Rhetorical appeals are strategies used in writing that are designed to persuade or convince. You can use these categories of convincing strategies to describe the various ways that you try to reach out to your readers and appeal to them so that they will agree with you and trust your arguments.
There are three main rhetorical appeals:
These tools can help you as a writer strengthen your arguments and become more successful and convincing.
Appeals to logos are appeals to logic; these appeals use logic to persuade or convince. When you appeal to logic, you appeal to your reader’s intelligence, intellect, and understanding of the world.
Logos is thus meant to support your central argument with claims that are based in fact, reason, and logic.
If 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 imagine you’re taking a writing class, and you’ve been assigned an argumentative paper. If 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; these appeals use the author’s own trustworthiness to persuade or convince. When you appeal in this way to ethics, you demonstrate that you—and your expert sources—are believable and trustworthy because you’re credible.
In other words, you’re basically making an appeal to a trust in your believability. You’re making the claim that you are ethical and trustworthy, and therefore, that your research and opinions ought to be believed.
Ethos 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.
Imagine that 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 its 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, if 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 its donations.
Appeals to pathos are appeals to emotion; these appeals evoke emotion to persuade or convince. When you appeal to pathos, you appeal to your reader’s emotional feeling.
Pathos is thus meant to cause your readers to feel the emotions you want them to feel, such as anger, sadness, or excitement in order to cause them to believe that your thesis is valid.
If you need a day off work, and you’re trying to get a colleague to cover your shift, you might appeal to emotion by describing why you want the day off, telling your colleague excitedly that your mom is coming to visit and you can’t wait to see her. Showing your excitement appeals to your colleague’s emotions and will hopefully encourage him or her to switch shifts.
Or imagine you’re writing an application letter for your dream job. You want this job badly because it has long been your dream to work in a field where you can provide support for a community that you are passionately engaged with. You might include language like that in your letter, causing the reader to feel passionate about your candidacy as well and give you an interview.
Now that you’ve had a taste of these three appeals, you can think about how you can use them most effectively. You want to start by thinking about the purpose of your argument.
In your own writing, you’ll likely use a variety of these appeals as well, deploying different ones for different situations and audiences.
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, and others by the credibility of your ethical argumentation. Still others will be most convinced by emotional appeals that ask them to consider how this policy makes people feel.
However, it’s important to 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 steps to effectively deploy appeals:
In particular, appeals to emotion should be used carefully. Using too many emotional appeals can cause a host of unintended consequences:
Thus, be strategic when you select your emotional appeals.
The first is an appeal to emotion. You know this not just because it likely makes you feel sad and angry, although your own feelings as a reader are clues. But you also know this is an appeal to pathos because you can see a lot of emotional words, and words that have strongly emotional connotations:
Looking for those elements of a text’s tone can help you see what kind of appeal it’s making. Words such as vital, privileged, lucky, birthright—those are evocative emotional clues that this is an appeal to pathos.
The second example has a pretty different tone from the first, even though it’s covering the same topic. Look at all that data and the even, unemotional tone of the language.
Those factors tell you that this is making an appeal to your logic.
The last example again takes a different tone; it’s full of ethos. See how the author presents the claim using trustworthy sources, responds considerately to the opposing side, and concludes with 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.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Martina Shabram.
Strategies used in writing that are designed to persuade or convince.
Appeals to logic; uses logic to persuade or convince.
Appeals to ethics; uses ethical guidelines to convince.
Appeals to emotion; evokes emotions in order to persuade or convince.