Writing for Business

Aug 14 2012   11:46AM GMT

Convince vs. persuade

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
It’s typically difficult to _______ programmers to document their code, even though it makes it easier to work with in the future.
a. convince
b. persuade

Answer: b.

These words both mean to influence someone else to change their thinking on some subject but if you’re talking about trying to get someone to DO something, you’re trying to persuade them. You convince people to accept your argument. You might, for example, convince programmers that documentation is important. That part’s not too hard — especially if they’ve ever had to work with old, undocumented code. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to action. It’s persuading them to actually document their own code that’s difficult.

That said, there’s some support for using the terms interchangeably. Paul Brians includes convince vs. persuade in his list of non-errors:

Some people like to distinguish between these two words by insisting that you persuade people until you have convinced them, but “persuade” as a synonym for “convince” goes back at least to the 16th century. It can mean both to attempt to convince and to succeed. It is no longer common to say things like “I am persuaded that you are an illiterate fool,” but even this usage is not in itself wrong.

I’m not convinced.

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