Think back to the last time you tried to persuade someone to do something or to see an issue from your point of view. Did you succeed in convincing your teacher to give up grading or your parents to continue paying your cell phone bill for another year?
No? Probably because you were using the wrong modes of persuasion.
“Let’s see. I tried begging, whining, pleading…,” you might say.
Ack! Well there’s your problem. Those tricks might work for toddlers, but now that you’re a real-life grown-up, it’s time to add a little somethin’-somethin’ to your game if you want to get your way.
First, a little history lesson: way back in the day–the fourth century B.C., to be exact–the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote On Rhetoric, a huge treatise on the art of, well, convincing people to see things your way. In it, he outlines three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. These three terms refer to three specific ways of appealing to an audience.
Over 2,000 years later, Aristotle’s ideas are still central in the field of rhetoric (which is the art of discourse). Let’s unpack each of these concepts and figure out how you can apply ethos, pathos, and logos to your next persuasive essay and win the hearts and minds of your audience….or at least get your way.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos: What Do They Mean?
Ethos, pathos, and logos are central to the art of persuasion. So central, in fact, that you encounter them every single day, whether you know it or not. Let’s break them down and look at some examples of each, shall we?
If you’ve ever heard the question, “And just who are you to tell me…?”, then you know that someone’s argument lacks ethical appeal.
“Ethos” refers to one’s own character, image or reputation in the eyes of an audience. We see ethos in action all the time. Politicians, for instance, rely heavily on ethical appeals and will toot their own horns relentlessly to establish themselves as trustworthy, credible individuals.
You also see ethical appeals in television commercials: think about how many times you’ve heard things like “As a dentist, I recommend SparkleBrite toothpaste…” Or think about how often you see actors donning white coats to hawk aspirin and other medications on TV. To audience members, those titles and costumes = credibility.
“Pathos” refers to appeals to your audience’s emotions, imaginations, or sympathies. Pathetic* appeals might tug at the audience’s heartstrings or get them fired up about some cause–these appeals rouse feelings of fear, pity, anger, and so forth.
If you’ve ever seen one of Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercials and now tear up every time you hear “Angel” in passing, you’ve experienced the power of the pathetic appeal.
(*Not “pathological,” as many believe.)
“Logos” aren’t just brand symbols. In the context of rhetoric, logos refers to appeals to an audience’s sense of logic, reason, and rationality. Logical appeals are common in courtrooms, where evidence is used to support claims.
Logos also has to do with the way an argument is put together, whether in speech or in writing. The careful construction of a closing statement — which likely includes pathetic and ethical appeals, too — reflects the concept of logos.
Here are all three concepts distilled into one handy visual guide:
Now that you know what each of these concepts means, let’s look at how you can put them to work in your next persuasive essay.
How to Use Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Persuasive Writing
So let’s pretend your teacher has assigned a persuasive essay. You, having just arrived to class from an expensive visit to your chiropractor, set down your 50-pound backpack and decide to write an essay persuading your school to abandon physical textbooks in favor of all-digital class materials.
To ensure that your argument hits all the right notes with all the right people, use these tips and strategies for enhancing your persuasive essay with ethos, pathos, and logos.
Tips for Applying Ethos in Your Writing
Strategy 1 — Show that you have good character by establishing your own credibility: “As a busy and studious college student, I carry all 45 pounds of my books to and from class each day.” (You smart cookie, you.)
Strategy 2 — Show that you have what Aristotle called “good sense” by citing reliable authorities — this demonstrates that even if you aren’t an expert yourself, you have the knowledge to find and sift through other credible information: “According to renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Skel Eton, the average college student is at serious risk of back injuries due to carrying heavy textbooks.”
Strategy 3 — Demonstrate your good will. That is, show your audience that your motivation isn’t entirely self-serving and is for the greater good. “Students all over the country face back injuries each year due to schlepping mandatory class materials across campus.”
Caveat: Avoid writing “I think…” unless it matters to your audience what you think. Before your personal opinion holds any weight whatsoever, you must establish your good character and reputation and make it clear that you have the expertise to speak about the issue at hand.
