Rhetoric: The art of persuasion
Analysis: Breaking down the whole into pieces for the purpose of examination
Unlike summary, a rhetorical analysis does not only require a restatement of ideas; instead, you must recognize rhetorical moves that an author is making in an attempt to persuade his or her audience to do or to think something. In the 21st century’s abundance of information, it can sometimes be difficult to discern what is a rhetorical strategy and what is simple manipulation; however, an understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical moves will help you become more savvy with the information surrounding you on a day-to-day basis. In other words, rhetorical moves can be a form of manipulation, but if one can recognize those moves, then one can be a more critical consumer of information rather than blindly accepting whatever one reads, sees, hears, etc.
The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain what is happening in the text, why the author might have chosen to use a particular move or set of rhetorical moves, and how those choices might affect the audience. The text you analyze might be explanatory, although there will be aspects of argument because you must negotiate with what the author is trying to do and what you think the author is doing. Edward P.J. Corbett observes, rhetorical analysis “is more interested in a literary work for what it does than for what it is” (qtd. in Nordqvist).
One of the elements of doing a rhetorical analysis is looking at a text’s rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation is the context out of which a text is created.
Another element of rhetorical analysis is simply reading and summarizing the text. You have to be able to describe the basics of the author’s thesis and main points before you can begin to analyze it.
To do rhetorical analysis, you will connect the rhetorical situation to the text. You will go beyond summarizing and instead look at how the author shapes his or her text based on context. In developing your reading and analytical skills, allow yourself to think about what you’re reading, to question the text and your responses to it, as you read. Use the following questions to help you to take the text apart—dissecting it to see how it works:
Does the author successfully support the thesis or claim? Is the point held consistently throughout the text, or does it wander at any point?
Is the evidence the author used effective for the intended audience? How might the intended audience respond to the types of evidence that the author used to support the thesis/claim?
What rhetorical moves do you see the author making to help achieve his or her purpose? Are there word choices or content choices that seem to you to be clearly related to the author’s agenda for the text or that might appeal to the intended audience?
Describe the tone in the piece. Is it friendly? Authoritative? Does it lecture? Is it biting or sarcastic? Does the author use simple language, or is it full of jargon? Does the language feel positive or negative? Point to aspects of text that create the tone; spend some time examining these and considering how and why they work.
Is the author objective, or does he or she try to convince you to have a certain opinion? Why does the author try to persuade you to adopt this viewpoint? If the author is biased, does this interfere with the way you read and understand the text?
Do you feel like the author knows who you are? Does the text seem to be aimed at readers like you or at a different audience? What assumptions does the author make about their audience? Would most people find these reasonable, acceptable, or accurate?
Does the text’s flow make sense? Is the line of reasoning logical? Are therecv any gaps? Are there any spots where you feel the reasoning is flawed in some way?
Does the author try to appeal to your emotions? Does the author use any controversial words in the headline or the article? Do these affect your reading or your interest?
Do you believe the author? Do you accept their thoughts and ideas? Why or why not?
Once you have done this basic, rhetorical, critical reading of your text, you are ready to think about how the rhetorical situation – the context out out of which the text arises – influences certain rhetorical appealsthat appear in it.
AttributionsThis chapter contains material from “The Word on College Reading and Writing” by Monique Babin, Carol Burnell, Susan Pesznecker, Nicole Rosevear, Jaime Wood, OpenOregon Educational Resources, Higher Education Coordination Commission: Office of Community Colleges and Workforce Development is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
3.4 Rhetorical Appeals: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos Deﬁned
MELANIE GAGICH & EMILIE ZICKEL
Rhetoric, as the previous chapters have discussed, is the way that authors use and manipulate language in order to persuade an audience. Once we understand the rhetorical situation out of which a text is created (why it was written, for whom it was written, by whom it was written, how the medium in which it was written creates certain constraints, or perhaps freedoms of expression), we can look at how all of those contextual elements shape the author’s creation of the text.
We can look first at the classical rhetorical appeals, which are the three ways to classify authors’ intellectual, moral, and emotional approaches to getting the audience to have the reaction that the author hopes for.
