Once you know who your intended audience is and what your purpose is for writing, you can make specific decisions about how to shape your message. No matter what, you want your audience to stick around long enough to read your whole piece. How do you manage this magic trick? Easy. You appeal to them. You get to know what sparks their interest, what makes them curious, and what makes them feel understood. The one and only Aristotle provided us with three ways to appeal to an audience, and they’re called logos, pathos, and ethos. You’ll learn more about each appeal in the discussion below, but the relationship between these three appeals is also often called the rhetorical triangle, and in diagram form, it looks like this:
Latin for emotion, pathos is the fastest way to get your audience’s attention. People tend to have emotional responses before their brains kick in and tell them to knock it off. Be careful though. Too much pathos can make your audience feel emotionally manipulated or angry because they’re also looking for the facts to support whatever emotional claims you might be making so they know they can trust you.
Latin for logic, logos is where those facts come in. Your audience will question the validity of your claims; the opinions you share in your writing need to be supported using science, statistics, expert perspective, and other types of logic. However, if you only rely on logos, your writing might become dry and boring, so even this should be balanced with other appeals.
Latin for ethics, ethos is what you do to prove to your audience that you can be trusted, that you are a credible source of information. (See logos.) It’s also what you do to assure them that they are good people who want to do the right thing. This is especially important when writing an argument to an audience who disagrees with you. It’s much easier to encourage a disagreeable audience to listen to your point of view if you have convinced them that you respect their opinion and that you have established credibility through the use of logos and pathos, which show that you know the topic on an intellectual and personal level.
Below is a video (found at https://youtu.be/uiDVaVEAKqU) about rhetorical appeals that goes into more detail about the three appeals and how Aristotle used the rhetorical triangle to illustrate the relationship between the appeals and the audience.
For more on appealing to your audience, also see Imagining Your Audience’s Needs
Ready to practice writing for specific audiences? Below you’ll find eight pictures of people with some information about each person included.
After reading the brief description for each person, choose three people to write letters to. The purpose of your letter writing is to ask these people to give you $100 to purchase personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, etc.) to donate to a local school, business, or institution (make it clear to whom it will go–your choice–be specific). Please follow these two rules: you cannot say you will pay the money back because you won’t. And, you’re not asking for a loan. With these parameters in mind, how will you manage to persuade these people to give you the money?
After you have written your three letters, reflect on whom you chose, why you chose them, and the appeals that you used that you think might persuade them to donate the money.
Exercise 3 (whole class):
Each person will submit what they think is their best request letter, and the class will vote on the best 3 to 5 letters based on persuasiveness. As a class, reflect on which rhetorical strategies might work best with specific audiences.
Jeremiah is the director of a non-profit organization that helps homeless youth get an education. He is thirty-three and is married with three small children. In his free time, Jeremiah enjoys practicing karate, hiking with his wife and kids, and reading historical fiction.
Deborah is a forty-year-old professional violinist who plays full time in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. She considers the orchestra to be her family. She isn’t married and doesn’t have children. When she’s not practicing her instrument, Deborah enjoys painting with acrylics and cross-country skiing.
Ronaldo is a twenty-seven-year-old middle school biology teacher who also coaches track and field. He and his wife have just adopted two children from Haiti, so most of Ronaldo’s free time is spent reading parenting books and being the best father he can be.
Grace is a twenty-year-old Marine in a family of Marines. She met her partner Jane during basic training, and they are planning to get married after they’ve both finished college. Grace’s hobbies include kickboxing, wakeboarding, and training her dog, Boss.
Henry is a retired CEO for a fishing rod manufacturing company. At the age of eighty-four, he still enjoys fly fishing all over the Pacific Northwest. He is recently widowed and has seven grandchildren who go fishing with him regularly.
Sophia is a dancer, dance teacher, and new mother. She just turned thirty and loves to travel with her husband. Her goal is to see every continent (except for Antarctica) before the age of forty. So far, she’s been to North and South America, Africa, and Asia.
Larry is a foreman for a construction company that builds skyscrapers and other types of office buildings. He’s fifty-seven and has saved enough to be able to retire by the age of sixty, when he hopes to move to the mountains and build a log cabin with his partner David.
Michelle is a pediatric doctor who specializes in childhood leukemia. She is thirty-five and newly married to an ER doctor. They support each other’s research projects and other professional goals. They don’t want children, feeling that their work is their primary life focus.
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Figure 1: “Listening at a conference” by BMA is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Figure 2: “Barka Fabianova” by Cordella Hagmann is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Figure 3: “Slongood” by bidding is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Figure 4: “Expert Infantry” by DM-ST-86-05538 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Figure 5: “The Grandfather” by Xavez is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Figure 6: “New Mother New Baby” by Satoshi Ohki is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Figure 7: “Construction Worker” by Sascha Kohlmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Figure 8: “Waiting to Speak” by The BMA is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0