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Types of Support: Rhetorical Appeals and Argumentative Research Writing

Types of Support: Rhetorical Appeals and Argumentative Research Writing

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson discusses how to use Rhetorical Appeals in an argumentative essay.

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall, thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today we're going to learn about how rhetorical appeals can be applied to argumentative research writing.

We'll cover the three classic modes of persuasion, which include logos, or appeals to logic, ethos, or appeals credibility, and pathos, appeals to emotion. The first of the three rhetorical appeals we'll look at today, logos, or appeals to logic or reasoning, are the primary form of rhetorical appeal used in argumentative research essays for a few reasons. First, the emphasis in such essays is usually on making a reasoned argument that proves or makes the case for a debatable thesis.

Second, the audience includes a discourse community or group of people focused on discussing a particular topic that prioritizes answering research questions through informed, evidence, and reasoning-based support for claims. And finally, the aim of argumentative essays is to be unbiased or self-reflective and open about personal bias, which means that most claims will have to be supported through logic and reasoning. The use of logos in an argumentative essay can include both the authors reasoning and his or her use of sources to proof and support the essay's claims and thesis.

If, for example, I was working on an essay, and my working thesis was that parents should not bring up their children to believe in Santa Claus, because when children realized the truth, they will have a hard time trusting their parents and the true things their parents tell them about the world. I'd probably want to use some appeals to reason to support this argument. One way to do this would be to use my own reasoning and say something like this.

Although Santa Claus is, in truth, a whimsical fable, he seems to young children to be real. Thus, it stands to reason that when children learn that Santa Claus is not real, they're likely to begin to mistrust other things their parents have told them are true. Or I could make use of another writer's reasoning, to an in-text citation.

The seemingly benign lie can have a negative impact on children's ability to trust. As reported in studies, when young children are deciding whom to trust, they are sensitive to people's history of being honest or dishonest with them personally. So when parents lie to their children, it may undermine the child's sense of trust. Clearly it's important for children to trust their parents and, as well, to be able to trust as a component to maturity.

And just top it off, here's one more demonstration of logos. Parents should seriously weigh the charm of having their children believe in Santa Claus against the possibility that they will question other truths when they discover Santa is not real, such as religious beliefs, ethical instruction, and scientific facts. So as you can see, having a firm grasp of logos, or appeals to logic, is absolutely critical for anyone who wants to succeed at argumentative research writing.

Ethos, or appeals credibility, are also very common in argumentative research essays. We generally use these appeals in one of two ways. First, we can use ethos by establishing our own credibility-- either by displaying the depth of our knowledge about a subject, or our personal experiences with, or insight into the subject, or through accuracy and honesty while using and documenting outside sources.

Second, we can use ethos through the use of other sources by choosing credible sources and by choosing sources who use ethos themselves to establish their credibility-- that is, referring to experts or those with deep or firsthand knowledge about a subject, even if we don't have any or enough ourselves. So let's say I'm still working on my essay about how parents shouldn't lie to their children about Santa Claus, and I want to build my credibility. One way to do that would be to demonstrate my experience with the subject.

I was taught to believe in Santa Claus, and when a classmates finally informed me that Santa was a myth, I felt stunned. What else had I been brought up to believe that wasn't true? I quickly got over my feeling of shock, but then I began to perpetuate the Santa myth to my younger brother and sisters, building it up even more than my parents. I took gleeful pleasure of perpetuating this deception, a sensation that its ugly and disturbing in hindsight.

This kind of honesty would probably go a long way to build trust for me and my readers, which is essentially what credibility comes down to. Another way I can make an appeal to ethos would be to use a credible source. How about this? A 2014 study out of the University of California at San Diego shows a troubling correlation between children being lied to and dishonest behavior as adults. This would help make my position seem more credible, more reliable, if the results of the university study seemed to agree with it.

Or I could make use of a source with personal credentials, one considered an expert. Psychologist Kate Rogers, PhD, reports that children know when they're being lied to and when pushed to accept a parental lie that contradicts their own understanding, they become self-doubters. She writes, "When a child is told that his truth is a lie, his self-doubt generalizes to a distrust of the outside world." So as you can see, there are many ways that adding a little ethos to an argument can work wonders.

Writers of academic research essays are also likely to make use of pathos, or appeals to emotion, though in doing so they have to be careful and practice restraint. Aristotle, the original philosopher of rhetorical appeals, believed that pathos was a critical part of any persuasive argument. And modern writers know that these appeals can be very effective, especially in arguments intended to get an audience to believe something or to take a specific action.

The deliberate and fair use of pathos can help support or prove a thesis by enhancing the stakes of the argument and showing how or why it's important. Pathos can be employed through use of the personal, through hypothetical situations, or through quotes and interpretations of sources that have an emotional component. These kinds of appeals could also be manipulative if the intent is to mislead. This is unethical and should be strictly avoided, especially in any academic context.

As the readers of such writing-- whether teachers, classmates, editors, or journalists, or any other members of the broader discourse community-- will be especially unforgiving of any perceived use of manipulative, emotional appeals. The best and, in my opinion, the easiest way to avoid being manipulative when using pathos is to accompany it with other appeals, especially logos. After all, it's harder to mislead a reader, whether intentionally or unintentionally, when you write exactly what you think and why you think it.

Another way is to carefully examine any emotional appeal you make and ask yourself what exactly it seems to be saying and whether you could rephrase it to tone down the rhetoric. After all, most unintentionally manipulative emotional appeals are those that go just a little too far. If, for example, I use this passage as the introduction for my essay about Santa Claus and lying to children, it would be fairly problematic.

"Do you love your children? Do you plan to be a good parent or, if you are, do you think that you are a good parent? Do you want your children to be happy and well-adjusted? Well, then you'd better be honest with them at all times or you, and they, may face grave consequences." As you can see, blowing up the emotional content to this degree makes the passage more than a little problematic.

But now, consider this paragraph, which makes a very similar appeal, just toned down a bit. "It is a broad truth that parents want the best for their children and so it is a safe assumption that when parents lie to their children they think they're doing it to protect them or bring them some kind of pleasure, as in the case with Santa Claus. But consider the troubling effects even these seemingly benign lies have on the developing psyches of young children."

By stepping back from the direct address, the questions, and instead discussing the emotional importance of the subject in more general terms, the emotional appeal here is preserved, while also maintaining a more appropriate tone and level of diction. It also demonstrates more respect for the readers, allowing them to make up their own minds about the subject.

Here's another example of an emotional appeal that I wouldn't be afraid to include in my essay. "Children are savvy, but they cannot protect themselves, so it's up to adults in their lives-- primarily their parents but also others-- to protect them, even if that protection comes in unexpected ways." As you can see, pathos is a valuable tool for writers, just one that we have to use carefully.

So what have we learned today? We learned about how the three appeals of classical rhetoric-- logos, ethos, and pathos-- can be applied to our argumentative research papers. I'm Gavin McCall, thanks for joining me.