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6: Persuasive Appeals

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    Rhetorical Analysis and the Rhetorical Triangle

    A rhetorical analysis refers to the process of analyzing a text, source, or artifact. It may be in written form (like your sources) or some other form of communication like a speech. The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to take into consideration the purpose, audience, and the occasion (or the context in which the text will be written or read).

    The term rhetoric is often connected to argument or criticism, and often carries a negative connotation (e.g., "The political rhetoric is so divisive." ). But rhetoric is really a neutral term. It’s the effort to use rhetorical appeals to influence an audience and achieve a certain set of purposes and outcomes.

    The principles Aristotle laid out in his Rhetoric nearly 2,500 years ago still form the foundation of much of our contemporary practice of argument. Aristotle argued that rhetoric was present in every situation. Have you ever heard the phrase, "Everything's an argument"? - This refers to Aristotle's definition of rhetoric, which he defined as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" (Aristotle). The rhetorical situation Aristotle argued was present in any piece of communication is often illustrated with a triangle to suggest the interdependent relationships among its three elements:

    • Ethos or the voice of the speaker or writer and how they establish their credibility
    • Pathos or the audience and the emotional connection that's established with the intended listeners or readers
    • Logos or the message and how logically it is conveyed


    If each corner of the triangle is represented by one of the three elements of the rhetorical situation, then each side of the triangle depicts a particular relationship between two elements:

    • Tone - The connection established between the speaker and the audience.
    • Attitude - The orientation of the speaker toward the message; the purpose of the message
    • Reception - The manner in which the audience receives the message conveyed

    Rhetorical Appeals

    In this section, we’ll focus on how the rhetorical triangle can be used in service of argumentation, especially through the balanced use of ethical, logical, and emotional appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos, respectively. In the rhetorical triangle, you’ll note that each appeal has been placed next to the corner of the triangle with which it is most closely associated:

    • Ethos - Appeals to the audience's ethics. Ethos relies on the credibility, reputation, and trustworthiness of the speaker or writer (most closely associated with the voice).
    • Logos - Appeals to the audience's logic. Logos relies on reason, logic, and facts in the argument (most closely associated with the message).
    • Pathos - Appeals to emotion. Pathos relies on stirring the emotions (sympathy, anger, pride, etc.) of the listeners or readers (most closely associated with the audience).

    Each of these appeals relies on a certain type of evidence: logical, emotional, or ethical. Based on your audience and purpose, you have to decide what combination of techniques will work best as you present your case. Some of the best arguments use a combination of all three.

    The Appeal to Ethics (Ethos)

    Ethos is an appeal to the audiences' ethics and relies on the credibility of the author. When reading a source, you should ask yourself, "Why should I trust you?" In other words, "How has the author established their credibility?" The same holds true when you are writing. You want to establish reasons for your audience to trust you.

    For example, a college professor who places a college logo on a website gains some immediate credibility from being associated with the college. An advertisement for tennis shoes using a well-known athlete gains some credibility. You might create an ethical appeal in an essay on solving a campus problem by noting that you are serving in student government.

    Three of the best ways to demonstrate ethos are:

    • By personal experience: Although your lived experience might not set hard and-fast rules about the world, it is worth noting that you may be an expert on certain facets of your life. For instance, a student who has played rugby for fifteen years of their life is in many ways an authority on the sport.
    •  By education or other certifications: Professional achievements demonstrate ethos by revealing status in a certain field or discipline.
    • By citing other experts: The common expression is “Stand on the shoulders of giants.” This is actually the tag line of Google Scholar. You can develop ethos by pointing to other people with authority and saying, “Look, this smart/experienced/qualified/important person agrees with me.” 

    As a student, you might not have enough experience to persuade your audience that you're an expert. In these cases, you can establish your credibility by using reliable sources and acknowledging those who've helped you learn more about the topic (citing your sources). The appeal to ethics can add an important component to your argument, but keep in mind that ethos is only as strong as the credibility of the association being made. In other words, if you're not citing very good sources, then you're harming your ethical appeal to the audience.

