The rhetorical triangle captures the three “appeals” used in persuasive communication: Logos, Ethos and Pathos (Logic, Ethics / Credibility and Emotion). Persuasive communications appeal to an audience’s emotions and logic, and are presented by a credible individual.

Summary by The World of Work Project

The Rhetorical Triangle

The Rhetorical Triangle, which is attributed to Aristotle who lived in the fourth century BC, is a grouping of three ways in which you can appeal to someone in an effort to influence them.

The three appeals

The three rhetorical appeals are: Logos, Pathos and Ethos. These roughly translate as logic, emotions and ethics. While it is possible to make a persuasive argument using just one of these appeals, it’s often more effective to structure your argument using a balanced mixture of all three of them.

Ethos (ethics)

Ethos can be thought of as the credibility, authority or overall character of the speaker or writer. Is the individual making the case an informed person with a wealth of relevant experience and knowledge behind them? Are they an expert in their field? What qualifications do they hold and what experience do they bring with them?

Establishing the credibility of the person making a case is an important part of persuasive communication. When looking to create a persuasive argument you should always make time to do this.

A classic example of ethos in toothpaste advertising is using dentists in their white coats to front the advertisements.

Logos (logic)

Some decisions can be proven logically.

Logos can be thought of as the rational argument within any persuasive communication. Logical arguments often include things like facts, figures and data to demonstrate the evidential “truth” supporting a set of statements or assertions. What do the numbers say? What does history say? And what does the data say?

Using logic is an important part of persuasive communication in some areas, though it is sometimes harder to get audiences to engage with fact than emotion.

A classic example of logos in toothpaste advertising would be providing statistics about reduced calories or tooth decay.

Pathos (emotion)

Pathos can be thought of as the emotional context and journey that’s created as part of a persuasive argument. It’s possible to create different emotions in an effort to persuade an audience into different actions. Fear, anger, sadness and desire are all powerful starting emotions from which to ask an audience to take action. You can read a bit more about this in our post on Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

Using pathos is hugely important in persuasive communication. It might even be the most important part in some instances.

A classic example of pathos in toothpaste advertising could be introducing fear of gum disease or bleeding gums.

People aren’t robots, they often relate to emotional communications.

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Learning More

Monroe’s motivated sequence is really about persuasion and influence. You might find Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion and Monroe’s Motivated Sequence interesting. From a marketing perspective the AIDA model is worth looking at. As a side exploration, it might be worth reading about Trust and Five Dimensions of Trust in Sales as well.

Increasingly, products are also design to be persuasive, as it were. They are designed to create habits and drive increased use. Examples of this include Fogg’s model and the Hook model of behavioral design.

You can listen to our podcast on this topic below.

The World of Work Project View

The Rhetorical Triangle is a simple and useful tool to keep in mind when looking to create persuasive communications. While it’s possible to persuade using only one of the three appeals, the best communications make use of all three.

In our view this is quite a simple tool, but that simplicity is part of its attractiveness. While knowing the tool won’t change your life, it’s still a helpful framework from which to check the construction of your communications.

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The contents of this post have been based on conversations and research from various locations on the internet. No specific sources were used to refer you back to, though as we said the model’s been attributed to Aristotle.

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