One of the most impressive concepts I studied during my year-long qualification to become a communication coach was Aristotle's three persuasive appeals.
More than 2,300 years ago, the Greek philosopher defined the three main drivers of persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, Logos.
And to this day, Aristotles simple approach is one of the most effective ways to get people from saying no to saying yes. In ancient Greece, public speaking was a highly respected skill because they appreciated public political participation, which was mainly driven by speeches.
Originally, Aristotle developed his three persuasive appeals to help people master the art of persuasion in speeches. But what I discovered is that online writers can use the concept in a similarly effective way.
Now, you might think, “I don’t want to persuade my readers, I want to entertain or educate them”.
Well, even if persuasion is not your primary intent, I’m pretty sure you do want to convince them that your writing is worth reading and that your ideas and teachings are trustworthy.
So why not use a principle that’s stood the test of time?
Use Ethos to build credibility
In Greek, ethos means “custom” or “character”.
Aristotle used ethos to describe someone’s character, personality, or authority. Ethos is what you use when you try to convince someone that your ideas are worthy of credence.
Using ethos in your writing is a way of saying, “You should believe me because I know what I’m talking about”. You just do it more subtly. If you’re, for instance, giving medical advice, you might mention that you’re a retired doctor. However, ethos can be so much more than job titles and fancy tags.
Your ethos is also defined by how you come across. In the world of writing, this can include so many things you might not be aware of:
- Your writing style and the words you use
- The title images you choose
- The sources you use to back up your arguments
- The topics you write about
- If and how you interact with your readers
- Whether your writing is error-free
- The formatting of your texts
All these things can tell a lot about you as a writer and influence your ethos.
If your writing is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, it’s going to be hard to convince readers that your ideas are well-conceived and meaningful.
If you use bright, colorful, and positive images, you’ll likely come across as a cheerful person.
If your writing isn’t formatted and structured correctly, it’ll be hard to seem trustworthy.
Ethos is all about what your readers know about you. So ask yourself:
- What do you want your readers to know?
- How do you want to show up and be perceived?
Aristotle referred to ethos as to how speakers presented themselves in the particular moment of speaking.
As a writer in the 21st century, you have different possibilities to use and amplify your ethos:
First, you can view it as a never-ending branding process and use each piece of content you publish as part of the journey. This includes your profile pages and short bios about yourself.
That’s why people put things like “Featured in Business Insider, Forbes, etc.” in their bios. Even if you have no idea why and how someone got featured in those places, you immediately think of them as trustworthy because of these big brands.
Second, you can view each piece of writing separately and use ethos to influence your readers in that particular piece of content.
Remember how I started this article?
[One of the most impressive concepts I studied during my year-long qualification to become a communications coach was Aristotle’s three persuasive appeals.]
That was my way of building credibility and making sure you pay attention to my message. As a certified communications coach, I likely know a thing or two about the topic, right?
If you want to persuade more people to read your words and trust you as an authority, make sure you come across trustworthy, believable, and knowledgeable.
Mention your credentials and reference relevant experience, be careful about your profile pictures and descriptions, and convince them that you’re well-meaning and have their interest in mind.
As a reader, I want to know if you’re worthy of my time and respect. And I want to know it quickly. The easier it is for me to find that out, the more of my attention you’ll eventually receive.
By the way, ethos is also why you’ll see dentists in commercials for toothpaste. That’s how the brand builds credibility because customers assume a dentist knows which toothpaste is good for their smile.
Use Pathos to win their hearts
Pathos means “suffering,” “experience,” or “emotion”. This part of the formula is all about winning the heart of your readers. In advertising, pathos is used to answer whether a product will impact the life of the buyer and whether the promise will work for them personally.
As a writer, your goal is to make sure your readers understand the emotional and logical value of your writing.
Writing without emotions is boring and will likely fail to impress and inspire your readers.
If you want people to love what you write, you need to make them feel something. You need to appeal to their emotions through compelling storytelling, pictures, and impactful adjectives or verbs.
If done correctly, emotions can be the most effective way of persuasion and might even cast a cloud over ethos.
By telling a powerful and emotional story, you can catch the attention of a reader and turn them into a superfan, even if they don’t know anything about you on a personal level. Additionally, by making someone feel good, you’re more likely to persuade them.
However, pathos is not always about positive emotions.
The reality is that appealing to emotions like anger and fears makes people click and read like crazy. That’s why negative news spread so quickly and why many people choose to write about how bad the world or certain people are.
If someone’s writing stories about why most billionaires like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk are bad people, they don’t do so to be accurate and educate their audience. They do so because they know that emotions like hate and anger lead to clicks and read time, which eventually leads to money. The same goes for people who write articles like “Why you should never buy an online course” or “Why all business coaches are scammers”.
Hate sells. And writers who spread negativity make use of that.
However, you can also use it positively by appealing to negative emotions and presenting a positive solution. Additionally, you can use pathos to build curiosity and tell your readers, “Hey, listen, this is important, and you should care about it”. In an ad for toothpaste, you’ll see how people with white teeth are confident and comfortable. That’s pathos because it makes you want to feel just like the person with the white teeth.
Use Logos to persuade
Last but not least, Logos translates to “speech,” “word,” or “reason”. This part of the formula is all about the logic of your arguments.
Do your ideas and arguments make sense? Is there a cause and effect? Do your premises lead to a meaningful conclusion?
In a persuasive speech, logos would appeal to the actual content of your argument. The main questions here are:
- Is it logical?
- Is it consistent?
- Does it make sense?
- Is it well-presented?
- Are the facts and evidence credible?
- Is the argument consistent, clear, and valuable?
- Are there any facts, figures, and statistics that back up the arguments?
Not everything is easy to prove and not everything you write needs proof, but it makes sense to keep logos in mind if you want to attract a broad audience. Even though we make the majority of our decisions based on emotions, most people like to call themselves logical thinkers. Thus, they are easier to impress and convince through facts, figures, and studies.
That’s why ads about toothpaste might mention numbers like “removes 50% more plaque” or “makes your teeth 23% whither”.
Quite often, ancient ideas can solve our modern-day problems.
Whether it’s a job interview, a tv commercial, or a blog post, Aristotle's three pillars might be the missing piece to increasing your influence and impact.
By trying to be a more persuasive writer, you’re not manipulating your readers, but you’re revealing why your ideas and arguments are worth reading.
And let’s be honest: In the age of online writing, we’re all competing with each other and want more eyeballs on our stories. In the end, what’s the point of writing if nobody spends time reading what you write?