    The Appeal to Logic (Logos)

    Logos refers to an appeal to the audience's logical reasoning. Logos will often employ statistics, data, or other quantitative facts to demonstrate the validity of an argument.  For example, in an essay proposing that participating in high school athletics helps students develop into more successful students, you could show graphs comparing the grades of athletes and non-athletes, as well as high school graduation rates and post–high school education enrollment. These statistics would support your points in a logical way and would probably work well with a school board that is considering cutting a sports program. 

    Keep in mind that stating a fact or a statistics does not alone constitute logos.You need to make sure your interpretation of the logic is sound. If it's not, it's described as a logical fallacy. We'll explore this further in the next page of reading.

    The Appeal to Emotions (Pathos)

    The goal of an emotional appeal is to garner sympathy, develop anger, instill pride, inspire happiness, or trigger other emotions. When authors choose this method, their goal is for the audience to react emotionally regardless of what they might think logically.

    There are two especially effective techniques for cultivating pathos:

    • Make the audience aware of the issue’s relevance to them specifically. “How would you feel if this happened to you? What are we to do about this issue?”
    • Tell stories. A story about one person or one community can have a deeper impact than broad, impersonal data or abstract, hypothetical statements. Consider the difference between these two appeals:
      • About 1.5 million pets are euthanized each year
      • Scooter, an energetic and loving former service dog with curly brown hair like a Brillo pad, was put down yesterday.
      • Both are impactful, but the latter is more memorable and more specific.

    Unfortunately, emotional appeals are also often used unethically to sway opinions without solid reasoning.

    Whether your argument relies primarily on ethos, logos, pathos, or a combination of these appeals, plan to make your case with your entire arsenal of facts, statistics, examples, anecdotes, illustrations, figurative language, quotations, expert opinions, discountable opposing views, and common ground with the audience. Carefully choosing these supporting details will control the tone of your writing as well as the success of your argument.

    How to Use Rhetoric to Get What You Want

    This video by Camille Langston from from TED-Ed gives you another quick overview of rhetorical appeals.

    Tile that links to how to use rhetoric video.

    Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

    There are two basic approaches to how you believe something is true.  These are called inductive and deductive reasoning.

    Inductive Reasoning

    Inductive reasoning presents facts and then wraps them up with a general conclusion. For instance, you visit your local grocery store daily to pick up necessary items. You notice that on Friday, two weeks ago, all the clerks in the store were wearing football jerseys. Again, last Friday, the clerks wore their football jerseys. Today, also a Friday, they’re wearing them again. From just these observations, you can conclude that on all Fridays, these supermarket employees will wear football jerseys to support their local team. This type of pattern recognition, leading to a conclusion, is known as inductive reasoning.

    The Power of Inductive Reasoning

    You have been employing inductive reasoning for a very long time. Inductive reasoning is based on your ability to recognize meaningful patterns and connections. By taking into account both examples and your understanding of how the world works, induction allows you to conclude that something is likely to be true. By using induction, you move from specific data to a generalization that tries to capture what the data “mean.”

    Imagine that you ate a dish of strawberries and soon afterward your lips swelled. Now imagine that a few weeks later you ate strawberries and soon afterwards your lips again became swollen. The following month, you ate yet another dish of strawberries, and you had the same reaction as formerly. You are aware that swollen lips can be a sign of an allergy to strawberries. Using induction, you conclude that, more likely than not, you are allergic to strawberries.

    • Data: After I ate strawberries, my lips swelled (1st time).
    • Data: After I ate strawberries, my lips swelled (2nd time).
    • Data: After I ate strawberries, my lips swelled (3rd time).
    • Additional Information: Swollen lips after eating strawberries may be a sign of an allergy.
    • Conclusion: Likely I am allergic to strawberries.

