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394092: Persuasive Writing

  • Fall 2023
  • Section 1
  • 4 Credits
  • 09/27/2023 to 12/12/2023
  • Modified 11/20/2023

Meeting Times



Persuasive writing is all around us: in editorials, in advertising, social media and even in the emails we write to friends and coworkers. Persuasive messages can take the form of logical arguments, emotionally charged rhetoric or short narratives (e.g., a TV ad). Designed for writers of all experience levels, this course introduces you to major persuasion theories from social and media psychology and to some ideas from cognitive neuroscience relevant to persuasion in a manner that is both accessible and fun. You complete exercises that help you practice persuasive writing, participate in discussions and get feedback from peers. By the end of the course, you know how to choose the best route to persuasion, considering your audiences’ motivation and readiness to change and how to format and craft a message to make it more persuasive.


Throughout this course, students will:

  • Understand how to affect attitudes and behavioral intention with your writing.
  • Identify the most common barriers to persuasion.
  • Understand the role of emotions, mental shortcuts, and learned scripts in decision-making, and how to write with them in mind.
  • Understand the association between engagement, enjoyment, and persuasion and thus learn how to make written messages more compelling.
  • Learn under which circumstances a direct (reliant in logic) or an indirect (reliant in emotion and cognitive shortcuts) route to persuasion will be more effective in a written message.
  • Understand the advantages and disadvantages of formatting a persuasive message as a logical argument, emotionally charged rhetoric, or short narrative.
  • Learn how to structure an argumentative essay.
  • Learn how to use Cialdini's levers of influence.
  • Understand the basics of compelling storytelling.
  • Practice writing persuasive messages in various writing contexts (i.e., strong quality arguments, emotional rhetoric, short narratives).


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Choose the best route to persuasion, considering the audiences’ motivation and readiness to comply.
  • Craft more compelling persuasive messages.
  • Circumvent the limitations of memory and attention to motivate engagement with persuasive messages.


Recommended Books (all are optional):

Additional optional material will be available for those wanting to learn more.



Graded Activities



Weekly Participation


Throughout the course, there will be a series of discussions and exercises.

Responses to Peers


Unless marked as optional, you must respond to at least two of your peers.

Final Assignment


Your final assignment will be either three persuasive messages presented in three different formats:

1.    Rhetoric reliant on strong quality arguments.

2.    Emotionally charged rhetoric.

3.    Short narrative.

Or one message that incorporates the three formats into one single document.


Letter Grade (or Pass/Fail)

Percentage Range



100 % 

to 90.0% 


< 90.0 % 

to 80.0% 


< 80.0 % 

to 73.0% 


< 73.0 % 

to 0.0% 



Course Policies

The Writers’ Workshop

Instruction in the Writers’ Program follows the guidelines established by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) guidelines for the teaching of creative writing, which include a “challenging writers’ workshop” as a hallmark. They define this as

…a seminar in which students critique one another’s work under the mentorship of an accomplished writer-teacher. The workshop is writing intensive, offering each student multiple opportunities for submission and revision of creative work. (AWP)

This method of instruction is considered the gold standard for developing writers at all levels of expertise, and workshopping is a key learning tool in nearly every course offered by the Writers’ Program. Workshopping teaches you to read and respond to written work from a variety of perspectives, and hearing critique of your own writing will help you understand how successfully your work achieves your goals. Every student is expected to participate fully in workshopping activities as defined by and guided by Writers’ Program instructors.

Scope of Work for Instructors

Each Writers’ Program instructor has signed an agreement to teach the curriculum in their course, following a syllabus of their own design with approval by the Writers’ Program director. Instructors are never obligated to read, review, critique, respond to, or otherwise address student work that has not been developed for their course or in response to specific assignments in their course. Individualized instruction like this falls into the category of a consultation, which is a separate service your instructor can provide through special arrangement with the Writers’ Program.

Underage Students

As UCLA's principal provider of continuing education, the majority of UCLA Extension courses are designed for the post-baccalaureate professional-level student. Enrollment is therefore reserved for adult students 18 years of age and older. All minors who enroll in a Writers’ Program course are subject to withdrawal and refund of enrollment fees.

Instructor's Policy

This syllabus is meant to be a guide to the course contents only. As the instructor, I reserve the right to make changes as needed. Please monitor the course for announcements and changes.

