Appealing to ethos is all about using credibility, either your own as a writer or of your sources, in order to be persuasive. Essentially, ethos is about believability. Will your audience find you believable? What can you do to ensure that they do?
You can establish ethos—or credibility—in two basic ways: you can use or build your own credibility on a topic, or you can use credible sources, which, in turn, builds your credibility as a writer.
Credibility is extremely important in building an argument, so, even if you don’t have a lot of built-in credibility or experience with a topic, it’s important for you to work on your credibility by integrating the credibility of others into your argument.
Aristotle argued that ethos was the most powerful of the modes of persuasion, and while you may disagree, you can’t discount its power. After all, think about the way advertisers use ethos to get us to purchase products. Taylor Swift sells us perfume, and Peyton Manning sells us pizza. But, it’s really their fame and name they are selling.
With the power of ethos in mind, here are some strategies you can use to help build your ethos in your arguments.
- If you have specific experience or education related to your issues, mention it in some way.
Not all professors will be in favor of this, as it will depend upon the level of formality of the assignment, but, in general, this is an effective strategy.
- If you don’t have specific experience or education related to your issue, make sure you find sources from authors who do. When you integrate that source information, it’s best if you can address the credibility of your sources. When you have credible sources, you want to let your audience know about them. You can learn more about integrating your source information to effectively address credibility in this Signal Phrases activity in Research.
- Use a tone of voice that is appropriate to your writing situation and will make you sound reasonable and credible as a writer. Controversial issues can often bring out some extreme emotions in us when we write, but we have to be careful to avoid sounding extreme in our writing, especially in academic arguments. You may not convince everyone to agree with you, but you at least need your audience to listen to what you have to say.
- Provide good balance when it comes to pathos and logos, which will be explored in the following pages.
- Avoid flaws in logic—or logical fallacies—which are explored later in this area of the Excelsior OWL.