    The results of inductive thinking can be skewed if relevant data are overlooked. In the previous example, inductive reasoning was used to conclude that you are likely allergic to strawberries after suffering multiple instances of lips swelling after eating them. Would you be as confident in your conclusion if you were eating strawberry shortcake on each of those occasions? Is it reasonable to assume that the allergic reaction might be due to another ingredient besides strawberries?

    This example illustrates that inductive reasoning must be used with care. When evaluating an inductive argument, consider

    • the amount of the data,
    • the quality of the data,
    • the existence of additional data,
    • the relevance of necessary additional information, and
    • the existence of additional possible explanations.

    Inductive reasoning can never lead to absolute certainty. Instead, induction allows you to say that, given the examples provided for support, the claim more likely than not is true. Because of the limitations of inductive reasoning, a conclusion will be more credible if multiple lines of reasoning are presented in its support.

    Deductive Reasoning

    Knowledge can also move the opposite direction. Deductive reasoning presents a generalization (think thesis statement), then provides supportive facts to back up that generalization.

    Say that you read in the news about a tradition in a local grocery store, where employees wore football jerseys on Fridays to support the home team. This time, you’re starting from the overall rule, and you would expect individual evidence to support this rule. Each time you visited the store on a Friday, you would expect the employees to wear jerseys. Such a case, of starting with the overall statement and then identifying examples that support it, is known as deductive reasoning.

    The Power of Deductive Reasoning

    Deductive reasoning is built on two statements whose logical relationship should lead to a third statement that is an unquestionably correct conclusion. In other words, one fact plus one fact equal a third fact. Here's an example:

    1. All raccoons are omnivores.
    2. This animal is a raccoon.
    3. This animal is an omnivore.

    If the first statement is true (All raccoons are omnivores) and the second statement is true (This animal is a raccoon), then the conclusion (This animal is an omnivore) is unavoidable. If a group must have a certain quality, and an individual is a member of that group, then the individual must have that quality.

    Going back to the very first example from the introduction, we could frame it this way:

    1. Grocery store employees wear football jerseys on Fridays.
    2. Today is Friday.
    3. Grocery store employees will be wearing football jerseys today.

    Unlike inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning allows for certainty only as long as the evidence is a true fact.

    What this means is that inductive reasoning can often be hidden inside a deductive argument. That is, a generalization reached through inductive reasoning can be turned around and used as a starting “truth” for a deductive argument. Here's an example:

    1. Most Labrador retrievers are friendly.
    2. Kimber is a Labrador retriever.
    3. Therefore, Kimber is friendly.

    In this case we cannot know for certain that Kimber is a friendly Labrador retriever. The structure of the argument may look logical, but it is based on observations and generalizations rather than indisputable facts.

    One way to test the accuracy of a premise is to apply the same questions asked of inductive arguments. As a recap, you should consider:

    • the amount of the data,
    • the quality of the data,
    • the existence of additional data,
    • the relevance of the additional data, and
    • the existence of additional possible explanations.

    Determine whether the starting claim is based upon a sample that is both representative and sufficiently large, and ask yourself whether all relevant factors have been taken into account in the analysis of data that leads to a generalization.

    Here is a video that briefly explains the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning.

    tile that links to difference between deductive and inductive reasoning video

    Logical, Emotional, or Ethical Fallacies

    Rhetorical appeals used in argumentation have power. They can be used to motivate or to manipulate. When they are used irresponsibly, they lead to fallacies, which are misleading statements and constructions used in argumentation.

    Fallacies are, at best, unintentional reasoning errors, and at worst, they are deliberate attempts to deceive. Fallacies are commonly used in advertising and politics, but they are not acceptable in academic arguments and won't serve you well in the workplace either. The following are some examples of three kinds of fallacies that abuse the power of logical, emotional, or ethical appeals (logos, pathos, or ethos).

