The goal of argumentative writing 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, appeals, into three categories–Ethos, Pathos, Logos.
Logos, ethos, and pathos are important components of all writing, whether we are aware of them or not. By learning to recognize logos, ethos, and pathos in the writing of others and in our own, we can create texts that appeal to readers on many different levels. Considered together, these appeals form what later rhetoricians have called the rhetorical triangle.
Appeals to reason. Logos can alsobe thought of as the text of the argument, as well as how well a writer has argued his/her point.
Appeals to the writer’s character. Ethos can also be thought of as the role of the writer in the argument, and how credible his/her argument is.
Appeals to the emotions and the sympathetic imagination, as well as to beliefs and values. Pathos can also be thought of as the role of the audience in the argument.
The rhetorical triangle is typically represented by an equilateral triangle, suggesting that logos, ethos, and pathos should be balanced within a text. However, which aspect(s) of the rhetorical triangle you favor in your writing depends on both the audience and the purpose of that writing. Yet, if you are in doubt, seek a balance among all three elements. Questions to help you recognize and utilize logos, ethos, and pathos The following questions can be used intwo ways, both to think about how youare using logos, ethos, and pathos in your writing, and also to assess how other writersuse them in their writing.
Is the thesis clear and specific? (for help with thesis statements, see the Revising Thesis Statements handout). Is the thesis supported by strong reasons and credible evidence? Is the argument logical and arranged in a well-reasoned order?
What are the writer’s qualifications? How has the writer connected him/herself to the topic being discussed? Does the writer demonstrate respect for multiple viewpoints by using sources in the text? Are sources credible? Are sources documented appropriately? Does the writer use a tone that is suitable for the audience/purpose? Is the diction (word choice) used appropriate for the audience/purpose? Is the document presented in a polished and professional manner?
Are vivid examples, details and images used to engage the reader’s emotions and imagination? Does the writer appeal to the values and beliefs of the reader by using examples readers can relate to or care about?
While the above questions can help you identify or utilize logos, ethos, and pathos in writing, it is important to remember that sometimes a particular aspect of a text will represent more than one of these appeals. For example, using credible sources could be considered both logos and ethos, as the sources help support the logic or reasoning of the text, and they also help portray the writer as thoughtful and engaged with the topic. This overlap reminds us how these appeals work together to create effective writing.