  • Be constructive. If you agree with one of your peers’ arguments, extend. If you disagree, say so and substantiate your argument.
  • Stick to civil discussion. Being provocative is alright; being offensive is not. Be polite when criticizing the work of others. Avoid empty praise but also unsubstantiated criticism.
  • The best way to contribute is simply to participate. Don’t be a lurker. Comment on your peers’ work and give the kind of feedback you would like to receive.
  • I do not penalize students for late submissions. You can participate in discussions until the end of week 10. Know, however, that late submissions can hurt you and hurt your peers, who will have no responses to their work and will prevent you from receiving valuable feedback from your peers and me. I encourage you to participate timely and often.
  • There will be no tolerance for any kind of plagiarism.
  • Documents uploaded to Canvas or emailed to the instructor must be in Word or RTF format to review.
  • I would love to, but I cannot read more material than I request.
  • You are expected to be familiar with the use of Canvas online and have basic computer skills. You must be able to make postings, attach documents, and access the Canvas discussion forum regularly. I am not able to provide technical assistance beyond what is reasonable to expect from an instructor.

Inclusive Teaching Statement

As a gay, Hispanic man, an immigrant, and a researcher of media effects, I know first-hand that representation matters and that the best strategy to fight prejudice is meaningful exposure. Hence, as a fiction writer, I strive to give voice to the underrepresented and celebrate the diversity of the world we live in.

As your instructor, I am responsible for creating a safe environment that invites you to share and participate. Thus, my intention is to make you feel represented in my lectures, to make you feel inspired, empowered, and safe, regardless of your background or your level of expertise. Know that if you love writing and you love learning, you have what it takes to belong to this course. My goal is that as a group, we respect and make good use of our individual contributions to the course. Whatever it is that makes you different, be it your gender identity, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, culture, particular talent, or skill, it also makes us a richer and stronger group.

No work is perfect, and mine is the result of my personal experience and available resources. Feel free to criticize my work and make suggestions. I will not be offended if you do. Conflicts and misunderstandings may also arise from time to time. Please let me know of anything presented in this course that you may find troubling or exclusionary. You can contact me through Canvas, and, if necessary, we can arrange a Zoom meeting or a phone call to address the issue and talk about how to solve it or present it to the class. Should you not feel comfortable discussing a matter with me, you can contact the Writers’ Program Student Affairs Office; their contact information is on the first page of this syllabus.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to academic dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or behavioral misconduct, such as theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others, harassment, or disruption of the learning environment.

All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition and includes the use of material generated wholly or in part through the use of artificial intelligence (except when the use of AI has received prior authorization for assessment as a reasonable accommodation for a student’s disability, or when the use of AI is a specified part of the coursework, e.g. data science or user experience). Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the Student Rights & Responsibilities Policy and to report concerns.

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Service for Students with Disabilities Office at (310) 825-7851 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information, please visit Accessibility and Disability Services.


The interim grade Incomplete (I) may be approved for a student who has completed the majority of the course requirements, with passing quality (grade C or higher), but is unable to complete a small portion of the coursework by the course end date for good cause. For courses in which an Incomplete may be allowed, approval by the instructor of record and the academic program director is required. The Incomplete grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses.

  • It is the student’s responsibility to petition for an Incomplete by emailing the appropriate academic program department at least one week before the end of the course. The Program Department will initiate the petition process once the email is received.
  • The student, the instructor, the CE/Program Director, and the program staff must complete the petition prior to the final course meeting or before the quarter end date. This process can take up to one week to complete. 
  • The instructor will approve or deny the request. The instructor will provide details on what the student needs to accomplish in order to complete the course, as well as a due date for submitting completed work. The due date cannot exceed the end of the ensuing quarter when a final grade must be reported or the Incomplete lapses to the grade “F,” “NP,” or “U.” Visit UCLA Extension Grading Scale for more information.  

An Incomplete allows the student to complete only work that is outstanding and does not allow prior completed work to be retaken or resubmitted.

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, 1145 Gayley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. For more information, please view the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence.

