Ethos, Logos, Pathos for Persuasion

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You may be surprised to learn that much of your life consists of constructing arguments. If you ever plead a case to your parents—in order to extend your curfew or to get a new gadget, for example—you are using persuasive strategies. When you discuss music with friends and agree or disagree with them about the merits of one singer compared to another, you are also using strategies for persuasion.

Indeed, when you engage in these "arguments" with your parents and friends, you are instinctively using ancient strategies for persuasion that were identified by the Greek philosopher Aristotle a few thousand years ago. Aristotle called his ingredients for persuasion pathos, logos, and ethos.

Persuasion Tactics and Homework

When you write a research paper, write a speech, or participate in a debate, you also use the persuasion strategies mentioned above. You come up with an idea (a thesis) and then construct an argument to convince readers that your idea is sound.

You should become familiar with pathos, logos, and ethos for two reasons: First, you need to develop your own skills at crafting a good argument so that others will take you seriously. Second, you must develop the ability to identify a really weak argument, stance, claim, or position when you see or hear it.

Logos Defined

Logos refers to an appeal to reason based on logic. Logical conclusions come from assumptions and decisions derived from weighing a collection of solid facts and statistics. Academic arguments (research papers) rely on logos.

An example of an argument that relies on logos is the argument that smoking is harmful based on the evidence that, "When burned, cigarettes create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are toxic," according to the American Lung Association. Notice that the statement above uses specific numbers. Numbers are sound and logical.

An everyday example of an appeal to logos is the argument that Lady Gaga is more popular than Justin Bieber because Gaga's fan pages collected 10 million more Facebook fans than Bieber's. As a researcher, your job is to find statistics and other facts to back up your claims. When you do this, you are appealing to your audience with logic or logos.

Ethos Defined

Trustworthiness is important in research. You must trust your sources, and your readers must trust you. The example above concerning logos contained two examples that were based on hard facts (numbers). However, one example comes from the American Lung Association. The other comes from Facebook fan pages. You should ask yourself: Which of these sources do you suppose is more credible?

Anyone can start a Facebook page. Lady Gaga may have 50 different fan pages, and each page may contain duplicate "fans." The fan page argument is probably not very sound (even though it seems logical). Ethos refers to the credibility of the person posing the argument or stating the facts.

The facts provided by the American Lung Association are probably more persuasive than those provided by fan pages since the American Lung Association has been around for more than 100 years. At first glance, you might think that your own credibility is out of your control when it comes to posing academic arguments, but that is incorrect.

Even if you write an academic paper on a topic that is outside your area of expertise, you can improve your credibility—using ethos to persuade—by coming across as a professional by citing credible sources and making your writing error-free and concise.

Pathos Defined

Pathos refers to appealing to a person by influencing his emotions. Pathos is involved in the strategy of convincing the audience by invoking feelings through their own imaginations. You appeal through pathos when you try to convince your parents of something. Consider this statement:

"Mom, there is clear evidence that cellphones save lives in emergency situations."

While that statement is true, the real power lies in the emotions that you will likely invoke in your parents. What mother wouldn't envision a broken-down automobile perched by the side of a busy highway upon hearing that statement?

Emotional appeals are extremely effective, but they can be tricky. There may or may not be a place for pathos in your research paper. For example, you may be writing an argumentative essay about the death penalty.

Ideally, your paper should contain a logical argument. You should appeal to logos by including statics to support your view such as data that suggests that the death penalty does/does not cut down on crime (there's plenty of research both ways).

Use Appeals to Emotion Sparingly

You may also use pathos by interviewing someone who witnessed an execution (on the anti-death penalty side) or someone who found closure when a criminal was executed (on the pro-death penalty side). Generally, however, academic papers should employ appeals to emotions sparingly. A long paper that is purely based on emotions is not considered very professional.

Even when you are writing about an emotionally charged, controversial issue like the death penalty, you can't write a paper that is all emotion and opinion. The teacher, in that circumstance, will likely assign a failing grade because you haven't provided a sound (logical) argument.

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