During the first week of class I asked you to do some “soul searching,” get to know yourself better! Who are you? What are your values? What do you hold dear? What are your ideologies? Where do you stand on the political spectrum? Do you see yourself as a conservative or a liberal? I hope you took some time to reflect on these issues, because the first step in writing that amazing opinion piece is to have a perfectly clear idea on your own point of view!
The next step in this process is to know your audience!
The first thing to know about your audience is that they are not uniform. Far from it. First, they have different ways of thinking about the world and different ways of processing information presented to them. Some people are emotional, others tend to be rational. But, the majority of people are somewhere in between. Research in psychology and theories of persuasion provides great resources to help us understand better our audiences. There are particularly four theories that can be useful to us here.
- Social Judgement theory – suggests that knowing a person’s attitudes on subjects can provide you with clues about how to approach a persuasive effort. True persuasion can only occur, according to this theory, if the message you send is in an individual’s latitude of noncommitment or at the edges of his/her latitude of acceptance
- Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) – Persuasion occurs primarily as a cognitive processes of motivation and reasoning (or a lack thereof). Relies on strong, logical arguments for persuading a motivated and able audience
- Narrative paradigm – stresses the effectiveness of influence through narration—that is, persuasion through storytelling
- Cognitive Dissonance Theory – focuses on an individual’s psychological response to inconsistencies in beliefs and actions. Influence is often an intrapersonal event, occurring when incongruence between our attitudes and behavior creates a tension that is resolved by altering either our beliefs or our behaviors, thereby effecting a change
Each of these theories provides of crucial information regarding what type of argument works best for different types of audiences. Make good use of these theories as you write your opinion pieces!