    Logical Fallacies



    Begging the question (or circular reasoning)

    The point is simply restated in different words as proof to support the point.

    Of course animals have rights, just look at how they're being treated.

    Either/or fallacy.

    A situation is presented as a an "either/or" choice when in reality, there are more than just two options

    Either I start college this fall or I work in a factory for the rest of my life.

    Hasty generalization

    A conclusion is reached with insufficient evidence.

    Mrs. Dobson's Rottweiler bit a neighbor boy. All Rottweilers are violent dogs.

    Red herring 

    The writer inserts an irrelevant detail into an argument to divert the reader's attention from the main issue.

    My room might be a mess, but I got an A in math.

    Straw man

    The writer rebuts a competing claim by offering an exaggerated or oversimplified version of it.

    Our campus is "dry" and doesn't allow alcohol. Obviously the administration is composed of a bunch of puritans who don't speak for the majority and can be ignored.


    Emotional Fallacies




    The writer suggests that readers with certain positive traits would naturally agree with the writer's point.

    You are a calm and collected person, so you can probably understand what I'm saying.

    Group think (or group appeal).

    The reader is encouraged to decide about an issue based on identification with a popular, high-status group

    The varsity football players all bought some of our fundraising candy. Do you want to buy some?

    Riding the bandwagon

    The writer suggests that since "everyone" is doing something, the reader should do it too.

    The hot thing today is to wear black socks with tennis shoes. You'll look really out of it if you wear those white socks.

    Scare tactics (or veiled threats)

    The writer uses frightening ideas to scare the readers into agreeing or believing something.

    If the garbage collection rates are not increased, your garbage will likely start piling up.


    The writer uses a sweeping, general statement about a group of people in order to prove a point.

    Women won't like this movie because it has too much action and violence. 


    Men won't like this movie because it's about feelings and relationships.


    Ethical Fallacies



    Guilt by association

    An adversary's credibility is attacked because the person has friends or relatives who possibly lack in credibility.

    We do not want people like her teaching our kids. Her father is in prison for robbery.

    Personal attack (or ad hominem)

    An adversary's personal attributes are used to discredit his or her argument.

    I don't care if the government hired her as an expert. If she doesn't know enough not to wear jeans to court, I don't trust her judgment about anything.

    Poisoning the well

    Negative information is shared about an adversary so others will later discredit his or her opinions.

    I heard that he was charged with aggravated assault last year, and his rich parents got him off.


    A certain group or person is unfairly blamed for all sorts of problems.

    Jake is such a terrible student government president; it is no wonder that it is raining today and our spring dance will be ruined.


    Do your best to avoid using these examples of fallacious reasoning, and be alert to their use by others so that you aren’t “tricked” into a line of unsound reasoning. Getting into the habit of reading academic, commercial, and political rhetoric carefully will enable you to see through manipulative, fallacious uses of verbal, written, and visual language. Being on guard for these fallacies will make you a more proficient college student, a smarter consumer, and a more careful voter, citizen, and member of your community.

    Spotting Fallacies

    It takes time and practice to be able to spot fallacies in arguments. This is a fun website you can use to help you think more critically and test your knowledge on spotting fallacies.

    homepage of your logical fallacy is which links to the website

    Rhetorical Theory of Reading

    We got into critical reading last week. It's vital to use critical reading to understand a text and to spot rhetoric. You are constantly making meaning from texts. To understand this further, we're going to look at the rhetorical theory of reading.

    The work that best describes and justifies the rhetorical reading theory is Douglas Brent’s 1992 book Reading as Rhetorical Invention: Knowledge, Persuasion, and the Teaching of Research-Based Writing.  Brent’s ideas  do a good job demystifying critical reading’s main claims. 

    Brent treats reading not only as a vehicle for transmitting information and knowledge, but also as a means of persuasion. To Brent, knowledge equals persuasion because, in his words, “Knowledge is not simply what one has been told. Knowledge is what one believes, what one accepts as being at least provisionally true.” (xi).

