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15.2: Elements of Argument

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    When writing or analyzing arguments, we begin by examining how the argument appeals to the reader. There are three types of appeals utilized in arguments: logos or logical, pathos or emotional, and ethos or ethical appeals.

    Aristotle’s Triangle: Three Types of Appeals

    Logos or the logical appeal relies upon well-developed, well-organized and well-reasoned arguments supported by evidence from reliable, authoritative sources. When writing argumentative essays and papers, we rely heavily upon the logical appeal to make our case. The evidence utilized in the logical appeal is usually research-based evidence: statistics, clinical studies, any empirical evidence collected carefully and methodically. This is also why arguments are written in third person. We let the evidence drive our arguments, so readers do not think our work is based upon our biased viewpoint.

    Pathos or emotional appeal recognizes that humans are emotional beings. The key to using the emotional appeal successfully in papers is to provide an opportunity for an emotional response and not to try and orchestrate an emotional response. An example of the wrong use of an emotional appeal are infomercials for organizations like the ASPCA or UNICEF. While there is no doubt their work and message is important, they try to manipulate the audience with the use of emotional music, manipulative photographs, with an emotional narrative running beneath the music and images. While this may be okay for non-profit organizations, it does not work in college papers. Do not try to manipulate your audience this way. Also, do not try to use emotionally charged language. Stay in third person and avoid sounding biased, accusatory or self-righteous. As a writer, the people you are trying to persuade are the people who either disagree with you or are not sure. By sounding accusatory or self-righteous, you will put the opposition on the defensive, and you have already lost your argument.

    The proper use of emotions is through narrative case studies. Case studies provide the opportunity to appeal to readers’ emotions. The key is not to tell the readers what to feel or to try and manipulate the readers to feel a specific emotion. Instead, writers tell the story and allow the readers to decide how they want to respond. Readers can become emotionally involved with the topic or not. It is up to them. This works well for social issues like hunger and homelessness, bullying, child abuse, or illegal immigration. The blending of specific case studies with empirical evidence creates a deeply meaningful approach to argument. If I am talking about homeless children in America, by providing the statistics on the large number of children affected by this issue along with stories of the struggles of specific children, this drives the point home. We have a name and face to go with those numbers making the argument very human.

    Ethos or the ethical appeal relates to the writer’s persona being projected through the work. By using an unbiased tone and unbiased language, we project an image of trustworthiness and credibility. That is also why we use credible sources. We, as writers of college papers, do not have any credibility yet with our audience. By using authoritative, reliable sources, we borrow their credibility to help persuade readers to adopt our point of view. We are effectively saying, it is not just me that thinks this way. Here is a testimonial from Dr. So and So and his research that supports it. The research, surveys or clinical studies provides the evidence that supports the argument.

    • Looking back at the Kleenex ad, what types of appeals did the ad use?

    Beyond the use of these appeals, there are some other elements to consider when analyzing or writing arguments: audience, purpose, a well-defined issue, compelling evidence, refutation, and persona.

    Audience

    What audience does the writer have in mind? Who is the target audience the writer is trying to persuade? As a writer, your audience is the first consideration. This determines the language you will use, the sources you will cite, and the approach you will take. For example, if I were writing an antiabortion paper, I would address a panel of scientists much differently than a church congregation. Some of my sources would change, and my language use would probably change. For scientists, I would sound more clinical. For the church congregation, I would sound more emotional. My evidence would change, too. For scientists, I would use clinical evidence. For a church congregation, I would use sacred text. What if my target audience were children instead of adults? Once again, some of my sources would change and my approach would be different.

    Purpose/Thesis

    Why are you writing it? What are you trying to prove? The purpose is the thesis statement. As a writer, you need to know why you are writing the paper. It cannot be just to fulfill a requirement. It is imperative that your position is clear. What exactly are you arguing? It should be very apparent which side you are on and why.

    Provide the reasoning behind your position. Remember, do not state it overtly like this: The purpose of this essay is to prove that potential dog owners must research breeds in order to choose dogs that best suit their lifestyles and opt to spay or neuter them if the overcrowded dog population is ever going to be solved.

    This is considered weak. That said, you do have a good thesis statement if you drop the initial part: Potential dog owners must research breeds in order to choose dogs that best suit their lifestyles and then spay or neuter them if the overcrowded dog population is ever going to be solved.

    Here is an example from a student paper: Although the American flag is worthy of great esteem, the government cannot take away the right to desecrate the flag without taking away all that it stands for–freedom.

    Using language strengthens your argument. The following examples from the Community College Consortium’s Rhetoric and Composition textbook help further illustrate this point:

    You should avoid using “I” and “My” (subjective) statements in your argument. You should only use “I” or “My” if you are an expert in your field (on a given topic). Instead choose more objective language to get your point across. Consider the following:

    I believe that the United States Government is failing to meet the needs of today’s average college student through the under-funding of need-based grants, increasingly restrictive financial aid eligibility requirements, and a lack of flexible student loan options.

    “Great,” your reader thinks, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”

    Now let’s look at this sentence again, but without the “I” at the beginning. Does the same sentence becomes a strong statement of fact without your” tacked to the front?:

    The United States Government is failing to meet the needs of today’s average college student through the underfunding of need-based grants, increasingly restrictive financial aid eligibility requirements, and a lack of flexible student loan options.

    “Wow,” your reader thinks, “that really sounds like a problem.”

    A small change like the removal of “I” and “my” can make all the difference in how a reader perceives your argument— as such, it’s always good to proof read your rough draft and look for places where you could use objective rather than subjective language.

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