Pathos or the emotional appeal, means to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions.

Authors use pathos to invoke sympathy from an audience; to make the audience feel what what the author wants them to feel. A common use of pathos would be to draw pity from an audience. Another use of pathos would be to inspire anger from an audience; perhaps in order to prompt action. Pathos is the Greek word for both “suffering” and “experience.” The words empathy and pathetic  are derived from pathos.

Pathos can be developed by using meaningful language, emotional tone, emotion evoking examples, stories of emotional events, and implied meanings. 

Types of Emotional Appeals

Appealing to sadness - Sad anecdotes, such as those involving death (especially of those who are powerless i.e, children), severe injury or unjust treatment have the power to move audiences in huge ways.  These types of stories are especially powerful if the audience can somehow identify with the victim involved in the anecdote.  For example, if a presenter used the story of someone's child dying, the notion that whatever tragedy befell that child - could in fact happen to the children of audience members could move an audience to take action immediately, possibly in the form of signing a petition or electing a new sheriff for example.

Appealing to Anger - Anger many times naturally foments after tragedies or large events that impact entire populations.  In many cases, presenters and writers do not have to inspire anger, but simply appeal to it, and guide it towards the goal presented in the argument.  In cases where anger is not already inspired, reciting tragic events, such as those mentioned above, but then assigning a particular blame to the tragedy or assigning a motive as well, can easily transform sadness into outrage.

Appealing to a sense of danger or fear - Danger comes in many forms, and there is a long history regarding its use as a rhetorical tool.  In ancient roman times, Julius Caesar used the fear of the Gauls as a pretext for their invasion (they themselves were previously invaded by the Gauls). Another example can be found in automobile commercials, which stress their safety features, stressing that the driver and passengers would be safe in the event something went wrong.

Appealing to Happiness and Enthusiasm - While happiness may not seem as strong of an emotion as sadness or anger, it too can be used to help a presenter make a case to an audience.  A good example of this can be found in the presentations of motivational speakers.  Motivational speakers commonly use success stories of others to help their audience realize that their goals are in fact obtainable.  One particular example of this could come in the form of a speech to rehabilitating drug addicts.  The speaker in this case would bring up the story of someone who turned their life around after quitting their addiction, and is today a much happier person than they were as a drug addict. Multi-level marketers will also typically use these kinds of stories in order to sell their clients a dream of future success. 

Another way of using happiness and enthusiasm in an appeal to pathos is to simply recount happy and touching anecdotes. Recounting these anecdotes will naturally associate them with the argument at hand, as well as the speaker, giving the audience the impression that a speaker is a warm-hearted and caring person.

Pathos in Academic Writing

Appealing to your readers emotion when writing for an academic purpose may at first seem counter-intuitive, given the fact that academia is supposed to be governed by cold hard logic (logos). However, emotional appeals can cause any reader, whether a professor conducting a peer review, or a professor grading a paper, to reconsider their original opinion, and look closely into the logic provided in an argument, rather than brushing it aside all together.

With this being said, the appeal to pathos should not be exaggerated in academic writing, as the reader is likely approach claims with more skepticism than any normal audience.  This is because those involved with reviewing papers likely see techniques like this used on a regular basis, and can be quick to determine whether or not it is relevant to the case being presented in the paper. In any case, one should not attempt to be disingenuous when presenting emotionally charged stories, especially those related to tragic events, or else the writer risks discrediting his/her argument all together.


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Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing is an essential skill, it is useful whether you are selling something, writing for a cause, for business purposes, or even for your class! Persuasive writing can be described as an argument or piece of writing that an author uses to convince his audience of a point or topic. This could potentially be to call the reader to action, or it could merely be to convince the reader of an opinion or view.


Topic & Thesis


The first step in persuasive writing is choosing what you want to write about. Usually, the most natural and most effective topics focus on something specific, rather than an extremely broad topic. More specific topics generally can be explained and supported more easily than extremely broad topics.

After you have determined your topic, you should then develop your thesis. A thesis is the primary argument that your essay will attempt to support. Theses should be arguable points, not facts; for example, if you are selling something, your thesis will be “why you should buy this.”


Click here for a list of Persuasive Writing Topics




The next part of writing effective persuasive essays is choosing your supporting points. Supporting points are the reasons used to prove and support thesis. Support is the largest part of your essay, and it is used to show your reader why your thesis is true. Within these supporting points, you should include facts, logic, expert opinions, and statistics to further your point and thesis. Additionally, you can use emotion evoking stories to attempt to connect with your audience. Research should be done to support your points.


To thoroughly convince any audience of a thesis, proper support is required!


