Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

3.5: Leading the audience

  • Page ID
    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

    The goal of writing is either to manipulate an audience or to work with the audience. Aristotle said writers should pull their audience along, using personal presence, logic, and emotion (ethos, pathos, and logos). A good writer can play readers, draw them along, and lead them to a pre-planned conclusion. But this all depends on knowing the audience well and knowing English well.

    What are ethos, pathos, and logos? These are simply words we use to describe the methods of appealing to an audience. Ethos means you are appealing to an audience by your credentials, your status, your virtue, your knowledge. Pathos means you are appealing to an audience by emotion, by invoking rage, or fear, or love, or pity, and the like. And logos means you are appealing to an audience by reason, that is, by giving facts, by giving statistics, by giving logical argumentation and common sense.

    Let's look at how ethos, pathos, and logos work in terms of audience, with an example:

    Example: You are trying to persuade your mother to let you go on a study abroad trip for a semester. You need to come up with arguments and evidence that are made specifically with your mom in mind because you know her: you know what kinds of argument work on her and which don’t ("all my friends are going" would not cut it). You know which commercials make her tear up (the ones with sick babies and kids graduating from college). You know she doesn’t trust online news sources. By considering these factors, you can give the best argument and persuade her to let you go to Paris!

    Here's how we could apply ethos, pathos, and logos to this example:

    Ethos is a way of convincing your audience through credibility and character. You display to your mother that you have done well in college, you have been on the honor roll, have been responsible. You also have a letter from your history professor who recommended you for the program.

    Pathos is a way of convincing your audience by appealing to emotions. You remind your mother of how she is always telling you about that trip to Germany she took when she was in high school, how it opened up her eyes to the wonders of the world—and that was only two weeks. Imagine what six months in France would do!

    Logos is a way of convincing your audience by providing factual support and data. You display to your mother that researchers independent of international study abroad programs found that college students who study abroad have higher graduation and employment rates than students who do not study abroad.

    There are also other ways to discuss how we persuade. Organizing the various methods of persuasion into ethos, pathos, and logos is very common, but another way is to use the following categories:

    appeal to authority (everybody high-ranking thinks it's a good idea)

    appeal to facts (basically this is logos)

    appeal to emotion (basically this is pathos)

    appeal to trust (basically this is part of ethos)

    bandwagon (everyone else agrees, public opinion, common sense)

    • Was this article helpful?