Tips for Applying Pathos in Your Writing
Strategy 1 — Make your audience feel something: pity, fear, joy, sadness, pain, etc. “Her lower back screams as she lifts the heavy bag to her shoulders for the tenth time that day” evokes pity from the audience and puts it in a position to understand the subject’s pain.
Andrew Dlugan at Six Minutes shares some killer ideas for tugging at your audience’s heartstrings–even though he’s targeting speech writers, most of these could easily apply to essay writing.
Strategy 2 — Let word connotation do the work. “Students sluggishly plod across campus as they haul their burdens from class to class.” (“Plod” and “burdens” suggest a weariness that isn’t present if you write “walk” and “backpacks” instead.)
Strategy 3 — Relate to your audience. “Teachers and administrators also have to carry heavy books to and from class and their offices. We would all benefit from lightening our loads.”
Caveat: Be really careful not to go overboard with pathetic appeals, and know your audience. If you lay it on too thick, they’ll see right through you.
Tips for Applying Logos in Your Writing
Strategy 1 — State the facts. Statistics, data, and other irrefutable facts make ideal evidence. “Twenty-seven percent of college students will experience back pain at some point due to the weight of their textbooks.”
Strategy 2 — Show that it would be unreasonable not to take your side. “Over ninety percent of university students already own a laptop or tablet, and all major publishers make their materials available in digital formats. Nothing stands in the way of our university making this change.”
Strategy 3 — Pay attention to the structure and content of your persuasive essay, and above all, make sure that your message makes sense.
Caveat: Be sure to avoid logical fallacies as you construct your argument. Check out this list of some of the most common logical fallacies from Purdue OWL.
Are you feeling more confident in your ability to channel Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion in your next essay in order to sway your audience to see things your way?
If you’re feeling stuck, check out some of these persuasive and argumentative essay examples, including this paper on ethos, pathos, and logos in Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
You can also check out this handy infographic about the elements of persuasion.
And don’t forget to have a Kibin editor look over your persuasive essay. (Pop quiz: A well-written, error-free paper boosts your credibility, which falls under which mode of persuasion?…..if you said “ethos,” pat yourself on the back, smarty-pants).
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion
These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.
Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 12:56:30
There are three types of rhetorical appeals, or persuasive strategies, used in arguments to support claims and respond to opposing arguments. A good argument will generally use a combination of all three appeals to make its case.
Logos or the appeal to reason relies on logic or reason. Logos often depends on the use of inductive or deductive reasoning.
Inductive reasoning takes a specific representative case or facts and then draws generalizations or conclusions from them. Inductive reasoning must be based on a sufficient amount of reliable evidence. In other words, the facts you draw on must fairly represent the larger situation or population. Example:
Fair trade agreements have raised the quality of life for coffee producers, so fair trade agreements could be used to help other farmers as well.
In this example the specific case of fair trade agreements with coffee producers is being used as the starting point for the claim. Because these agreements have worked the author concludes that it could work for other farmers as well.
Deductive reasoning begins with a generalization and then applies it to a specific case. The generalization you start with must have been based on a sufficient amount of reliable evidence.Example:
Genetically modified seeds have caused poverty, hunger, and a decline in bio-diversity everywhere they have been introduced, so there is no reason the same thing will not occur when genetically modified corn seeds are introduced in Mexico.
In this example the author starts with a large claim, that genetically modified seeds have been problematic everywhere, and from this draws the more localized or specific conclusion that Mexico will be affected in the same way.
Avoid Logical Fallacies
These are some common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Also, watch out for these slips in other people's arguments.
Slippery slope: This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,..., X, Y, Z will happen, too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don't want Z to occur A must not be allowed to occur either. Example:
If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment eventually the government will ban all cars, so we should not ban Hummers.
In this example the author is equating banning Hummers with banning all cars, which is not the same thing.
Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts. Example:
Even though it's only the first day, I can tell this is going to be a boring course.
