The Art of Persuasion
and Grant Writing
Unearthing Writing Tools in a
2,000+ Year-Old Treatise
In 4th Century B.C. Greece, the philosopher Aristotle penned Rhetoric
, a discourse on the art of persuasion. His pillars of logos
(reasoned argument), ethos
(credibility), and pathos
(emotional appeal) can be built into an attention-getting—and ultimately successful—grant proposal.
What can today’s grant writers learn from Aristotle? He was a master on persuading an audience by using knowledge to resolve issues. Greek Philosophy—and stellar grant writing—combines dialectic
(reasoning and discussion) and rhetoric
(the art of persuasive speaking or writing) into a system for persuasion.
A grant proposal must convince your reader that your solution is necessary for the community you serve and that your organization is fit to address this need. Your goals must be both achievable with a realistic budget and measurable through activities and strategies that are well-planned. You must show that your project is unique and a better fit to fund than similar ones. To persuade your potential funders, we turn to Aristotle for tips.
Logos, Ethos and Pathos:
Aristotle’s Persuasion Principles
Using Logos: Persuading with Facts
State why your organization’s project is important with reasoned argument using fact-based claims in an appealing and logical structure. Facts should be well-researched and provide sufficient evidence to reinforce the central claim. Apply a positive slant to your organization without discrediting others.
The most effective approach is to put the claim first, then document the facts and conclude by restating the claim.
Embracing Ethos to Persuade by Establishing Credibility
Ethos is about positioning you, the grant seeker, as intelligent, competent, honest and reliable.
Establish your character:
be truthful and respectful by relating facts accurately and addressing anything that might be construed as negative by a potential funder.
integrate clear and organized writing, illustrating a single idea in each paragraph. Refrain from including vague references to information with which the funder may not be familiar.
Get a response with good will:
your reader will respond positively when they feel you are disposed favorably toward them. As a grant writer, your objective is to indicate that you understand the funder’s priorities; explain why those dovetail with the goals of your program and/or organization.
Utilizing Pathos: Appealing to the Emotions
Compelling and relevant real-life stories and purposeful word selection will evoke compassion for, and interest in, the sought-after grant solution. Use emotional appeal to buttress your argument.
Law professor and author Michael Smith, in his book Advanced Legal Writing,
advocates a two-pronged approach to pathos: emotional substance
and medium mood control.
Persuading with emotional substance:
Smith explains pathos as “eliciting an emotional response from the audience regarding the substance of the matter under consideration.”i
Matter is the problem that the proposed project will answer. Introduce your stories here to allow your reader to discover what you aim to solve.
Using medium mood control:
Smith defines this as the effect that the medium of the message, or delivery, has on the audience’s mood. If the medium is pleasing to the audience, he says, they are more likely to be receptive to the substance of the message.ii
When you control the mood, you command your reader’s attention. When you write, use expressive, appropriate phrasing to hold your reader’s interest throughout your proposal. Avoid jargon that might make the reader stumble, like using multiple acronymns. Respect your reader’s time and sensibilities: be succinct and well-organized.
Many funders require proposals be formatted to meet specific guidelines. But within those limitations, by using the principals of persuasion, you can elevate your grant writing and increase the likelihood of success. The Grants Plus team uses these techniques in every grant proposal we produce. We’d be happy to assist your organization with your next project.
As part of the Grants Plus commitment to professional development, we engaged Carolyn Broering-Jacobs, Director of Legal Writing at Cleveland Marshall College of Law, to conduct a workshop for our team on how to incorporate persuasion into our grant writing. This article is based on that workshop.
Smith, Michael R. Advanced Legal Writing. Second ed. New York: Aspen Publishers, 2008. 11–12. Print.