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Logos, Ethos and Pathos: 3 Ways to Appeal to an Audience in Essays

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  • 0:05 Ethos, Logos and Pathos
  • 0:22 Ethos
  • 2:09 Logos
  • 3:58 Pathos
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Doresa Jennings

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

Appeal is an important aspect to writing, especially when your goal is to inform and/or persuade the reader in some area. In this lesson, we will examine the three main types of appeal: logos, ethos and pathos

Ethos, Logos and Pathos

When it comes to examining the concepts of ethos, logos and pathos, I thought it best to look at these concepts being done well. One of the finest examples of these three appeals in play is in the essay titled Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ethos

Let's start with our first type of appeal: ethos. Ethos is a Greek word that means 'character' and refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the author. So this first type of appeal deals with you as the writer of the essay. Let's review how Dr. King utilized ethos in his letter.

We find the first appeal using ethos in the salutation of the letter, which reads 'My Dear Fellow Clergymen.' Here we see Dr. King letting the reader understand him in his role of religious leader. This tends to be a position in which the person is seen as overall moral, trustworthy, honest and credible. The overall point is that Dr. King was using the ethos appeal in reminding the reader about his role as a religious leader, rather than another role that would have been equally valid. Another important thing to note is this letter was written during a time of racial turmoil, and the response was to religious leaders that were white. So Dr. King calling them 'fellow clergymen' was also using an ethos appeal of being an equal in status and stature. This was particularly important because Dr. King was in jail at the time in which the letter was written.

For your own writing, consider what ethos appeal is most appropriate for the topic at hand. There are times when identifying yourself as a student is the most appropriate ethos appeal; sometimes being a parent or even being a concerned citizen is appropriate. The most important thing to remember about ethos is that it deals with you as the writer, your own character and what you bring to the topic as an individual.

Logos

The next term we will explore is logos. Logos is a Greek term meaning 'word' and refers to using logic and reasoning as your appeal. Logos are the words we use, the clarity of the message itself, the credible arguments used and the supporting evidence on which our arguments are built. Returning to our Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King uses logos as an appeal throughout his letter. Here are a few excerpts that show his use of logos:

'In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.'

Here we see Dr. King providing a logical step analysis of any social activist campaign, not just one confined to the civil rights arena. Another use of logos can be found in this quote:

'Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their 'thus saith the Lord' far beyond the boundaries of their home towns … so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyond my own home town.'

Here Dr. King is using a reasoned argument that would hold weight with the original target audience: other clergy members of the Christian religion. The big thing to remember is that logos must be a logical and reasoned argument for the audience you are addressing. While a religious approach utilizing a Christian text was appropriate for Dr. King's target audience, it may not be considered logos, or a reasoned argument, with a different audience.

Pathos

Finally we will address the appeal known as pathos. Pathos is a Greek word meaning 'suffering' or 'experience,' and it appeals to the reader's emotions, utilizing story, sensory-based details and vivid language. Pathos appeals bring human experience into the argument. While logos may touch the mind, pathos touches the heart. Again, we return to our Letter from a Birmingham Jail to find the use of pathos.

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