In this example the author is basing their evaluation of the entire course on only one class, and on the first day which is notoriously boring and full of housekeeping tasks for most courses. To make a fair and reasonable evaluation the author must attend several classes, and possibly even examine the textbook, talk to the professor, or talk to others who have previously finished the course in order to have sufficient evidence to base a conclusion on.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: This is a conclusion that assumes that if 'A' occurred after 'B' then 'B' must have caused 'A.' Example:
I drank bottled water and now I am sick, so the water must have made me sick.
In this example the author assumes that if one event chronologically follows another the first event must have caused the second. But the illness could have been caused by the burrito the night before, a flu bug that had been working on the body for days, or a chemical spill across campus. There is no reason, without more evidence, to assume the water caused the person to be sick.
Genetic Fallacy: A conclusion is based on an argument that the origins of a person, idea, institute, or theory determine its character, nature, or worth. Example:
The Volkswagen Beetle is an evil car because it was originally designed by Hitler's army.
In this example the author is equating the character of a car with the character of the people who built the car.
Begging the Claim: The conclusion that the writer should prove is validated within the claim. Example:
Filthy and polluting coal should be banned.
Arguing that coal pollutes the earth and thus should be banned would be logical. But the very conclusion that should be proved, that coal causes enough pollution to warrant banning its use, is already assumed in the claim by referring to it as "filthy and polluting."
Circular Argument: This restates the argument rather than actually proving it. Example:
George Bush is a good communicator because he speaks effectively.
In this example the conclusion that Bush is a "good communicator" and the evidence used to prove it "he speaks effectively" are basically the same idea. Specific evidence such as using everyday language, breaking down complex problems, or illustrating his points with humorous stories would be needed to prove either half of the sentence.
Either/or: This is a conclusion that oversimplifies the argument by reducing it to only two sides or choices. Example:
We can either stop using cars or destroy the earth.
In this example where two choices are presented as the only options, yet the author ignores a range of choices in between such as developing cleaner technology, car sharing systems for necessities and emergencies, or better community planning to discourage daily driving.
Ad hominem: This is an attack on the character of a person rather than their opinions or arguments. Example:
Green Peace's strategies aren't effective because they are all dirty, lazy hippies.
In this example the author doesn't even name particular strategies Green Peace has suggested, much less evaluate those strategies on their merits. Instead, the author attacks the characters of the individuals in the group.
Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand. Example:
If you were a true American you would support the rights of people to choose whatever vehicle they want.
In this example the author equates being a "true American," a concept that people want to be associated with, particularly in a time of war, with allowing people to buy any vehicle they want even though there is no inherent connection between the two.
Red Herring: This is a diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Example:
The level of mercury in seafood may be unsafe, but what will fishers do to support their families.
In this example the author switches the discussion away from the safety of the food and talks instead about an economic issue, the livelihood of those catching fish. While one issue may effect the other, it does not mean we should ignore possible safety issues because of possible economic consequences to a few individuals.
Ethos or the ethical appeal is based on the character, credibility, or reliability of the writer. There are many ways to establish good character and credibility as an author:
- Use only credible, reliable sources to build your argument and cite those sources properly.
- Respect the reader by stating the opposing position accurately.
- Establish common ground with your audience. Most of the time, this can be done by acknowledging values and beliefs shared by those on both sides of the argument.
- If appropriate for the assignment, disclose why you are interested in this topic or what personal experiences you have had with the topic.
- Organize your argument in a logical, easy to follow manner. You can use the Toulmin method of logic or a simple pattern such as chronological order, most general to most detailed example, earliest to most recent example, etc.
- Proofread the argument. Too many careless grammar mistakes cast doubt on your character as a writer.
Pathos, or emotional appeal, appeals to an audience's needs, values, and emotional sensibilities.
Argument emphasizes reason, but used properly there is often a place for emotion as well. Emotional appeals can use sources such as interviews and individual stories to paint a more legitimate and moving picture of reality or illuminate the truth. For example, telling the story of a single child who has been abused may make for a more persuasive argument than simply the number of children abused each year because it would give a human face to the numbers.
Only use an emotional appeal if it truly supports the claim you are making, not as a way to distract from the real issues of debate. An argument should never use emotion to misrepresent the topic or frighten people.