If you want to convince someone of something, you need to be perceived as a credible person. There are proven ways to establish credibility, and once you are aware of them you’ll notice people using them all the time – from politicians, to community leaders, to sports coaches, to business people.
Note: “Because I said so” is about the worst way to argue something, and while it attempts to base its logic on credibility, we all know that a person resorting to such an argument does so because they have no credibility.
  Here are some ways to quickly establish credibility, either in your written work or in conversation:
  • Make sure your writing (or speaking) is grammatically correct
  • Use high-quality research to support your points
    • ‘High-quality’ means nationally recognized print sources such as major newspapers, magazines, academic journals, or books. It does not mean Wikipedia, commercial websites, personal websites, surveys conducted without proper methodology, or similar.
    • If you use sources like these, make sure to hedge them in your description. That is, downplay their validity and acknowledge their limited importance.
  • Name names when using research – particularly when the name will help establish the authority of your argument:
    • “According to the New York Times” or “The Journal of the American Medical Association states…” is a credibility-building way to introduce a quote. Notice that, “According to www.jamonit.com” doesn’t carry the same weight.
  • Identify common ground with your reader
    • This requires you have some specific knowledge of your audience, but you should be able to summarize some points on which you and your audience agree. Your introduction and opening paragraphs are perfect places to get this work done.
    • Make it clear that you understand multiple sides to a given argument
      • A wise person once said, “anyone who presents an argument as having two sides is lying. There are always more than two sides.”
  • Include relevant personal experiences/knowledge (if appropriate)
    • Don’t underestimate your own personal experience. For instance, if you were writing about the election of Barack Obama, and you lived through it, your observations and feelings are credible and could potentially add to your argument. Just don’t present your personal experience and feelings as being necessarily universal.
  • Avoid insulting any subset of your audience
    • This seems obvious, but students often unintentionally insult their audience. Even throwaway lines like, “Any rational person could agree…” might get you into trouble. If the reader doesn’t agree with your claim you are calling them irrational.
  • Present evidence fairly
    • Don’t distort evidence (by editing quotes or twisting statistics)
      • Don’t cherry-pick facts and information that only supports your point of view
      • Make sure any graphs representing data are logically presented. Often the creators of graphs will distort the axes or use similar techniques to skew data.