Chapter 4: Convincing Discourses

4.1 Rhetorical Appeals: An Overview

Angela Eward-Mangione

Published in Writing Commons The encyclopedia for writers, researchers, and knowledge workers

This article uses a Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.Creative Commons license type BY-NC-ND 4.0

Successful writers write to win. Whether a writer wants to achieve a particular grade on a paper, persuade a specific audience to adopt an argument, or obtain an interview with a company, a writer writes with a purpose that he or she aims to fulfill. Using rhetorical appeals, particularly in persuasive writing, is a powerful way to persuade an audience.

Moreover, rhetorical appeals work. For example, in “Reductions in smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption associated with mass-media campaigns,” authors Karen Friend and David T. Levy examine state and local mass-media anti-tobacco campaigns that endeavor to change social norms, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs regarding smoking. Campaigns like this one undoubtedly use persuasive rhetorical devices, such as appeals, to produce measurable effects. Consequently, Friend and Levy’s study of campaigns in California and Massachusetts found that, in conjunction with a well-coordinated tobacco control program, the campaigns led to a reduction in net smoking prevalence of approximately 6-12% (92). These results unquestionably reduced smoking-related diseases and deaths, an important feat given the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tobacco use is currently the leading preventable cause of death in the United States (“Tobacco-Related Mortality”).

For the purposes of helping writers write to win, this article discusses why using rhetorical appeals is a valuable skill to learn, what types of rhetorical appeals exist, and how to start using them.

Identifying Rhetorical Appeals

Writers may employ four rhetorical devices, or appeals, in their persuasive writing:


Jimmie Killingsworth provides necessary background information about these appeals by explaining that, in the Rhetoric (1.2.2), Aristotle defines what contemporary society has come to call appeals (pisteis) by dividing them into two categories: “one called ‘entechnic,’ ‘artistic,’ or intrinsic’; the other ‘atechnic,’ ‘inartistic,’ or ‘extrinsic’” (qtd. in Killingsworth 250). Elaborating, Killingworth notes that the artistic category, the proper concern of rhetoric according to Aristotle, includes ethos, pathos, and logos” (250).

Before turning to examples of how to use these appeals, it will be worthwhile to understand their definitions. As Emily Lane, Jessica McKee, and Megan McIntyre point out, logos relates to “the consistency and clarity of an argument as well as the logic of evidence and reasons.” An argument that offers substantial evidence, including supporting statistics, will appeal to the rationality and sensibility of its audience members. Writers can also use pathos, or emotion, to help the audience connect with the writer’s argument. In contrast, ethos, a method of persuasion in which the speaker or writer tries to convince the audience by demonstrating his or her credibility (McKee and McIntyre), enables writers and speakers to display their credibility by explaining how their authority, credentials, expertise, and/or experience make what they say or write noteworthy. In contrast, as Kate Pantelides, Megan McIntyre, and Jessica McKee explain, kairos, entails “knowing what is appropriate to do in a given situation…saying (or writing) the right thing at the right time.”

Using Rhetorical Appeals

Identifying these appeals in persuasive writing is a valuable skill to learn (see this related article to get started); understanding how to use these appeals in your persuasive writing can prove to be an even more powerful ability to develop. To begin, several ways to appeal to logic exist. Consider the structure and quality of your argument. Daniel T. Richards asks writers to consider these questions: “Does your conclusion follow from your premises? Will your audience be able to follow the progression? Does your argument provide sufficient evidence for your audience to be convinced?” To improve the quality of your argument, consider:

  • Referring to facts and figures.
  • Citing relevant, current statistics.
  • Providing examples.
  • Including and addressing an opposing view.
  • Using visual representations.

Additionally, as Lane, McKee, and McIntyre recommend in their article regarding logos, maintain consistency in your argument, and avoid fallacious, or faulty, appeals to logic. For example, in “Fallacious Logos,” they provide an overview of several false appeals to logic, including the false dilemma, which assumes that there are only two options when there are more.

