Ethos, Pathos and Logos by Mr. Severino

Understanding Ethos

Ethos means persuading the audience through trust in the speaker.  When the audience trusts the speaker, they are more easily persuaded.  Persuasion, then, can be built on the reputation of the speaker.

Imagine, for example, two speakers are invited to your biology class to speak on the function of the human brain.  One speaker is a practicing brain surgeon who did her undergraduate studies at Harvard University and received her medical degree from the University of Washington (the top medical school in the country).  The other speaker is a homeless heroin addict your teacher found in a pool of his own vomit and invited to your class to give a lecture.  Which speaker are you more likely to trust?  Whose words would you give more credence to and be more persuaded by?

Obviously, the first speaker is more worthy of your trust on a subject as complex as the function of the human brain.  Her credentials establish her as an expert.  The homeless man is likely to make a fool of himself and be a subject of ridicule or horror to you.

Using Ethos

Now, there is no way for you to obtain a degree from Harvard overnight on the subject you will be writing about persuasively.  However, there are a few key things you can do to establish trust with your readers:

1. Avoid grammatical mistakes.  Readers naturally distrust a writer if he or she makes frequent grammatical errors.  To establish trust with your readers, it is important for you to write as correctly as you can.

2. Use a broader vocabulary.  Trust in a writer is often based on the reader’s perception of how educated that writer is.  A reader will naturally assume that if you use a varied vocabulary, you are well-educated.

3. Make it clear when you have firsthand experience.  Many of the subjects teachers or test creators will ask you to write about are subjects you have firsthand experience with.  For example, if the essay question is about air conditioning systems in schools, you have firsthand experience because you have attended many hot classrooms.  Your experience makes you an expert, and your reader will trust you more because of that, so make it clear that you have had experience.

Understanding Pathos

In its simplest explanation, Pathos means appealing to the audience’s emotions.  However, Pathos is actually more complicated than that explanation may lead you to believe.  Pathos relies on the audiences imagination and ability to identify with the speaker.  When you use Pathos in writing or speaking, your audience imagines what you are talking about and connects their emotions to yours.  In effect, you are trying to get your audience to experience what you experienced or what the person you are talking about experienced.

Using Pathos

It takes a bit of practice to really master Pathos in writing or speaking, but the three general techniques for evoking an audience’s emotions are fairly easy to understand.

1. Story Telling.  The most common way to bring about Pathos is to tell a story related to your subject.  Stories have the effect of making principles and ideas seem more concrete to your audience, which allows them to connect with their emotions on the matter.  A well-written story will also make the audience feel as if they were there, as if they had the experience.  Thus, your experience becomes their experience and your emotions become their emotions.

2. Metaphor.  A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are different in most ways but similar in one important way.  In a metaphor, we say one thing is or is equal to another.  This transfers our understanding of one to the other.

Metaphors are important to Pathos because they kindle the audience’s imagination.  They conjure specific images, and those images bring about an emotional response from the audience.  Consider the following quote from Shakespeare:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

The metaphor here is a comparison between the world/life and a stage.  Shakespeare uses something relatively easy to understand (a play) to explain something harder to understand (life).  It conjures a very specific image, and this image has an emotional impact on the audience.

3. Word Choice.  A speaker or writer can provoke an emotional response simply by choosing words with higher emotional value.  Imagine you were trying to write about a horrible loss you experienced.  Which word would bring about a stronger reaction from the audience:  bad or devastating?

Understanding Logos

 Logos is appealing to the audience’s logic or reason.  Everyone has an analytical side, a side that desires examples, data, and fact.  When you use Logos, you are fulfilling this desire for your audience.  By giving the audience what they desire, you are naturally more persuasive.

Using Logos

Logos is probably the easiest persuasive technique to use.  You simply provide your reader with facts, data, and examples that relate to your using Logos.

Examples of Ethos, Pathos and Logos persuasion