Writing assignments abound in college courses, with many requiring you to persuade your audience by arguing a claim of value, judgment, or opinion.
To present an argument convincingly, effective rhetoric is crucial. According to Ardita Dylgjeri in the “Journal of Educational and Social Research,” rhetoric can be defined as “the intentional use of language to influence an audience.” But how do you go about using language in this way?
In 4th century B.C., Greek philosopher Aristotle answered this very question in his comprehensive treatise, “Rhetoric.” He describes the triad of rhetorical devices: logos, ethos, and pathos, which connect the topic, the speaker, and the audience. The most influential communication employs all three.
Logos is the appeal to logic or reason and is directly connected to the topic. As proposed by Paula M. Carbone in “Aristotle in the Classroom: Scaffolding the Rhetorical Situation,” Aristotle opined that “the best arguments were suggested by the topic.” Moreover, Aristotle believed logos is “the superior persuasive appeal,” the most important. One can achieve logos by using reliable facts and statistics as well as inductive or deductive reasoning.
According to Stacy Weida and Karl Stolley of Purdue University, inductive reasoning begins with a specific situation and then applies broader conclusions or generalizations based on reliable evidence. For example, if you leave your house at 8 a.m. and make it to your class on time, you may conclude that leaving at 8 a.m. each day will ensure you are always on time.
Weida and Stolley explain deductive reasoning begins with a generalization, which is then applied to a specific situation using reliable evidence. For example, all bananas are fruits, and all fruits grow on trees. So, all bananas grow on trees.
When developing logos, the organization of your argument should be clear and logical. It is best to start with your strongest claim because as L. D. Rosenberg advises in “Aristotle’s Methods for Outstanding Oral Arguments,” you do not want you best argument to “get muddled or lost amid a sea of less persuasive arguments.” Outlining is a great way to visualize your organization before drafting your essay.
Ethos is the appeal applied to the speaker’s character and credibility; this device is directly tied to the speaker. Ethos is associated with ethics, so your trustworthiness as an expert on your topic is essential. You want your audience to trust that you know about the topic you are arguing. Carbone explains, “A speaker who is not credible or knowledgeable about the topic will have a hard time convincing others of anything, simply because an audience will not take seriously arguments from someone whom they do not respect, trust, or believe to be knowledgeable about the topic.” Luckily, there are several ways to accomplish ethos:
- Use fair, objective language
- Use and cite credible sources
- Include personal experiences with the topic
- Present counter-arguments accurately
- Find commonalities between your position and counter-arguments, such as common values
- Edit your essay for surface level errors (grammar, punctuation, citations)
Pathos directly connects with your audience by the appealing to their emotions. Dylgjeri explains, “Pathos is the power with which the writer’s message moves the audience to his or her desirable emotional action. Thus a good [writer] should know for sure which emotion would effectively impact [the] audience.” There are several ways to achieve strong pathos in an essay in order to invoke sympathy, anger, celebration, fear, or whatever the desired emotion.
To create an emotionally-charged essay, you may include emotional anecdotes. If you’re writing an essay about the dangers of tobacco use, tell the story of a woman suffering from lung cancer including harrowing details about symptoms, treatments, and pain to stir your audience’s emotions. Using strong connotative language — language with both direct and implied meanings — can create strong emotions in your audience as well. For example, using the word hate has a stronger connotation than the word dislike. Also, the inclusion of figurative language, such as vivid imagery, metaphors, or similes, can bring your essay to life for your audience by painting a picture with your words.
Carbone, P.M. (2014). Aristotle in the classroom: scaffolding the rhetorical situation. Voices from the Middle, 21(3), 41-48.
Dylgjeri, A. (2014). Logos, ethos and pathos in albanian political discourse. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 4(4), 55-59.
Rosenberg, L.D. (2007). Aristotle’s methods for outstanding oral arguments. Litigation, 33(4), 33-39. Weida, S. & Stolley, K. (2013). Using rhetorical strategies for persuasion. OWL at Purdue