Rhetorical appeals refer to ethos, pathos, and logos. These are classical Greek terms, dating back to Aristotle, who is traditionally seen as the father of rhetoric. To be rhetorically effective (and thus persuasive), an author must engage the audience in a variety of compelling ways, which involves carefully choosing how to craft his or her argument so that the outcome, audience agreement with the argument or point, is achieved. Aristotle defined these modes of engagement and gave them the terms that we still use today: logos, pathos, and ethos.
Logos: Appeal to Logic
Logic. Reason. Rationality. Logos is brainy and intellectual, cool, calm, collected, objective.
When an author relies on logos, it means that he or she is using logic, careful structure, and objective evidence to appeal to the audience. An author can appeal to an audience’s intellect by using information that can be fact checked (using multiple sources) and thorough explanations to support key points. Additionally, providing a solid and non-biased explanation of one’s argument is a great way for an author to invoke logos.
For example, if I were trying to convince my students to complete their homework, I might explain that I understand everyone is busy and they have other classes (non-biased), but the homework will help them get a better grade on their test (explanation). I could add to this explanation by providing statistics showing the number of students who failed and didn’t complete their homework versus the number of students who passed and did complete their homework (factual evidence).
Logical appeals rest on rational modes of thinking, such as:
Comparison – a comparison between one thing (with regard to your topic) and another, similar thing to help support your claim. It is important that the comparison is fair and valid – the things being compared must share significant traits of similarity.
Cause/effect thinking – you argue that X has caused Y, or that X is likely to cause Y to help support your claim. Be careful with the latter – it can be difficult to predict that something “will” happen in the future.
Deductive reasoning – starting with a broad, general claim/example and using it to support a more specific point or claim
Inductive reasoning – using several specific examples or cases to make a broad generalization
Exemplification – use of many examples or a variety of evidence to support a single point
Elaboration – moving beyond just including a fact, but explaining the significance or relevance of that fact
Coherent thought – maintaining a well-organized line of reasoning; not repeating ideas or jumping around
Pathos: Appeal to Emotion
When an author relies on pathos, it means that he or she is trying to tap into the audience’s emotions to get them to agree with the author’s claim. An author using pathetic appeals wants the audience to feel something: anger, pride, joy, rage, or happiness. For example, many of us have seen the ASPCA commercials that use photographs of injured puppies, or sad-looking kittens, and slow, depressing music to emotionally persuade their audience to donate money.
Pathos-based rhetorical strategies are any strategies that get the audience to “open up” to the topic, the argument, or to the author. Emotions can make us vulnerable, and an author can use this vulnerability to get the audience to believe that his or her argument is a compelling one.
Pathetic appeals might include:
Expressive descriptions of people, places, or events that help the reader to feel or experience those events
Vivid imagery of people, places or events that help the reader to feel like he or she is seeing those events
Sharing personal stories that make the reader feel a connection to, or empathy for, the person being described
Using emotion-laden vocabulary as a way to put the reader into that specific emotional mindset (what is the author trying to make the audience feel? and how is he or she doing that?)
Using any information that will evoke an emotional response from the audience. This could involve making the audience feel empathy or disgust for the person/group/event being discussed, or perhaps connection to or rejection of the person/group/event being discussed.
When reading a text, try to locate when the author is trying to convince the reader using emotions because, if used to excess, pathetic appeals can indicate a lack of substance or emotional manipulation of the audience. See the links below about fallacious pathos for more information.
Ethos: Appeal to Values/Trust
Ethical appeals have two facets: audience values and authorial credibility/character.
On the one hand, when an author makes an ethical appeal, he or she is attempting to tap into the values or ideologies that the audience holds, for example, patriotism, tradition, justice, equality, dignity for all humankind, self-preservation, or other specific social, religious or philosophical values (Christian values, socialism, capitalism, feminism, etc.). These values can sometimes feel very close to emotions, but they are felt on a social level rather than only on a personal level. When an author evokes the values that the audience cares about as a way to justify or support his or her argument, we classify that as ethos. The audience will feel that the author is making an argument that is “right” (in the sense of moral “right”-ness, i.e., “My argument rests upon that values that matter to you. Therefore, you should accept my argument”). This first part of the definition of ethos, then, is focused on the audience’s values.
A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing
On the other hand, this sense of referencing what is “right” in an ethical appeal connects to the other sense of ethos: the author. Ethos that is centered on the author revolves around two concepts: the credibility of the author and his or her character.