Your supporting points should be mapped out before you begin to write your essay, developing an outline is a good way of doing this. The structure of your supporting points is critical; one supporting point should usually lead to another, although they don’t always have to.




After you have determined your topic and thesis, you should begin to target and make research your audience. In order to convince somebody of something using writing, you must first know the impact the writing will make on that person and you must also understand who you are writing to. For example, one might take a different approach in writing to industrialists about climate change than when writing to college students about the same subject.

Choosing an audience is extremely important, and is a crucial step that many people forget to take into consideration when writing. Many people think that they are writing to everyone when they write persuasively, this may be true for some subjects, like “why breathing oxygen is important,” but for most, there is usually a target that you may not even realize. The reason this step is so important is that different audiences will have different reactions to what you write, and you want to target the right reactions – you want to connect with people.


Audience Research is a key step that many overlook


The next step in this process is to attempt to identify what the beliefs and characteristics of the audience you are writing to are. This includes the reasons why your audience might disagree with your views or what inhibitions they would have before doing what you are trying to persuade them. Also, it is important to know why this cause is relevant to an audience.

Understanding your audience is also vital because it is imperative not to offend your audience, as this will definitely turn them off to any persuasion.


Modes of Persuasion


The next step in persuasive writing is knowing how to connect with your audience. There are three basic ways to do this, which are known as the modes of persuasion.


Persuasion through the authority of the author, known as Ethos,


Ethos can be developed by choosing language that is appropriate for the audience and topic (also means choosing proper level of vocabulary), making yourself sound fair or unbiased, introducing your expertise or pedigree, and by using correct grammar and syntax.


Persuasion through use of logic and facts, known as Logos,


Logos can be developed by citing facts and statistics (very important), using advanced and well-developed language, using historical incidents, analogies, and by constructing logical arguments.


Persuasion through use of emotion and sympathy, known as Pathos


Pathos can be developed by using meaningful language, emotional tone, emotion-evoking examples, stories of emotional events, and implied meanings.


Much of the work in persuasive writing is knowing how to use these methods effectively.




Anticipating and responding to arguments against your point are important parts of persuasive writing. A response to counter arguments varies based on the validity of the counterargument.

In some cases, when a counterargument is completely frivolous, you can completely dismiss it using facts and logic. However, sometimes you may have to concede some parts – or even the entire argument to the opposing point. In these situations, it is important to show the audience why this argument is not important or less important to the big picture of your argument.  Acknowledging counterarguments contributes to Ethos, and makes the author seem more fair and balanced in the eyes of the reader.


More Tips and Techniques for Persuasive Writing


Using Sympathy: 

Drawing sympathy (using pathos) from your audience is one of the most effective forms of persuasion. This is especially true if your paper is focused around a certain problem or is a passionate topic. This technique is called using pathos. You can use this to draw both negative and positive emotions.


Pathos can be a powerful force when used correctly!


Emotions are a powerful tool. To use your audience’s emotion to your advantage, you must understand why something is important to your audience. Then you should focus on this importance, and make your audience feel the emotions associated with it. After you draw on their emotions, you should present your thesis as a solution to their pain or pleasure.

For example: 

If you are writing about wind as a source of renewable energy, to an audience of predominately older people, you could describe to them the consequences their children will face if this level of harm towards the environment persists. In this case, the fate of your audience’s children is important to your audience. After you have drawn upon their sympathy, you should present to your audience why wind power will offer a solution to this.

If you are writing about equal rights to a predominately white audience, you could try to place your audience in the shoes of someone who is being discriminated against. After you have drawn upon your audience’s sympathy, you could show them why policies about equal rights are important.


Make Your Reader a Part of Something: 

Feeling like a part of a group or club makes everyone feels good. Make your reader feel like they are a part of a group of people by agreeing with your thesis, while seemingly excluding those who don’t.


Making an audience feel like they are part of something larger than themselves can be an extremely effective way to affect action and ensure continued support of a desired thesis


For example:

If your topic is convincing readers of climate change, you could make your readers feel like a part of a progressive group, enlighten people by agreeing with you.


Look into the Future:

Making assumptions about the future gives your audience a clear choice in deciding what to think after reading your writing. This technique can be especially useful if you are attempting to call your audience to action. Painting a grim future for the inaction of your thesis can be a powerful tool for persuading your audience; likewise, you should describe a brighter future where your thesis is enacted. I.e., this is what will happen if you listen to me, this is what will happen if you don’t.


However, this technique should only be used if you can adequately convince your readers that what you are saying will happen or is likely to happen. Misusing this technique can discredit your entire essay and make you seem like a fool!



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