Additional Items

Protecting Privacy and Data During Live Instruction

Live meeting sessions for this class, when applicable, are being conducted over Zoom. As the host, the instructor may be recording live sessions. Only the host has the ability to record meetings, no recording by other means is permitted. Recorded sessions will be posted in the Videos area of this class unless otherwise notified. Due to privacy, recordings are not available for download and are only accessible via Canvas for the duration of the class. If you have privacy concerns and do not wish to appear in the recording, do not turn on your video and/or audio. If you also prefer to use a pseudonym instead of your name, please let the instructor know what name you will be using so that the instructor knows who you are during the session. To rename yourself during a Zoom meeting, click on Participants, click on your name, click on More, click on Rename. If you would like to ask a question, you may do so privately through the Zoom chat by addressing your chat question to the instructor only (and not to ""everyone""). Additionally, chat may be used and moderated for live questions, and saving of chats is enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this, please contact the instructor via Canvas Inbox.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement between Zoom and UCLA Extension, the data is used solely for this purpose and Zoom is prohibited from re-disclosing this information. UCLA Extension also does not use the data for any other purpose. Recordings will be deleted when no longer necessary. However, recordings may become part of an administrative disciplinary record if misconduct occurs during a video conference.

Course and Instructor Evaluation

UCLA Extension values your feedback on course and instructor evaluations. We ask all students to take a few minutes to complete an end-of-course evaluation survey. Updates to the course and instruction are influenced by your feedback. Understanding your student experience is essential to ensure continuing excellence in the online classroom and is appreciated by your instructor and the UCLA Extension academic leadership.

Your participation in a survey is voluntary, and your responses are confidential. After instructors submit grades, they will be given an evaluation report, but this report will not contain your name.

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students have access to courses via Canvas for an additional 30 calendar days after the course end date listed in the syllabus (the first 14 days are full access; the rest are read-only).
  • Students are encouraged to download/print content throughout the duration of the course and before the additional 30-day access ends. No further access is possible after the course becomes unavailable.

    To download all your assignment submissions in Canvas, please refer to the online support guide. for more information or contact Canvas Support via the help menu within Canvas.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Academic Technology and Learning Innovation
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 9 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:

Campus Safety Escorts

For students taking classes held on the UCLA campus and in and around Westwood Village, the UCLA Police Department provides a free walking escort service every day of the year from dusk until 1 a.m. Community Service Officers (CSOs) are available to walk students, faculty, staff members and visitors to and from anywhere on campus, in Westwood Village, and in the village apartments. CSOs are uniformed students who have received special training and are employed by the UCLA Police Department. To obtain an escort, please call (310) 794-9255 and allow 15 to 20 minutes for your escort to arrive. For complete information, see UCLA Evening Escorts.


Course calendar and related activities
When Module Title Notes
Week 1
Introduction. Persuasion and Attitude


  • Get to know each other, get an overview of the course.
  • Basic definitions: Persuasion and Attitude.
  • Identify common barriers to persuasion.
  • Understand the difference between guilting and shaming.


  • Course introduction.
  • Persuasion, working definition
  • Attitude, working definitions
  • Summative Model of Attitude.
  • Social Judgment Theory
  • Concept of Ego-involvement
  • Functional Approaches to Attitude.
  • Guilting and Shaming.

Read / Watch:


  • Post 1: Introduce yourself.
  • Discussion 1.1: Attitude-relevant beliefs. Choose a persuasive message or propose a new one.
    • Make a list of 5 to 10 attitude-relevant beliefs.
    • Propose a strategy to change the beliefs, change their evaluation of those beliefs, or make them less or more salient.
  • Discussion 2.1: Rafferty v. Don't Vote v. The Onion. Watch the videos of three different persuasive messages and discuss their efficacy.
Week 2
Cognitive Dissonance and Behavioral Intention


Understand that change follows the desire to reduce feelings of dissonance. Learn how to affect the components of behavioral intention according to Theory of Planned Behavior.

Lesson Topics:

  • Cognitive Dissonance.
  • Reasoned Action Theory (a.k.a. Theory of Planned Behavior)

Read / Watch:

  • Video Lecture 2.1
  • Video Lecture 2.2


  • Discussion 2.1: Cognitive Dissonance:
    • Revisit the series of attitude-relevant beliefs that you created in Week 1, or create a new series if you want.
    • Assume that all these beliefs will fall in your recipients’ latitudes of rejection, so there will be no logical argument that will make them accept them.
    • Create a series of parallel beliefs to your original list that introduces dissonance to work around your recipients’ counterarguments.
    • What can you say that is relevant to your recipient, would fall in their latitude of acceptance or at least their latitude of non-commitment and arouse the fear of experiencing dissonance?
  • Discussion 2.2, Reasoned Action Theory:
    • Revisit your persuasive message and describe a few characteristics of the typical person whose behavioral intention you want to change.
    • Write a series of persuasive sentences aimed at changing their behavioral intention by affecting each of the components of the reasoned action theory equation. Thus, you’ll write at least four persuasive sentences. Use everything you have learned so far and identify which component or components of the equation you are trying to influence.
Week 3
Emotions and Decision Making


Understand how emotions mold our process of decision-making.

