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Use A FOREST as a Persuasive Writing Checklist

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 5.3.24

A FOREST is a helpful acronym for writers. I use it as a persuasive writing checklist as I write content, whether I’m writing to sell – or not. Each of the seven elements in A-F-O-R-E-S-T are central to persuasive writing.

Some writers mistakenly believe that persuasive writing belongs solely in the copywriting domain. Copywriters write to sell, they reason. Naturally, they need to persuade readers to buy.

Yet if you’re a content writer, you too are in the business of persuasion. You produce relevant, valuable information. Your focus is on a particular set of readers. How can your content helpful, appropriate, practical, or entertaining for them?

Here’s where the copywriting formula, A FOREST, is so useful. Content helps the reader to understand an idea, embrace a new attitude, or put a bit of knowledge into practice. When you write with your reader’s need at the forefront of your mind — rather than your own agenda — you are at your most convincing. A FOREST allows you to check for that.

Use A FOREST as a #PersuasiveWriting checklist with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #ContentWriting #Copywriting

Is it a formula or a checklist?

Copywriters use A FOREST when they’re writing an ad or piece of direct mail or a bit of sales copy, but the truth is that A FOREST is not a writing formula per se. A formula is a set method or procedure. A FOREST’s seven items don’t need to appear in a specific order in your piece. That alone sets it apart from formulas.

Rather, this persuasive writing checklist is an inventory. A FOREST helps me to remember and check for these key seven elements. You pull out A FOREST and apply it to your articles, blog posts, email campaigns, presentations, letters, websites, video scripts newsletters — even annual reports, training materials, strategic planning, and books.

Use A FOREST is a self-check. I do. Your content will be more consistent — and more persuasive.

A FOREST: it's a persuasive writing checklist

Use A FOREST to check your content for these seven elements

A: Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of phonetic sounds. Some call it “front-loading a sequence of words.” Think “She sells seashells by the seashore” or “Trick or Treat.”

By repeating sounds, you emphasize them. Emphasis makes words memorable. When content is memorable, readers are more likely to be persuaded.

You want a reader to remember what you wrote and act on it? Emphasize it. Or put another way: always allow alliteration or try this technique time after time.

F: Facts

Readers look for objections and excuses to avoid embracing new information. It is how human beings are wired. One of the best ways to refute their objections is to give proof. Evidence appeals to logic.

Credible facts can address reader protests and eliminate questions. Background information, research, graphs, and charts offer facts that can persuade. Include proof in the form of facts and your content will be much more persuasive.

O: Opinion

Reviews, user comments, expert statements, surveys — they’re “social proof,” which is persuasive because it comes from people. People like hearing from other people.

Yet the opinions you include in your writing needn’t be solely from scholars and experts with academic qualifications. Quote others, too — those who have used the product, embraced a cause, or experienced the same situation. Their comments and reviews serve as powerful social proof. Tip: whether you reference scholarly experts or the man on the street, include their credentials, as in “Dr. Jane Doe, head of cardiology at XYZ University Hospital” or “Joe Smith, lacrosse coach and father of three.”

R: Repetition

It’s called The Familiarity Principle, developed by research psychologist Robert Zajonc in the 1960s: when we hear information over and over again, our minds begin to think “it must be true.” Repetition makes an idea easy to understand. Understanding is often taken as truth — and truth is one of the most persuasive copywriting techniques out there.

Want to persuade your readers? Repeat an idea. Pull out your thesaurus and use different words. Highlight a different angle to your main point. Or reinforce the idea with different techniques — a story, a statistic, a quote.

E: Examples

Readers relate to real-life examples and anecdotes. That’s why stories and personal experiences are so appealing. A personal anecdote serves as an eyewitness giving first-hand facts from the scene.

“When we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story,” says Jeffrey M. Zacks, co-author of a study conducted at Washington University in St. Louis and published in Psychological Journal, one that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track brain function during reading. As you process words on a page, your brain gets an amazing workout. The chemical reactions in your gray matter create the sensations of the experience described on the paper or the screen.

Stories, examples, and anecdotes arouse those sensations in your reader. Therein lies their persuasive appeal. They’re relatable. Use them.

S: Statistics

Statistics are one of the most persuasive writing tools you can use because numbers are concrete and specific. “I picked 47 tomatoes today” is much more tangible than “I picked a lot of tomatoes today.” Use numbers gathered in surveys, reporting, polls, censuses — or simple specifics, like our tomato example — to make your content more persuasive. Tip: keep a record of the data source. Readers often contact me and ask where I get statistics that I use as proof. You’ll build credibility when you can answer accurately.

T: Threes

The human mind is proficient at processing information in patterns. You’ve likely heard of “The Rule of Three,” in which three is a cornerstone structural number. Three is the smallest number by which we can organize patterns in our minds, making it an ideal way to present information.

For instance, threes are used throughout literature from the three ghosts in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the children’s fable, the “Three Little Pigs.” Three is also big in slogans like “Snap, Crackle, and Pop” or even the three words in Nike’s famed “Just Do It.”

Check your content for structural threes. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end (three sections)? Do you make three points that support your main idea? Or try this: check for three ways you emphasize your main point — maybe with an example, a quote, and then a statistic to drive home the point.

Use A FOREST to persuade

A FOREST is not really a formula. It’s an easy way to remember and use content writing tricks that work. That’s why I use it as a persuasive writing checklist. Try it. Your content will become more consistently persuasive. And you’ll bring more and more readers over to your side.

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