Rhetoric & Writing: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

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Rhetoric concerns how to skillfully communicate for specific purposes.  While we do this intuitively, the Greek philosopher Aristotle provided helpful suggestions for how to intentionally shape communication.  Aristotle’s rhetorical advice primarily concerned public speaking, such as a person would need in a court of law, but many of his suggestions can be applied to writing as well.

Some aspects of writing are external to us (such as facts or statistics), but other aspects can be shaped by a speaker or writer in order to accomplish different purposes.  For example, if a cup is 1/2 or 50% full of liquid, we could say the glass is “half empty” or “half full.” Our wording does more than express our personality or outlook on life.  Our wording can communicate one purpose or another, depending on how we want our readers to feel about a subject.

That in mind, here are some of Aristotle’s suggestions, as applied to writing:


This Greek term refers to the authority of the author and how an author instills confidence.  Proper grammar and careful formatting would be one way of using “ethos” in writing.  Other ways would be authentic voice, accurate research, and detailed citations.  All of these communicate a sense of expertise, which readers will appreciate.  After all, if they are spending time to read your document, then they do not want to waste their time.  They want to read what an expert has to say.


This term may sound familiar if you think of words like “empathy” or “empathetic.” Pathos refers to the feelings generated and used by an author. In any communication, both sides want to be heard and understood, and writing is no different.  Your readers want to know that they are “cared for,” so it is important to communicate that in text.  Some ways of doing this include the following:  (1) demonstrate interest in your topic, (2) respect and even compliment opposing viewpoints, (3) express points of common ground, and so forth.


In Greek, “logos” can be translated as “word,” but it is a much bigger concept than we think of today.  In ancient Greek thought, logos was a universal principle that tied the universe together.  So a better translation in today’s terminology would be “logic,” which comes from the same Greek root.  In Aristotle’s view, logos refers to the reasoning, support, justification, and so forth that a communicator uses.  It is not enough to merely use emotion and authority; the rationale needs to be sound.  All writing should use good logic, of course, but some here are some practical ways to check your writing for good logic:  (1) ask someone else to review your document and provide feedback, (2) check your document for any logical fallacies, and (3) avoid ambiguous or confusing wording that can distract from or undermine your points.

Even though Aristotle lived over 2000 years ago, his insights can be very helpful.  Applying ethos, pathos, and logos can take your writing to the next level.  If you need additional help with this, ask someone at PaperBlazer to review your document.  All premium orders include rhetorical analysis, which can be extra helpful in assuring that your document is effective and persuasive.

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