Lesson Topics:

  • Decision-making.
  • The elaboration likelihood model.
  • Heuristics.
  • Schemas.
  • Emotions and feelings.
  • Homeostasis.
  • How to format a message to increase compliance.

Read / Watch:



  • Discussion 3.3: Write a persuasive message: Due to all the misinformation doing the rounds on the internet, a beloved friend or relative of yours is hesitant to vaccinate against Covid-19. Write them a one-to-two pages email in which you try to persuade your friend or relative to vaccinate.
Week 4
Engagement, Attention, and Flow


Understand the link between engagement and persuasion, identify the limitations of memory and attention.

Lesson Topics:

  • Engagement
  • The relationship between engagement and persuasion
  • Boredom
  • Attention
  • Inattentional blindness.
  • Consciousness.
  • Top-down and bottom-up attention.
  • Boredom
  • Flow Theory
  • The elements of engagement.

Read / Watch:


  • Discussion 4.1: Watch the selective attention videos.
  • Discussion 4.2: Play an engaging video game. Write a short review of the game in which you explain the game goal, the basic rules, and why you found the game entertaining.
Week 5
The Limitations of Memory


Identify the limitations of Memory

Lesson Topics:

  • Classifications of memory.


  • Video Lecture 5.1 The Limitations of Memory
  • (Optional) Human Memory, short literature review.


  • Discussion 5.1: Explain a meme. Then, create a meme.
Week 6


Learn what motivates us to engage with a message.

Lesson Topics:

  • Hedonic and eudaimonic motivations to consume entertainment media.
  • The link between engagement, enjoyment, and persuasion.
  • Self-Determination Theory.
  • Lichtenberg’s Motivational Systems Theory.

Read / Watch:

  • Video Lecture 6.1
  • Video Lecture 6.2
  • Video Lecture 6.3


Think of a movie or a TV show that you recently saw or a book you recently read and that you liked.

  • What made you relate to that story?
  • What motivational systems modulated your attraction to the story?
  • How did the story keep you motivated to continue?

Write a short review in which you highlight the character’s motivation and main challenges.

Week 7
Argumentative Essays Reliant on Logic


Learn how to structure rhetoric reliant on strong quality arguments.

Lesson Topics:

  • Reducing a problem to a question and a question to a claim.
  • Providing logical reasons.
  • Providing warrants to those reasons
  • Providing evidence that support’s one’s claim.
  • Acknowledging opposing reasons and claims made by others.
  • Citation and References.

Read / Watch:

  • Video Lecture 7.1
  • Video Lecture 7.2
  • Video Lecture 7.3
  • (Optional. Read the whole book. It’s 73 pages) Weston, A. (2018). A Rulebook for Arguments (5th Edition). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Kindle Edition.


  • Discussion 7: Write an overtly persuasive message in the form of an argumentative essay reliant on logic and provable evidence.
Week 8
Cialdini's Levers of Influence


Learn Cialdini's Levers of Influence.

Lesson Topics:

  • Robert Cialdini’s persuasive principles or "levers" of influence.

Read / Watch:


  • Discussion 8.1: Write an emotionally-charged message using Cialdini's levers of influence.
Week 9


Recognize under which circumstances narratives can be more persuasive than overtly persuasive messages. Learn how to structure an engaging story.

Lesson Topics:

  • Narrative Persuasion
  • Narrative Transportation
  • The Compelling Story Cheat-Sheet: How to create an engaging story.

Read / Watch:


  • Discussion 9: Write a persuasive story.
Weeks 10 and 11
Workshop Week


During these two weeks, you'll work on revising your submissions. You will present the revised versions as three persuasive messages, each following a different format:

  1. Rhetoric reliant on strong quality arguments.
  2. Emotionally charged rhetoric.
  3. Short story.

They can all follow the same premise or not. Each message can be as short as 1 page (3 total). Together, they cannot exceed 15 pages.

Alternatively, you can submit a new message that incorporates the three formats into one cohesive document.

You can pre

You must upload your submission as a Word document.