Writers may employ several methods to appeal to pathos. Read “Pathos” to explore several suggestions which include:

  • Referring to other emotionally compelling stories.
  • Citing stark, startling statistics that will invoke a specific emotion in audience members.
  • Showing empathy and/or understanding for an opposing view.
  • Using humor, if appropriate.

However, in your efforts to appeal to the audience’s emotions, avoid relying on faulty appeals. For example, “Fallacious Pathos” points out that using emotional words that evidence does not support leads to the argument by emotive language fallacy.

In pondering how to effectively employ rhetorical devices and aptly avoid fallacies, writers tend to miss the relationship among the rhetorical appeals. Consequently, there is something very right about such arguments as the one advanced by Richards, who argues that “your argument could be sound. It could even be emotionally compelling. But if your audience doesn’t trust you, if they don’t think you have their interest at heart, it won’t matter” (“The 3 Rhetorical Appeals”). Enhance the effectiveness of appeals to pathos and logos with appeals to ethos.

To demonstrate your credibility, try:

  • Referring to relevant work and/or life experience.
  • Citing your relevant awards, certificates, and/or degrees.
  • Providing evidence from relevant, current, and credible sources.
  • Carefully proofreading your work, and asking a few other people to so as well.

Additionally, follow McKee and McIntyre’s advice in “Fallacious Ethos.” McKee and McIntyre provide specific examples of fallacious ethos.

Conversely, appeals to kairos can help you make use of the particular moment (Pantelides, McIntyre, and McKee). Ask yourself if you can capitalize on any of the audience’s fast-approaching moments to create a sense of urgency. However, avoid false appeals to kairos. Read “Fallacious Appeals to Kairos” to learn more about this topic.

As this article has argued, good writers write to win. As such, rhetorical appeals underlie much of the successful persuasive writing in society, whether in the form of written arguments, television commercials, or educational campaigns. As previously discussed, some thoughtful, strategic anti-smoking campaigns have reduced smoking-related diseases and death. Additionally, Ariel Chernin observes that a large body of literature proves that food marketing affects children’s food preferences (107). Similarly, appealing to logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos in your persuasive writing can help you achieve your goals. Approaching rhetorical appeals from the inside out—from the perspective of the writer—one can note their effectiveness in persuasive writing, and one can write to win.

Works Cited

Chapman, Alston. “Rhetorical Appeals.” Writing Commons. N.p., 15 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

Chernin, Ariel. “The Effects of Food Marketing on Children’s Preferences: Testing theModerating Roles of Age and Gender.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 615 (2008): 102-18. JSTOR. Web. 5 July 2016.

Friend, Karen and David T. Levy. “Reductions in smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption associated with mass-media campaigns.” Health Education Research: Theory and Practice 17.1 (2002): 85-98. Web. 3 July 2016.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. “Rhetorical Appeals: A Revision.” Rhetoric Review 24.3 (2005): 249-263. JSTOR. Web. 5 July 2016.

Lane, Emily, Jessica McKee, and Megan McIntyre. ”Logos.”  Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

—. “Fallacious Logos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

Lee, Kendra Gayle, Jessica McKee, and Megan McIntyre. “Pathos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

—. “Fallacious Appeals to Pathos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

McKee, Jessica, and Megan McIntyre. “Ethos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

—“Fallacious Appeals to Ethos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

Pantelides, Kate, Megan McIntyre, and Jessica McKee. “Kairos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

—. “Fallacious Appeals to Kairos.” Writing Commons. N.p., 16 April 2012. Web. 2 July 2016.

Richards, Daniel T. “The 3 rhetorical appeals.” Daniel T. Richards. N.p., 30 May 2013. Web. 5 July 2015.

“Tobacco-Related Mortality.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Center for Disease Control and Prevention,n.d. Web. 5 July 2015.


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