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Writing, Speech, Debate, & General Knowledge
2.2 Means of Persuasion

The goal of argumentative writing or speaking is to persuade your audience that your ideas are valid, or more valid than someone else's. The Greek philosopher Aristotle divided the means of persuasion into three categories -- Ethos, Pathos, Logos. In order to be a more effective writer or speaker, you must understand these three terms.


Ethos (Greek for 'character') refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the writer or speaker. We tend to believe people whom we respect. One of the central problems of argumentation is to project an impression to the reader that you are someone worth listening to, in other words making yourself as author into an authority on the subject of the paper, as well as someone who is likable and worthy of respect. Ethos is also conveyed through tone and style of the message and through the way the writer or speaker refers to differing views.

Institutions, official roles, and publications also project an ethos or credibility. We assume, for example, that a well-known national magazine such as Times is a more credible source than an unknown web blog. And we usually assume that a person selected for a position of responsibility or honor such as the President of the United States is more credible than someone without an official position.


Pathos (Greek for 'suffering' or 'experience') is often associated with emotional appeal. An appeal to pathos causes an audience not just to respond emotionally but to identify with the writer's point of view--to feel what the writer feels. This can be done through metaphor, amplification, storytelling, or presenting the topic in a way that evokes strong emotions in the audience.

We can find examples of how pathos, emotional appeals, are used to persuade, in texts ranging from classic essays to contemporary advertisements. The following types of appeals are often very effective:

  • Appeals to our sense of identity and self interest; we naturally bend in the direction of what is advantageous to us.
  • Appeals made by speakers or writers belonging to groups we identify with, or create groups we can belong to.
  • Appeals that flatter us (especially indirectly) instead of insulting us. Thus skillful speakers create a positive image, an image their audience can identify with. Who does not want to be the “kind and generous person” the speaker describes?
  • Appeals that provoke strong emotions such as fear and anger. However, direct appeals to the reader to feel an emotion (e.g. “You should be angry now”) are rarely effective. Instead, creating an emotion with words usually requires recreating the scene or event that would in “real” circumstances arouse the emotion. Thus descriptions of painful or pleasant things work on the emotions. Or the arguer can work on the natural “trigger” of the emotion. If, for example, we usually feel anger at someone who, we believe, has received benefits without deserving them, then the arguer who wants to make us angry with someone will make a case that person was rewarded unfairly.


Logos (Greek for 'word') refers to the use of reasoning, either inductive or deductive, to construct an argument. The impact of logos on an audience is sometimes called the argument's logical appeal. Giving reasons is the heart of argumentation, and cannot be emphasized enough.

Logos appeals include appeals to statistics, math, logic, and objectivity. For instance, when advertisements claim that their product is 37% more effective than the competition, they are making a logical appeal.

Logos is commonly called the logical appeal, and there are two different types of logic. You can use inductive logic by giving your audience a number of similar examples and then drawing from them a general proposition. Or, you can use the deductive logic by giving your audience a few general propositions and then drawing from them a specific truth. Deductive reasoning may go like, "All businessmen are selfish; and John is a businessman; therefore, John is selfish". The above premises may not all be "true" but the form of the argument is nevertheless "valid".

Directions: Answer the following questions.
  1. Explain the three means of persuasion in your own words.
  2. View television advertisements and identify the elements of ethos, pathos, and logos in them. Write your observations and share them with your class.

Have your essay responses graded by your teacher and enter your score here!

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