evidence is relevant to both informative and persuasive message construction, this process is more important for writing persuasive messages. Structure as a tactical element is more important in informative messages.

Direct and Indirect Approaches in Written Informative Messages

Peter Cardon, the associate professor for Center for Management Communication at University of Southern California indicates that the most effective process for creating an informative business messages is to use the AIM planning process. AIM is an easy to follow planning process; A is for audience analysis, I is for idea development, and M is for message structuring (Cardon, 2016). The AIM planning process is applicable for both indirect and direct approaches. Professor for the Center for Management Communication at University of Southern California Robyn Walker (2015) indicates that direct approaches are most applicable for all types of business communication both formal and informal where as indirect approach is best used for bad news. Most business people expect the direct approach in written communication because the direct approach provides a clear idea of what to expect in the message. However, using the indirect approach is necessary for conveying negative information. Unlike stating the purpose of the message upfront and placing the most important information at the beginning and end with the direct approach, an indirect message is buffered with neutral information at the beginning and end and the bad news is sandwiched in the middle of the message (Walker, 2015).

Ethical Messaging and Cultural Characteristics

Determining whether the indirect approach in written communication is ethical is relative to the audience so audience factors need to be considered. Professors Marianne Dainton and Elaine D. Zelley of La Salle University identify five cultural characteristics that affect communications. Individualism-collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, masculinity-femininity, and long-term and short-term orientation contribute to how well an indirect message will be received (Dainton and Zelley, 2011). People from individualist cultures might perceive an indirect message as suspicious whereas collectivist cultures view indirect approach as considerate. The cultural dimension of uncertainty avoidance and whether a person is high uncertainty or low uncertainty avoidant will predict the receptiveness of an indirect message. Similarly, a high power distance person might accept an indirect message as an appropriate method of communication but a low power distance person might dismiss it. The masculinity-femininity characteristics influence an indirect message because masculine cultures prefer assertive communication and feminine cultures prefer flexible communications. Lastly, long-term sand short-term orientation can influence messages but neither cultural orientation appears to prefer indirect over direct approach. Understanding how different cultural groups process information will help professional communicators develop perceptive written messages that ethically transmit information using the indirect approach.

Influence of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos in Persuasive Messages

Walker (2015) states that a persuasive message contains two parts, which is the claim and evidence. The claim is defined as an idea presented as fact and evidence is specific information that supports the claim (Walker, 2015). Evidence is an important aspect in a persuasive message because providing evidence offers a professional communicator the opportunity to demonstrate reasoning and knowledge in a subject. Facts, statistics, examples, analogies, and expert testimonies are the types of evidence that can bolster a claim in a persuasive message (Walker, 2015). Using these types of evidence in a written persuasive message helps the audience process the message in a non-coercive manner. Additionally, appealing to the logical, ethical, and emotional interests of an audience is another tactic that a professional communicator can use when constructing a persuasive message.

Similar to communicating to the five types of cultural characteristics affect communications, appealing to schemas of logos, ethos, and pathos is another method of persuasive communication. Logos or logical appeal is the category of information that includes facts and statistics (Walker, 2015). Ethos is the “ethical appeal that refers to information that provides credibility to ourselves or our position” (Walker, 2015, p. 159). Pathos is the emotional appeal that allows an audience to empathize through emotion (Walker, 2015). Logos is deployed in written persuasive messages because business communicators use facts, statistics, examples, analogies, and expert testimonies. Logic is a foundation of persuasion. Ethical appeal is used because organizational culture includes ethics as a foundation for business. People will develop trust for a person if the person can establish credibility through ethical appeal. However, pathos should be used with significant consideration because emotional appeal is not appropriate for every audience. Collectivist feminine cultures with high uncertainty avoidance and low power distance might respond better to pathos whereas Individualist masculine cultures with low uncertainty avoidance and high power distance might respond poorly to pathos (Dainton and Zelley, 2011).

Establishing Common Ground for Persuasive Communications

Common ground is defined as “the interests, goals, and commonalities of belief that the communicator shares with the audience” (Walker, 2015, p. 94). Establishing common ground is important for most types of business communications but is particularly important when communicating with a hostile or resistant audience. An audience might have developed a confirmation bias or perceptual mind-set that influences how a message is received and interpreted. Dainton and Zelley (2011) define Inoculation Theory as a process of understanding how resistance evolves in an audience when drafting persuasive messages. Similar to the function of a vaccine, a weak argument from in a message can create immunity for the message receiver. “Once exposed to this weak argument, people are less likely to change their attitudes when presented with a stronger form of the argument; they have, in essence, developed a formidable defense system” (Dainton and Zelley, 2011, p. 135). Establishing common ground is the first step for influencing an audience that is resistant or immune to new information because this process helps transform and construct social realities.

To Inform and To Persuade

The foundations for communicating through written messages for both informative and persuasive are the same. Identify the purpose, analyze the audience, consider the context, and select the channel are evident in nearly every type of professional communication method (Walker, 2015). Additionally, selecting tactical elements such as planning, incorporating visual elements, editing, and revising are apparent in most types of professional communications (Walker, 2015). By understanding the difference between informative and persuasive messages, a professional communicator can compose messages appropriate to the audience.

References

Cardon, P. (2016). Business Communication: Developing leaders for a networked world (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Dainton, M. & Zelley E. D., (2011). Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life: A Practical Introduction (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Sullivan, L. E. (2009). The SAGE glossary of the social and behavioral sciences. US: Sage Publications Inc.

Walker, R. (2015). Strategic Management Communication for Leaders (3rd ed.). Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage Learning.

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