The rhetoric of persuasive letters

I’ve had to write two persuasive letters this week: one asking for a raise and one asking for assistance with some research. I did some research before writing these letters and came across some interesting insights into the rhetorical structure of persuasive letters. There are three steps to an effective persuasive letter is: introduce your product, service, or request; explain its benefits; and then explain what the reader can do to help you. (I’ll post the two letters next week after I’ve anonymized them.)


First, introduce the product, service or request that you’re trying to sell or solicit—in the case of a request for an increased salary, that product/service is you. Discuss the product, service or request here, and outline its history including all striking and relevant background information. If YOU are the product/service, discuss your experiences, achievements, skills, and contributions to your company. In the case of a request for assistance with something (in my case, a research project), contextualize your research within a field and tie it to any relevant major theories or thinkers.


Next, you want to discuss the benefits of your product, service or request. Discuss the effectiveness of the subject you need assistance. Write in a way that answers the following questions (before the reader even has a chance to ask): what does your product, service, or request do or achieve? Don’t just explain the reasons it is good; explain the reasons it is good for the reader. As I’ve espoused in the past, writers need to envision an audience, and target each piece of their work for an audience. So, who is your audience? What do they want to hear that will convince them to help you?


Once your reader understands the benefits of the product, service, or request, they need to know what to do to help you. So the third paragraph is when you tell your reader what you want. Again, if you haven’t had a chance, demonstrate that you’ve carefully considered your request before asking. If you want a raise, discuss the reasons why and demonstrate your awareness of the industry average for your position and experience; if you want to sell a product, demonstrate you’re aware of market trends; if you want to request assistance with something, explain the reason you’ve selected this particular reader to help you out. In every case, personalize your request in such a way that is unique to the reader. Be as specific as possible so your request doesn’t sound come across as ‘junk mail’.


Lastly, appropriately thank your reader for their time and try to keep your conclusion as forward thinking as possible. By forward thinking, I mean mention that you’re “looking forward” to working with your reader, or that you look forward to meeting them. If you’re asking for a raise, explain that, moving forward, you want to grow with the company; if you’re selling something, mention how your services will last. In all professional communications you want to demonstrate stability and sustainability—two traits that tacitly invoke thoughts of the future.

What do you think? Are there any steps missing? Or do you have any questions as to the logic of this method of organization? Please post a comment with your thoughts. I’ll post my own samples soon.


  1. An excellent breakdown on a difficult topic, we all want things but it is not well taught how to go about requesting them. The only addition I would make is to add a signature to the end of the letter, I feel then putting pen to ink and making your mark at the bottom of your letter adds a personal connection that might be lost if a letter is simply typed, printed, and mailed. Even if the letter is sent via email I have a jpg of my signature that I add to try and convey that their is a real person attached to this request.


    • That’s an excellent suggestion, Shane. Thanks very much. Maybe I should start doing that for my blog posts. Oh wait, then my signature would be online . . . probably not a good idea ;)

      But seriously, you’re right. I should have added a note about a signature.


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