Credibility of the speaker/author is determined by his or her knowledge and expertise in the subject at hand. For example, if you are learning about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, would you rather learn from a professor of physics or a cousin who took two science classes in high school thirty years ago? It is fair to say that, in general, the professor of physics would have more credibility to discuss the topic of physics. To establish his or her credibility, an author may draw attention to who he or she is or what kinds of experience he or she has with the topic being discussed as an ethical appeal (i.e., “Because I have experience with this topic – and I know my stuff! – you should trust what I am saying about this topic”). Some authors do not have to establish their credibility because the audience already knows who they are and that they are credible.
Character is another aspect of ethos, and it is different from credibility because it involves personal history and even personality traits. A person can be credible but lack character or vice versa. For example, in politics, sometimes the most experienced candidates – those who might be the most credible candidates – fail to win elections because voters do not accept their character. Politicians take pains to shape their character as leaders who have the interests of the voters at heart. The candidate who successfully proves to the voters (the audience) that he or she has the type of character that they can trust is more likely to win.
Thus, ethos comes down to trust. How can the author get the audience to trust him or her so that they will accept his or her argument? How can the author make him or herself appear as a credible speaker who embodies the character traits that the audience values?
In building ethical appeals, we see authors:
Referring either directly or indirectly to the values that matter to the intended audience (so that the audience will trust the speaker).
Using language, phrasing, imagery, or other writing styles common to people who hold those values, thereby “talking the talk” of people with those values (again, so that the audience is inclined to trust the speaker).
Referring to their experience and/or authority with the topic (and therefore demonstrating their credibility).
Referring to their own character, or making an effort to build their character in the text.
Using ethos, pathos, and logos in an argument does not mean that the argument made is necessarily a good one. In academia, especially, we care a lot about making our arguments logically sound; we care about logos. We seek to create work that is rooted in rational discourse. We seek to produce our own rational discourse. We value carefully researched, methodically crafted work. Thus, to be a strong academic writer, you should seek to avoid logical fallacies, which are flaws in reasoning.
Fallacy means false. Think of the concept of a logical fallacy as something that makes an argument problematic, open to attack, or weak. In academic discourse, logical fallacies are seen as failures – as things you will want to avoid.
Thinking about fallacies can be confusing because you see them all the time: in advertising, in conversation, in political discourse. Fallacies are everywhere. But as students of rhetoric, part of your job is to spend time identifying these fallacies in both your own writing and in others’ as a way to avoid them.
Here is a series of videos on recognizing various Logical Fallacies. You may watch them by clicking the image below:
Logical Fallacies – A Short List
Generalization – A conclusion or judgment made from insufficient evidence. When one piece of evidence or information is used to make a broad conclusion or statement.
A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing
Cherry picking – Picking and choosing only some of the available evidence in order to present only points most favorable to your point of view. If someone knowingly chooses certain (favorable) pieces of information and conveniently ignores less favorable information, then the argument is not supported by all of the available research.
Straw Man – An oversimplification of an opposing perspective so that it becomes easy to attack. This is unfair and illogical because when one oversimplifies or inaccurately represents an argument and refutes that oversimplified version, one is not actually addressing the argument.
Red Herring – Changing topics to avoid the point being discussed. This is an argument tactic in which one attempts to change the conversation, often by bringing up information that is not relevant to the claim or point being debated, in order to try to control the conversation. This can be a way to avoid having to address or answer the question at hand, and it harms the quality of an argument.
Ad Hominem – It is a personal attack rather than a way of engaging with someone’s ideas. For example: “You are an idiot! That’s why you’re wrong!” This type of logical fallacy occurs when an arguer attacks or insults the person making opposing arguments instead of attacking the ideas, the logic, or the evidence within the opposing argument itself. It is a personal attack rather than a way of engaging with someone’s ideas.
Ad Populum – A misused reference to popularly accepted values. For instance: “This is about freedom and righteousness, and if you believe in those things, then you should believe my argument.” This is an example of misused ethos – when the author is referencing the values that the audience cares about so that they think only about the values and not about the content of the argument (or, likely, the fact that there is little intellectual substance in what is being said).
Either/or – – This is an argument that attempts to create a situation of absolutes with no options in between. For example: “Either we intervene or we are basically no better than the Nazis.”This thinking is fallacious because it assumes that there are only two options, with nothing in between.
