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.
Persuasive writing is an extremely important skill, whether you are selling something, writing for a cause or for your own satisfaction (or for your class!). Persuasive writing can be described as an argument or piece of writing that an author uses to convince his audience of a point or topic. This could potentially be to call the reader to action or it could simply be to convince the reader of an opinion or view.
Topic & Thesis
The first step in persuasive writing is choosing what you want to write about. Usually the easiest and most effective topics focus on something specific, rather than an extremely broad topic. More specific topics generally can be explained and supported more easily than extremely broad topics.
After you have determined your topic, you should then develop your thesis. A thesis is the primary argument that your essay will attempt to support. Thesis should be arguable points, not facts. If you are selling something, your thesis is “why you should buy this.”
Click here for a list of Persuasive Writing Topics
The next part of writing effective persuasive essays is choosing your supporting points. Supporting points are the reasons that you use to prove and support your thesis. Support is the largest part of your essay, and is used to show your reader why your thesis is true. Within these supporting points you should include facts, logic, expert opinions and statistics to further your point and thesis. Additionally, you can use emotion evoking stories to attempt to connect with your audience. Research should be done to support your points.
Your supporting points should be mapped out before you even begin writing your essay, developing an outline is a good way of doing this. The structure of your supporting points is very important; one supporting point should usually lead into another, although they don’t always have to.
After you have determined your topic and thesis, you should begin targeting and researching your audience. In order to convince somebody of something, you must first know who you are writing to. For example, one might take a different approach in writing to industrialists about climate change than when writing to college students about the same subject.
Choosing an audience is extremely important, and is a crucial step that many people forget to take into consideration when writing. Many people think that they are writing to everyone when they write persuasively, this may be true for some subjects, like why breathing oxygen is important, but for most there is usually a target that you may not even realize. The reason this step is so important is because different audiences will have different reactions to what you write, and you want to target the right reactions – you want to connect with people.
The next step in this process is to attempt to identify what the beliefs and characteristics of the audience you are writing to are. This includes the reasons why your audience might disagree with your views or what inhibitions they would have before doing what you are trying to persuade them. Also it is important to know why this cause is important to an audience.
Understanding your audience is also vital because it is very important not to offend your audience, as this will definitely turn them off to any persuasion.
Modes of Persuasion:
The next step in persuasive writing is knowing how to connect with your audience. There are three basic ways to do this, which are known as the modes of persuasion .
Persuasion through the authority of the author, known as Ethos,
Ethos can be developed by choosing language that is appropriate for the audience and topic (also means choosing proper level of vocabulary), making yourself sound fair or unbiased, introducing your expertise or pedigree, and by using correct grammar and syntax.
Persuasion through use of logic and facts, known as Logos,
Logos can be developed by citing facts and statistics (very important), using advanced and well developed language, using historical incidents, analogies, and by constructing logical arguments.
Persuasion through use of emotion and sympathy, known as Pathos
Pathos can be developed by using meaningful language, emotional tone, emotion evoking examples, stories of emotional events, and implied meanings.
Most of the work in persuasive writing is knowing how to use these methods effectively.
Anticipating and responding to arguments against your point are important parts of persuasive writing. A response to a counter arguments varies based on the validity of the counterargument.
In some cases, when a counterargument is completely frivolous, you can completely dismiss it using facts and logic. However sometimes you may have to concede parts – or even the entire argument to the opposing point. In these situations is important to show the audience why this argument is not important/less important to the big picture of
your argument.Acknowledging counterarguments contributes to Ethos, and makes the author seem more fair and balanced in the eyes of the reader.
More Tips and Techniques for Persuasive writing:
Drawing sympathy from your audience is one of the most effective forms of persuasion. This is especially true if your paper is focused around a certain problem or is a passionate topic. This technique is called using pathos. You can use this to draw both negative and positive emotions.
Emotions are a powerful tool. In order to use your audience’s emotion to your advantage, you must understand why something is important to your audience. Then you should focus on this importance, and make your audience feel the emotions associated with it. After you draw on their emotions, you should present your thesis as a solution to their pain or pleasure.
For example: If you are writing about wind as a source of renewable energy, to an audience of predominately older people, you could describe to them the consequences their children will face if this level of harm towards the environment persists. In this case, the fate of your audience’s children is important to your audiences. After you have drawn upon their sympathy, you should present to your audience why wind power will offer a solution to this.
If you are writing about equal rights to a predominately white audience, you could and try to place your audience in the shoes of someone who is being discriminated against. In this case human rights are important to your audience. After you have drawn upon your audience’s sympathy, you could show them why laws pertaining to equal rights are important.
Make Your Reader a Part of Something:
Feeling like a part of a group or club makes everyone feel good. Make your reader feel like they are a part of a group of people by agreeing with your thesis, while seemingly excluding those who don’t.
If your topic is convincing readers of climate change, you could make your readers feel like a part of a group of progressive enlightened people by agreeing with you.
Look into the Future:
Making assumptions about the future gives your audience a clear choice in deciding what to think after reading your writing. This technique can be especially useful if you are attempting to call your audience to action. Painting a grim future for the inaction of your thesis can be a powerful tool for persuading your audience; likewise you should describe a brighter future where your thesis is enacted. IE, this is what will happen if you listen to me, this is what will happen if you don’t.
However, this technique should only be used if you can adequately convince your readers that what you are saying will happen or is likely to happen. Using this technique improperly can actually discredit your entire essay and make you seem like a fool.