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Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical Appeals

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn about the different rhetorical appeals, and how they can be used within an argumentative essay.

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

What are we going to discuss today? This lesson is about rhetorical appeals. We'll go into detail on the three main appeals-- logos, pathos, and ethos-- so that we can recognize them and learn how to deploy these tools, effectively in argumentative essays.

Rhetorical appeals are strategies used in writing that are designed to persuade or convince. We use these categories of convincing strategies to describe the various ways that we try to reach out to our readers and appeal to them so that they will agree with us and trust our arguments. The three main appeals are logos, pathos, and ethos.

They can help writers strengthen their arguments and become more successful and more convincing. So let's talk about each in detail. Appeals to logos are appeals to logic. Uses logic to persuade or convince.

So when we appeal to logic, we appeal to our reader's intelligence, their intellect, their understanding of the world. This is meant to support our central argument with claims that are based in fact, reason, and logic.

So let's imagine that you are trying to convince someone to buy your used car. You might use logos to appeal to the potential buyer by describing the miles per gallon that your car gets, how reliable it is, or what its safety crash rating is. All to show that it is a smart choice for the potential buyer.

Or, say you're taking a writing class and you've been assigned an argumentative paper. And you've chosen to make the argument that high school should start later in the day. You might appeal to logos by providing research that shows that the teenage brain works best starting later in the day, or by giving a hypothetical example of a student who gets to sleep in a little later and performs better in class because of it. In those ways, you'd be providing data and reasoning to show your reader that your position in this debate is the smartest one, the best one to believe.

Appeals to ethos are appeals to credibility. Uses the author's own trustworthiness to persuade. When we appeal in this way to ethics, we demonstrate that we-- and our expert sources-- are believable and trustworthy because we're credible. So we're basically making an appeal to a trust in our believability. We're making the claim that we are ethical and trustworthy and therefore that our research and opinions ought to be believed. This is meant to support your thesis by asserting that your claim is backed up by trustworthy research, uses valid and credible expert sources, and has ethically considered all possible arguments before choosing a side.

So let's say you're taking an economics course and your final assignment is to argue policy on a particular energy sector. You might use an appeal to ethos by demonstrating that your position is backed by ethical, neutral sources. For example, maybe you're going to argue against subsidies for the coal industry. In appealing to ethos, you would use nonpartisan, non-biased sources of information, not just data directly from the coal lobby or from their opponents. You would respond to counter arguments reasonably and ethically. And you would vouch for the trustworthiness of your sources by explaining who and what they are.

Or, maybe you're holding a fundraiser. You might encourage people to donate by making an appeal to ethos, arguing that your charity is more deserving than others because of the way it uses its funds. You could present its internal statistics, showing the percentage of donated funds that directly support the cause. This would show your potential donors that your organization can be trusted to ethically allocate their donations.

Appeals to pathos are appeals to emotion. Evokes emotion in order to persuade or convince. When we appeal to pathos, we appeal to our reader's emotional feeling. This is meant to cause our reader to feel the emotions we want them to feel, such as anger or sadness or excitement in order to cause them to believe that our thesis is valid.

So let's say I need a day off work and I'm trying to get a colleague to cover my shift. I might appeal to emotion by describing why I want the day off, telling my colleague excitedly that my mom is coming to visit and I can't wait to see her. Showing my excitement appeals to my colleague's emotions and will hopefully encourage her to switch shifts.

Or, maybe I'm writing a job application letter for my dream job. I want this job badly because it has long been my dream to work in a field where I can provide support for a community that I am passionately engaged in. I might include language like that into my letter, causing the reader to feel passionate as well about me and give me an interview.

All right, now you've had a taste of these three appeals. But how do you deploy them yourself and do so effectively? You want to start by thinking about the purpose of your argument. For example, politicians, well, they want citizens to vote for them. So they use these kinds of argumentative tools to encourage those votes and thereby meet their ultimate purpose of getting elected.

In your own writing, you'll likely use a variety of these appeals, as well, deploying different ones for different situations and audiences. For example, if you're writing a paper advocating for an end to the death penalty, you might use many different appeals to connect all possible readers. Some people would be more convinced by facts about the way the death penalty is imposed. Others, by the credibility of your ethical argumentation. And yet others will be most convinced by emotional appeals that ask them to consider how this policy makes people feel.

But choose wisely. Because for every reader convinced by one appeal, another might be repelled by the same. A misused or mistimed appeal can lose you your argument. So you'll want to follow these rules to effectively deploy appeals.

First, consider your audience. Appeals to logic might not go over well for an audience expecting to hear personal experiences. And the lack of emotional appeal could be read as insensitive. In contrast, overly emotional writing in an academic setting, well, that might seem a little unprofessional.

Second, consider how often to make each appeal. Used sparingly and selectively, each of these kinds of appeals can have huge impacts on your readers. But too many of these can fatigue your reader.

In particular, appeals to emotion should be used carefully. Using too many or too much emotions can cause a host of unintended consequences. Readers might feel manipulated. They might become bored by hearing about emotions that they just aren't feeling and stop reading. Or, they might begin to perceive that the writer is being self-righteous or even moralizing. So be strategic when you select your emotional appeals.

So let's practice recognizing these appeals in writing so that we can be more prepared to use them ourselves. Here is a short sample. Take a moment to read it by pausing. And press play when you're done.

So what appeal do you think this is making? I think this is an appeal to emotion. How do I know? Well, it's not just that it makes me feel sad and angry, although those are clues. Your own feelings as a reader are clues.

But it's also that I see a lot of emotional words and words that have strongly emotional connotations. Looking for those elements of this text's tone can help us see what kind of appeal it's making. Words like vital, privileged, lucky, birthright-- those are evocative emotional clues that this is an appeal to pathos.

OK, here's another. Again, pause and press play when you're ready. OK, what appeal is this making? It's a pretty different tone from our last example, isn't it, even though this is covering the same topic. Look at all that data and the even, unemotional tone of the language. Those factors tell us that this is making an appeal to our logic.

OK, you know the drill. Again, this takes a different tone. What appeals do you see? It's full of ethos. See how the author presents his claim, using trustworthy sources, responds considerately to the opposing side, and makes a logical and credible argument about how his proposal will play out in the future. This shows that the argument itself is credible and that the author can be trusted to tell the truth and represent any data, honestly.

So what did we learn today? We got the lowdown on appeals-- ethos, logos, ad pathos. Ethics, logic, and emotion. We looked at examples of these appeals, thought carefully about how to use them effectively, and practiced identifying them when we see them.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know

Appeals to ethics; uses ethical guidelines to convince.


Appeals to logic; uses logic to persuade or convince.


Appeals to emotion; evokes emotions in order to persuade or convince.

Rhetorical Appeals

Strategies used in writing that are designed to persuade or convince.