The 4 rhetorical appeals

How to Persuade with Rhetorical Appeals

Learn the four rhetorical appeals, how to use them in persuasive writing. Plus, examples of each rhetorical appeal!

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Let’s talk about rhetorical appeals, but first, let’s talk about the art of persuasion. 

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.” But let’s take that idea one step further- if you really want to persuade, you should appeal to a person’s self-interest. 

When you get down to it, all anyone wants is to be acknowledged, for someone to say to them, “I see you.” Don’t believe me? Consider this statistic, reported by Twitter, that 77 percent of its users appreciate a brand more when it responds to their tweet. 

Think about it. What if you left the drive-thru of your favorite fast-food restaurant only to find they had forgotten your order of fries. With no time to turn around, you take to Twitter to voice your frustration. Now, imagine if that same restaurant responded with a simple message, “We’re sorry to hear that. Your next meal is on us. We hope we haven’t lost your business.” How would that response make you feel

Probably pretty good. At the very least, you’ll feel heard. So, to persuade someone, you first have to show that you’re interested in their well-being. 

In the three paragraphs above, I argued an idea. That idea was that to persuade someone, you should appeal to their self-interest. Here’s how I used rhetorical appeals to discuss that idea: 

  • Ethos (appeal to credibility or trust): I used a quote from a famed intellectual, Benjamin Franklin. 
  • Logos (appeal to logic or reason): I used a statistic from Twitter. 
  • Pathos (appeal to emotion): I asked how it feels to be acknowledged or heard. 

Rhetorical appeals are techniques of persuasion that people have successfully used for thousands of years. Let’s dive into this subject and explore how to use these appeals in our persuasive writing! 

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Rhetorical Appeals definition 

The rhetorical appeals date back to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. The appeals were taught as a way of creating a well-rounded argument. When writing or speaking to persuade an audience, you’ll want to appeal to them in four ways. 

A good argument will appeal to a person’s sense of: 

  • Trust
  • Emotions 
  • Reason 
  • Timing

These rhetorical appeals, also known as modes of persuasion, are Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Kairos. 

Now, let’s review each of the persuasive appeals, how to use them, and we’ll look at an example of each. Finally, at the bottom of the article, you’ll find a rhetorical appeals Quizlet to practice on your own. 

What is Ethos? 

rhetorical appeals- ethos appeal

Ethos definition: 

When using the Ethos appeal in an argument, you, as the writer, are trying to build credibility in your audience’s mind. When trying to persuade, it goes without saying that you want your audience to trust you. With that in mind, start your persuasive text by presenting yourself as a reliable source of information. Continue to build on your credibility throughout your text. Let’s go over some ways to establish your writing as reliable. 

How to use Ethos

Cite credible sources- don’t just ask your audience to take your word at face value. When you present a piece of evidence, tell your audience where you got that information. Make sure that your sources are credible. For example- if you’re arguing that cigarettes are bad for people’s health, find medical studies that prove that information as correct. 

State your qualifications when discussing a subject. Tell your audience what makes you an expert on your topic, whether you’re a professional in the field or you’ve done extensive research. 

Identify with your audience and establish a common ground. You easily identify with your audience by addressing any fears, reluctance, apprehension they may have regarding your argument. Be sure to address your audiences’ issues and provide them with a solution. 

Look the part- if you are giving a speech or a live or recorded presentation, be sure to dress appropriately. Proper attire will be different for each situation, so do your research and know what your audience is expecting. 

Edit for mistakes and errors- double-check and triple-check that all the information you provide is correct. If you are writing, edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Have credible peers proofread your work. Nothing will kill your credibility more than looking sloppy. 

Choose an appropriate tone- when writing, make sure to use a clear and logical organizational pattern. When speaking, use appropriate language, and have an engaging presentation. It’s always helpful to include visual aids like video, infographics, or even props. Make sure that your audience can easily follow your train of thought. 

Ethos example: 

What is Pathos? 

Pathos Appeal

Pathos definition:

Pathos refers to appealing to someone’s emotions. The root “path” comes from the Greek word meaning suffering or feeling. By using a pathos appeal, you are attempting to make your audience feel something about your topic. That feeling can be any emotion. 

We all use emotion when making decisions; in fact, feelings can make decisions a lot easier. Think of the last time you tried to make a decision with no real emotional impact. Take, for instance, the decision of what fast food restaurant you want for lunch. All fast-food restaurants are cheap, on every corner, and we all have at least two or three that we enjoy. So, how do you decide between Taco Bell and McDonald’s? With no emotion behind your decision, it can be pretty freaking hard. 