    This short passage contains two assertions which are key to the understanding of what's happening when you are reading critically. Notice that simply reading “for the main point” will not necessarily make you “believe” what you read. Surely, such reading can fill our heads with information, but will that information become our knowledge in a true sense, will we be persuaded by it, or will we simply memorize it to pass the test and forget it as soon as we pass it?

    All of us can probably recall many instances in which we read a lot to pass a test only to forget, with relief, what we read as soon as we left the classroom where that test was held. The purpose of reading and research, then, is not to get as much information out of a text as possible, but to change and update one’s system of beliefs on a given subject (Brent 55-57).

    Brent further states:

    The way we believe or disbelieve certain texts clearly varies from one individual to the next. If you present a text that is remotely controversial to a group of people, some will be convinced by it and some not, and those who are convinced will be convinced in different degrees. The task of a rhetoric of reading is to explain systematically how these differences arise— how people are persuaded differently by texts (18).

    Critical and active readers not only accept the possibility that the same texts will have different meanings for different people, but welcome this possibility as an inherent and indispensable feature of strong, engaged, and enjoyable reading process. To answer his own questions about what factors contribute to different readers’ different interpretations of the same texts, Brent offers us the following principles that have been summarized from his book:

    • Readers are guided by personal beliefs, assumptions, and pre-existing knowledge when interpreting texts. This is called information bias and we'll be exploring it further later in the course.
    • Readers react differently to the logical proofs presented by the writers of texts.
    • Readers react differently to emotional and ethical proofs presented by writers. For example, an emotional story told by a writer may resonate with one person more than with another because the first person lived through a similar experience and the second one did not, and so on.

    The idea behind the rhetorical theory of reading is that when we read, we not only take in ideas, information, and facts, but instead we “update our view of the world.” You cannot force someone to update their worldview, and therefore, the purpose of writing is persuasion and the purpose of reading is being persuaded. Persuasion is possible only when the reader is actively engaged with the text and understands that much more than simple retrieval of information is at stake when reading.

    Applied to research, Brent’s theory of reading means the following:

    • The purpose of research is not simply to retrieve data, but to participate in a conversation about it. Simple summaries of sources is not research, and writers should be aiming for active interpretation of sources instead.
    • There is no such thing as an unbiased source. Writers make claims for personal reasons that critical readers need to learn to understand and evaluate.
    • Feelings can be a source of shareable good reason for belief. Readers and writers need to use, judiciously, ethical and pathetic proofs in interpreting texts and in creating their own.
    • Research is recursive. Critical readers and researchers never stop asking questions about their topic and never consider their research finished.


    CC BY-NC logoThis chapter was compiled, reworked, and/or written by Andi Adkins Pogue and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

    Original sources used to create content (also licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 unless otherwise noted):

    Abrams, S. (2018). Argumentation. In EmpoWord: A student-centered anthology and handbook for college writers, (pp. 201-241).

    Inductive and deductive reasoning. (n.d.). English composition I. Lumen Learning.

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    Langston, C.A. (2016) How to use rhetoric to get what you want [Video]. [NOTE LICENSED UNDER CC- FREELY ACCESSIBLE ON YOUTUBE AND TED-ED]

    Recognizing the rhetorical situation. (2012). The writer's handbook, v.1. NOTE: This title is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

    Richardson, J. , Smith, A., Meaden, S.  (2019). Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies. Note: authors do not specify CC license, but list Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical CC BY-NC

    Zemilansky, P. (2016). Research writing and argument: All writing is an argument. J. Kepka (Ed.) In Oregon writes open writing text


    Aristotle. Rhetoric.

    Brent, D. (1992). Reading as rhetorical invention: Knowledge, persuasion, and the teaching of research-based writing. National Council of Teachers of English.

    6: Persuasive Appeals is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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