Yes or no sign Everywhere you look online these days, there are arguments going on. Whether it is someone on Facebook debating something in a group, or an individual constantly commenting on your Twitter timeline, there seems to be a trend for people needing to “have their say” and make you realise you are wrong…!

Studies in the past have shown that the main reason people join any kind of social network or write a blog is to “have their say”. There is a huge desire amongst people to get their personal views across. Some people take it to an extreme and keep on arguing that they are right and you are wrong.

So, what can you do about it? Do you “take on” the argumentative comments? Or do you just ignore them and hope they will go away?

New research suggests an alternative way of handling such situations, making it really likely that you will win the argument and the other individual will not.

The study looked at over 200,000 online discussions that took place over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015. The posts and debates were analysed and three common factors were found which led to someone’s point of view prevailing.

1. Write long material

The research found that people who wrote long answers were the ones who were more likely to be persuasive and have their point of view accepted by the discussion. This ties in with several other pieces of research which show that long content online is the kind of material that gets most shares, more readers and goes higher up the search engine rankings thanks to more clicks. Contrary to the popular myth, short content is not what people want. This new study on persuasion suggests that long content is also more likely to be acceptable to people, tending to help change their mind. So, if you want to appeal to individuals and persuade them to your point of view, write long answers in discussions.

2. Reflect the style of the original post

If you are arguing your case in a blog comment or as part of a social media discussion you are more likely to win the argument if your writing style matches that of the original text. In a sense, this is what is called “mirroring” behaviour. When you match the body language of the people around you in a social setting, for instance, you are more likely to be accepted as part of the group. If you observe couples in a restaurant, they will often have matching body language, showing how close they are to one another. Writing in the same style as the originator of the argument online is similar – you are showing how much you like them and how you are similar to them. It turns out that this is much more persuasive.

3. Use different words

If you use the same words as other people, you are less persuasive than if you use different words. Indeed, the researchers found that the best predictor of whether someone would win an online argument was the extent of the dissimilarity of the wording. So, even though you need to write in the same linguistic style, you need to choose different words to the other people in the discussion. If they say “Facebook group” you say “online discussion”; if they say “website” you say “internet page” and so on. The more words you change, the more persuasive you become.

One final thing the research reveals, though – arguments are won or lost by the fifth comment on a discussion. If you haven’t won the argument by the fifth comment – give up; you will not be likely to win beyond that point.

Call Graham Jones Graham Jones, Internet Psychologist

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