Now, let’s say you have a decision that does have emotional weight. Like, let’s say, the decision even to eat fast food at all. Fast food can be bad for your health, causes weight issues, and ultimately unhealthy food can contribute to an early death. So, you may decide not to eat fast food at all, and there are some compelling emotions behind that decision, like vanity and even fear of death. 

The point is, emotions are a decisive motivating factor behind every decision we make. As a persuasive writer, you can tap into that power and use it to benefit your argument. It is crucial to use Pathos ethically and avoid anything that can be perceived as emotional manipulation.  

How to use Pathos

Be honest- emotions are potent, and you should never lie, especially to evoke powerful emotion in your audiences’ minds. Lying for this purpose would be emotional manipulation. 

Be genuine- readers and audiences are usually aware when a speaker is employing Pathos. If you use Pathos, be sure that you feel the emotion you are trying to evoke. Suppose a fact or an anecdote makes you feel a certain way. In that case, an audience can empathize with you and possibly feel that same emotion. However, if you try to evoke a feeling that you don’t honestly feel yourself, an audience will likely view you as dishonest. 

Don’t overuse it: Pathos is powerful, but it shouldn’t be overly relied on. Only use Pathos to reinforce evidence and information that backs up your claim. 

Pathos example:

What is Logos? 

Logos appeal rhetorical appeals

Logos definition: 

Logos uses facts and information, as well as rational modes of thinking, to persuade an audience. Using evidence backed up by multiple sources is often the easiest and most reliable way to support a thesis. Logos will also ensure to the speaker that their argument is sound as they will have to research and find evidence that supports their claim. A logos appeal will also benefit the speaker by making them appear knowledgeable and adding to the speaker’s ethos appeal. 

How to use Logos 

Find evidence supporting your claim- be sure to thoroughly research your hypothesis or argument to ensure that it is correct. 

Present your evidence clearly- it’s helpful to use visual aids such as charts and graphs. Quotes from trusted sources are also a suitable method of presenting your findings. Also, rely on a reliable organization pattern like chronological order or comparing and contrasting as long as it fits your argument.  

Use a broad and diverse variety of evidence to support your claim. 

Show cause and effect, compare and contrast information, and elaborate on facts to demonstrate their relevance to your argument. 

Use both deductive and inductive reasoning: 

Deductive reasoning definition

Start with a broad claim and use it to draw conclusions that support a more specific point. Your premise must be correct to make an accurate conclusion with deductive reasoning. 

Example of deductive reasoning: 

  • All birds have feathers, but not all birds can fly. Penguins have feathers, so they are birds even though they cannot fly. 
  • An incorrect premise that leads to a wrong conclusion: All birds can fly. Penguins can’t fly, so they are not birds. 

Inductive reasoning definition 

Use several specific examples to support your claim. However, drawing conclusions with inductive reasoning doesn’t guarantee that your assumption is correct. 

Example of inductive reasoning: 

  • Of all the birds that I’ve seen at my feeder, blue jays are the only ones that eat peanuts. I assume that all blue jays like peanuts. 

Logos example: 

What is Kairos? (pronounced kai·ruhs) 

Kairos appeal

Kairos definition: 

Kairos is another word that comes to us from Ancient Greece, and it means the correct, critical, or opportune moment. A Kairos appeal is an appeal to timing. Sometimes an audience is primed, by events or time, to be more receptive to a message. 

In my city, we have a lot of hail and thunderstorms during the Spring. In the weeks following a major storm, you’ll see several door-to-door salespeople in neighborhoods who work for roofing companies. After a big storm, homeowners insurance will often cover the costs to repair a roof. These salespeople know that their target customers are more receptive because insurance will pay for their new roof or repairs. These salespeople are using the Kairos appeal. 

How to use Kairos

Create urgency in your argument. Suppose you are arguing for a carbon tax. In that case, you might say that governments only have twenty years to avoid the significant effects of climate change. This scarcity of time will motivate action on the part of your audience. 

Kairos example: 

Practice: Rhetorical Appeals Quizlet

Continue reading about Rhetorical Appeals: 

Purdue Online Writing Lab- Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion

Writing Commons- Rhetorical Appeals

Pressbooks- 6.4 Rhetorical Appeals: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos Defined

Art of Narrative- How to Write a Thesis Statement

Art of Narrative- How to Write a Conclusion


Smallbizgenius- The 45 Most Important Advertising Statistics of 2021

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