Persuasive Messages


"In propaganda truth pays... It is a complete delusion to think of the brilliant propagandist as being a professional liar. The brilliant propagandist is the man who tells the truth, or that selection of the truth which is requisite for his purpose, and tells it in such a way that the recipient does not think he is receiving any propaganda... [...] The art of propaganda is not telling lies, but rather selecting the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear."

Richard Crossman, the British Deputy Director of Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) for the

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during the Second World War



We are continually subjected to facts, arguments, conclusions, opinions, and beliefs, often in a confusing melange that mixes these elements in a way that is designed to persuade us and shape our own opinions and beliefs. These messages are communicated to us in both our personal and professional lives via a variety of media: the internet, television, radio, journal articles, advertisements, lectures, papers, speeches, movies, billboards, posters, and even casual conversations. For brevity, these various forms of communication will be referred to collectively as "arguments" or "messages."

Many of us are quick to identify arguments and messages that are rife with lies, but, as noted in the quote above, the art of seductive persuasion is best practiced by cleverly weaving together truth and fallacy. in this way, the unseasoned reader can be seduced by the parts that are truthful (or consistent with the reader's beliefs) and then lured into accepting the fallacies that have been woven in with the truth. The best way to avoid this pitfall is 1) to be aware of the techniques that are used and 2) to develop strong critical thinking skills by actively evaluating arguments and messages. This is a skill that requires practice.

Articles in well-respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals are less prone to misleading persuasive messages, but they too need to be critically evaluated to determine whether their conclusions are internally and externally valid. Guidance on assessing the validity of scientific artilces is provided in a separate online module (Critical Review).


Communications as "Arguments"

The vast majority of communications that we receive attempt to lead us to a particular conclusion or point of view. This is true not only of scientific articles and presentations, but also of of many types of media including books, films, speeches, magazine articles, etc. The authors want us to accept and embrace their conclusions, beliefs, or their point of view. In a sense, all of these communications can be thought of as arguments with an assertion or conclusion and supporting elements consisting of evidence and reasons for interpreting the evidence in a way that moves you closer to the authors' conclusions.

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An ideal communication will do the following:

Nevertheless, many communications fail on one or more of these points. Consciously or unconsciously, the authors may lead us toward invalid conclusions by:

Key Questions

Fallacious Reasoning and Progaganda Techniques

There is not clear distinction between false reasoning and propaganda. The two go hand-in-hand.

The frame below provides a direct window to the following web page: You should read all of these, because these fallacies occur frequently.

These definitions and examples below are adapted primarily from two sources:

Mouse over the propaganda techniques below to see their definition and examples of each.

  • Name Calling
  • Glittering Generalities
  • Transfer
  • False Analogy
  • Testimonial
  • Appeal to Authority
  • Anonymous Authority
  • False Dilemma
  • Sweeping Generalization
  • The Slippery Slope
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Assertion
  • Misquoting
  • Plain Folks
  • Stacking the Deck
  • The Bandwagon
  • Either/Or Fallacy
  • Faulty Cause and Effect
  • Appeal to Ignorance
  • Look Who's Talking
  • Equivocation
  • The Red Herring
  • It Does Not Follow
  • Unwarranted Exptrapolation
  • Generating Fear


  1. Evaluating an argument:
  2. Critically Evaluating the Logic and Validity of Information
  3. How to Identify and Evaluate an Argument
  4. Questioning the writing
  5. Critical thinking checklist
  6. How do I evaluate an argument?
  7. Evaluating Arguments
  8. Recognizing Propaganda Techniques and Errors of Faulty Logic