Sam Sifton Knows Persuasive Writing

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 8.43.42 AMIf you follow me on Twitter, you probably know I have a (purely harmless) writer crush on Sam Sifton. For the uninitiated and un-smitten, Sifton writes about food for The Sunday Times Magazine and he was previously a national editor, restaurant critic and culture editor of The Times.

But my favorite writing he does is for the promotional emails he pens for the NYT Cooking App, of which he is the editor.  These emails are jaw-dropping, excellent examples of the fine art of persuasive writing.

Being persuasive is tricky-business.  The best way to do it is to slyly tuck your mission into your prose and surround it with a breezy, this is easy, I understand you tone, like those crazy moms who sneak blended cauliflower into their children’s mac-n-cheese.

Take for instance, Sifton’s email right after the most recent snow storm:

“But what’s this? Eight inches on the sidewalk out front, easily shoveled. It is much worse east and north of our kitchens in the metropolitan region of New York City, but still: The snowmageddon is not upon us. Breathe easy. If you’ve taken off work out of what the folks in external affairs call an abundance of caution, today is the day to spend the afternoon making a stew or chili, some pizza, a cake, any recipe that allows you time spent over the stove, making nice with the world. (Here’s a start: 37 recipes appropriate to stormy weather.)”

With a cool in-the-know wink he plants the seed: you have an afternoon off.  Make the day better by slow-cooking a stew or making a cake.  Sifton’s goal is to bring back the lost art of cooking, but this approach could work for any cause.

Activists, organizers and others in the business of persuasion could learn a thing or two from his approach:

  • Show don’t tell.
  • Tap into what your audience is thinking about or going through.
  • Don’t hit them over the head with your point; seduce them.