Slippery Slope – This is a fallacy that assumes that one thing is going to have a series of consequences or effects–often leading to a worst-case scenario. For example: “If we let this happen, then that will happen and then the worst possible thing will happen.” It is false reasoning because 1) it’s impossible to predict the future, 2) it is illogical to suggest that one action will always necessarily lead to the worst possible outcome, and 3) it assumes a very specific chain of future events. This “if we let this happen there will be some horrible end” is
A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing
misuse of cause/effect reasoning, often with some pathos (fear) sprinkled in.
When you are reading others’ arguments, see if any of their reasoning is actually one of these fallacies of logic.
You may also find a longer list of logical fallacies here.
As you draft ideas for your own arguments, test each of your reasons against these definitions: have you used any of these fallacies to build your reasoning? If so, keep revising your line of reasoning!
We have spent the bulk of this book analyzing arguments’ logical structure. We have mapped out arguments and assessed their reasoning, evidence, and assumptions without referring to our feelings about them. And yet we all know that arguments are not won and lost solely on the merits of the ideas. Humans are not robots. As Jeanne Fahnestock and Marie Secor put it in A Rhetoric of Argument, emotions are “powerful incentives to belief and action.” Philosophers and laypeople have long asked what role emotions should have in shaping our ideas. Is it right for arguments to appeal to emotion, or is it a cheap trick? Should we guard against feeling what an argument asks us to feel? Or should we let emotions play a role in helping us decide whether we agree or not?
In one oversimplified view, logic is a good way to decide things and listening to emotions is a bad way. We might make this assumption if we tell ourselves or others, “Stop and think. You’re getting too emotional.” According to this view, no one reasons well under the influence of emotion. Pure ideas are king, and feelings only distort them.
Of course, sometimes emotions do lead us astray. But emotions and logic can work together. Consider Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Was it illegitimate for him to ask listeners to feel deeply moved to support racial equality? He famously proclaimed, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Should listeners have guarded themselves against feeling sympathy for those four children? If we care about things that matter and an argument is about something that matters, then we will and should have feelings about it. King intertwines his logical argument against racism with an appeal to our empathy, tenderness, and sense of justice.
Not all arguments are as intense as that one. Many, such as scientific journal articles, are calm and dispassionate. But all arguments must call on emotion, broadly defined, because they must motivate readers to stay engaged. Even a captive audience could potentially tune out. Every argument needs a reason to exist, a reason why it is important or relevant or just worth reading. It needs to keep us interested, or, failing that, to keep us convinced that reading on will be worthwhile. This reason to exist is sometimes called exigence. An argument can create exigence and motivate readers in many ways, but all these ways depend on emotion.
Besides the basic human emotions we might recognize on a toddler’s face–anger, joy, sadness, fear, disgust, desire, and surprise–each one with many options for levels of intensity, there are others that we don’t always think of as emotion. If we appeal to readers’ self-interest, we play on fear and hope and desire for emotional, physical and economic well being. Another kind of emotion is the desire for belonging, for a sense of being seen and validated. We feel pride in a group or sense of identity or social status, so references to that shared identity or status appeal to this sense of belonging. Our motivation to uphold our most precious values is bound up in deep feeling.
Another form of emotion present in the most seemingly objective arguments is curiosity. This is often combined with an appeal to a sense of pride in our intellectual capacity. Academic journal articles and popular newspaper and magazine articles and nonfiction books must all appeal to readers’ curiosity about the world and its workings and surprises to encourage them to keep reading. An argument may implicitly invite us to enjoy learning and discovery. It can offer a sense of relief, comfort, and pleasure in ideas laid out clearly in an ordered fashion.
Arguments can call on emotions in support of claims, but they can also make shaping readers’ emotions their primary purpose. An argument may set out to define or change how a reader feels about something. Or, it may set out to reinforce emotions and amplify them. A eulogy, for example, is a speech that praises a person who has passed away, a person usually already known to the audience. It serves to help people feel more intensely what they already believe about the value of the person’s life.
In this section, we will explore how writers use examples, word choice, and tone to affect readers’ feelings. We will look at how writers can vary their emotional appeals in the course of an argument and adapt them to specific audiences. Finally, we will consider how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate emotional appeals, between those that fit the logic of the argument and those that stray from it.