5 Logos, Pathos, and Ethos

The rhetorical appeals of logos, pathos, and ethos go hand in hand with the Rhetorical situation and make up what is called the Rhetorical Triangle. The ancient Greek scholar Aristotle believed that an argument would not be successful without the skillful use of all three rhetorical appeals.

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Image by ChloeGui licensed under CC SA 4.0.

The appeals connect the purpose to the audience and are necessary in some fashion for a good argument. An argument that only appeals to logic but lacks emotion, for example, will not move readers to action. An argument that has great logic and emotion, but presents the author as a shady character is not going to be persuasive, either. It’s only when the three appeals work in harmony that the most effective arguments are created.

Appeal to Logic (logos)

Logos is the rhetorical appeal based on facts and reason. Evidence and statistics strengthen logical arguments, which can be based on hard evidence or on reason and common sense.

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Genomic Fun Facts” by Genomics Education Program licensed CC BY 2.0.

Every reason in the paper should be supported by at least one piece of hard evidence. If a reason listed in the paper cannot be supported by evidence, it is considered personal opinion. Personal opinion is valuable in many writing situations, but it is not helpful in argument, where the readers expect the author to offer proof, rather than assumption.

1) Facts Facts are ideas that cannot be disputed. They differ from values in that facts are traditionally not controversial. Although anyone can dispute a fact for the sake of argument (the sky is blue; no, the sky is gray), the best facts to use in the paper are those that are widely accepted as true by respected and esteemed sources. This is where signal words can really help. Attributing facts to a reputable source (“According to the New York Times” or “According to the White House Press Office”) can add strength to any argument.

2) Statistics People trust numbers; therefore, statistics in the paper are very good pieces of evidence. It is, however, simple to view statistics in opposing ways. Whenever statistics are used in the argument, make sure the reasoning behind the argument is clearly supported by the numbers. If the reader looks at the numbers and reads the opposite argument, the paper will be less persuasive. For this reason, it’s very important to use statistics from the original source, not statistics that have been used to support another argument.

3) Surveys, polls, studies It is one thing to state in a paper, “most people supported the war.” It is a completely different argument to state, “According to a poll conducted by Amnesty International, 35% of Americans supported the war.” The first example lacks specificity and proof. The second example is more specific, but it comes from a source that is inherently opposed to war and is therefore likely to be biased. Also in the second example, without the actual question that was addressed in the poll, there is no way to tell for sure exactly to what question people polled were responding. There is also no mention of how many people (out of millions of Americans) were polled. While numbers can be good argumentative tools, be careful to support and interpret data in the argument.

4) Testimonies, narratives, interviews Information from experts on a topic can be a very convincing type of evidence. Make sure, however, to establish the credentials of the expert in the text. Stating, “my roommate supports a gun ban” is very different from saying, “John Doe, Director of the Center for Violence against Children, supports a gun ban.”

Appeals to Emotion (Pathos)

While logos appeals may convince an audience, it is the pathos appeals that move the audience to action through emotions–anger, sadness, fear, joy, etc. A writer might appeal to a reader’s emotions by telling a story, painting a picture, or using loaded language. Pathos is powerful, but can be difficult to use.

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Emotions can be used to establish a bond between writer and reader. Arguments expressed in emotional terms that readers can relate to can create strong reactions. Using personal experience to communicate hardship, pain, joy, faith, or any other emotion often allows the reader to empathize more fully with the goals of an argument. Some emotions, however, may work in the opposite way. Emotions such as rage, pity, or aggression may turn readers away.

1) Telling a Story. Emotions add to the logical reasoning in an argument to make it stronger or more memorable. A simple story relating to the topic can often be the best method of appealing to emotion. It uses personal experience to build bridges with the readers, it gives an example of the topic, and it allows the reader to empathize and connect with the issue at hand.

2) Vivid Description. Description works in much the same way as telling a story. For example, by painting a picture of a beach covered with trash, a writer can evoke the a stronger emotion in readers than if they were to simply say that the beach is covered in trash. Putting the reader into the situation and allowing them to “see” it for themselves can be a wonderful way to move then to action.

3) Loaded Words. Finally, using loaded words that remind readers of shared values can be a powerful tool to move emotions. For example, careful word choice that evokes feelings of patriotism can help sway an audience. Pay attention to your word choices and work to make your audiences care about your topic enough that they will be moved to action.

Appeal to Character (Ethos)

An appeal to ethos ( the author’s character) establishes a speaker’s credibility.  Ethical appeals convey honesty and authority. Appeals to character answer the questions, “What does this person know about the subject?” and “Why should I pay attention?” To seem credible sometimes means to admit limitations. Honesty and likeability are important characteristics used to persuade. Your character is established through your use of good support, through documenting your sources, through your tone, and through your background.

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Credibility by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Claiming Authority: Readers are apt to be skeptical of any claim, but especially in cases where the author is not an expert. In such cases, honesty, integrity, and modesty are essential. Drawing on source material and acknowledging multiple sides of the argument are ways to prove to the reader that though the author may not have studied the topic closely for 20 years, he or she has performed ample research to come to a conclusion.

Establishing Credibility: The tone of the writing can have a big impact on how well the arguments are received. Elevated word choice that does not fit the subject and creates a forced formal tone can cause a reader to view the text as arrogant. In addition, an overly informal word choice that includes slang and simplistic language can cause a reader to view the text as uninformed or elementary. Careful word choice helps establish credibility by allowing the reader to see the honest level of knowledge of the text.

It will be almost impossible to convince all readers in all contexts. However, by paying careful attention to the ways you use the rhetorical appeals, you will be more likely to succeed in your goals.

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Content and Image created by Dr. Karen Palmer. Last edited 5/28/2020. Licensed under CC BY NC SA.

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The Worry Free Writer by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.