Implicit vs Explicit Appeals

The Difference Between Implicit and Explicit Appeals

Which arguments and appeals are more persuasive: explicit or implicit? Explicit are those that articulate their conclusions explicitly and call for action clearly. Implicit are those that allow your audience to infer the necessary conclusions. One experiment, for example, tested the effectiveness of AIDS advocacy campaign. An implicit argument skipped the conclusion, while the explicit argument clearly identified the conclusion (explicit recommendation to use condoms). In general, research suggests that explicit conclusions are usually more effective.

Effectiveness of Explicit Conclusions

Many studies, according to a meta-study by Daniel O’Keefe, show that explicit conclusions are more effective. And explicit conclusions work even better if they are very specific and detailed.

Explicit, clear conclusions have a possible drawback: your audience will scrutinize your argument more closely and will likely make counterarguments or objections. And counterarguments or objections are not good for persuasion. So, if you’re implicit, and not explicit, there is less space for disagreement and more space for agreement. Also, if you’re too explicit, you might insult your audience – you’re stating the obvious and they would prefer not to think about themselves as asinine.

The meta-study, however, found that the audience’s intellectual capability made little difference. So regardless whether you’re trying to convince highly-intelligent people or not so intelligent, state you conclusions as clearly as possible.

Persuasiveness of Implicit Conclusions

Implicit conclusions may be more effective when the audience is highly-engaged. Although the above-mentioned meta study suggests that explicit conclusions trump implicit ones even when people are highly-engaged, several studies show opposite. For example, one study by Alan Sawyer and Daniel Howard (1991) showed that omitting conclusion increased persuasion when people were engaged (because the message was personally relevant to them).

Moreover, cognitive response theory also suggests that conclusions that people reach themselves are stronger (provided that supporting arguments outweigh counter-arguments).  The trick of course is making your audience highly-engaged, which is often difficult.


  • O’Keefe, D. J. (1997). Standpoint explicitness and persuasive effect: A meta-analytic review of the effects of varying conclusion articulation in persuasive messages. Argumentation and Advocacy, 34, 1–12.
  • Struckman-Johnson, D., & Struckman-Johnson, C. (1996). Can you say condom? It makes a difference in fear-arousing AIDS prevention public service announcements. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 1068-1083.
  • Sawyer, Alan G. and Daniel J. Howard (1991). The Effects of Omitting Conclusions in Advertisements to Low and Moderately Involved Audiences. Journal of Marketing Research, 28, 467-474.