Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion
The art of persuasion has long been studied by philosophers and scholars of rhetoric alike.
The most notable of these academics was Aristotle, the philosopher who devised three strategies of “proofs” we use to persuade people. When we want to persuade someone of something, we learn of these three main traits to convince them that our perspective is the one they should consider – ethos, pathos and logos. Knowing how and when to use these three strategies can either make or break a persuasive argument.
Today we will cover these strategies and their meanings, and touch on other rhetorical devices that can help writers persuade their readers effectively. Let’s get started!
First, let’s talk about ethos. Ethos in the strategy of persuasion is all about credibility. When we want to be convinced of something, we typically feel more confident in the information we take in if it is coming from an expert or someone well versed in the subject.
The same goes for writing – if we are searching for information about ancient civilizations, are we more likely to believe the author if they are an experienced anthropologist, or if the author were a pastry chef?
Unless the pastry chef used to study anthropology in the past, a working anthropologist would be a more credible person to get this information from because of the years of studies they spent to become an expert in that field.
Credibility can also refer to the text itself. If we are looking for a source about ancient civilizations, the best sources are those that have the most recent data. As we expand our knowledge and understanding, older information can become outdated and useless, which is why having the most updated studies ensures you are likely to have the most credible information. In writing, credibility isn’t always reliant on the author being the most informed – it can refer to an author we think is the most trustworthy. The most trustworthy individual may not be the most educated or well-versed in a subject.
Trustworthiness may simply boil down to “is this person believable?”. Charismatic- and confident-sounding people tend to be seen as trustworthy even if the information they share isn’t accurate.
That’s why when we are being persuaded, we not only seek out educated people, but confident people that make us trust them, even though the information they are trying to convince us with may be wrong. Likewise, If the author of a text can assure us of their trustworthiness, whether they are experienced or educated in the subject they are speaking on or not, they are more likely to convince us of something than someone who we don’t view as trustworthy. An author may use ethos by sharing testimonials or anecdotes that support their point. They may not have numerical data to share, but they may claim to have seen or heard many experiences in the past that support their notion. That, along with charismatic and hyperbolic language can convince readers that this person is confident and worth trusting.
Some choices we make aren’t based in logic; oftentimes our decisions are made based on how we feel about something. The second strategy in persuasion, pathos, refers to one’s emotions. One way of convincing people of something is to speak to their emotions.
For example, have you ever seen a commercial about small animals that are up for adoption? They may show the animals looking very sad – they may even say something like, “Please save these animals so they can experience love and a warm home”. If you started to feel a little guilty or sad after seeing and hearing that, then the commercial used emotion to persuade you to adopt a pet. Pathos can stir your emotions to perform actions you otherwise would not feel compelled to do.
Just like commercials and other mediums, pathos is used in writing with various rhetorical tools. The author may ask questions that ask you to reflect on your feelings about a scenario – otherwise known as rhetorical questions. “What if this happened to you?”, “Isn’t that a shame?” or “Doesn’t that sound like fun?” are all questions the author may ask, not because they are interested in your answer but because they are using language, which can be biased, to gently push your opinion in favor of their argument.
Using pathos also requires knowing your audience – it’s probably safe to say most people care about cute animals having a good home, but if you wanted to convince a niche audience about something, let’s say, persuading accountants to use a new program, you will have to know more about them to know what they care about.
You may have a hard time trying to appeal to their emotions if you just say, “the program is easier to use”. With pathos you can explain, “using this program saves you more time, so you can finish your work faster and get home to your families quicker and spend more quality time with them.” Or “tax season is so tiring and stressful. It can be depressing to spend all day at your computer, not to mention all the daylight you miss. But this program helps you complete work quicker so you can relieve your mind of stress and enjoy the day”. Here pathos is used to appeal to the audience’s affection towards their families and describe the bleakness of the depression of being over worked to convince them that the new program is something they should use.
The final strategy of persuasion, logos, refers to logic and using logic to persuade an audience. Logic can include not just data or statistics that support your point, but can also use comparisons and experiences to logically sway others to agree with your point of view. The most convincing arguments using logos are ones that show both sides of the situation and finally proves its point by refuting the counterargument.
Let’s look at a scenario as an example:
What if you were searching for a new phone and the salesperson was trying to convince you to buy a different brand than what you were used to. The salesperson may say “I know you’re used to brand X and like how it is cheaper, however this new phone, Phone Y, doesn’t have the issues your current phone has and will last longer – also, everyone loves this new phone, therefore you should try a new brand, Phone Y.” Here, the salesperson uses logic to try to convince you to try a different phone by comparing it to your old phone, arguing that it is better quality and it will last longer. Both of these points refute the argument that phone X is better despite it being your favorite; it’s an affordable but outdated phone.
Logical arguments can also be identified through “if, then, because” statements. For example, if someone said “if you don’t leave earlier, you’ll miss the bus and be late for work”, they are trying to convince you to leave earlier to avoid the inevitable consequence of being late. The statement is logical because they explain the unfavorable outcome that will happen if you don’t do as they say.
That’s a lot to take in, so let’s summarize what we’ve talked about: There are three main strategies to persuade readers in your writing: Logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos uses logic, like data or comparisons to convince your audience; Ethos shares your credibility or trustworthiness with the reader; and pathos appeals to the readers’ emotions and feelings.
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!