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Aristotle defined three main modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Each of these allows a speaker to utilize a different method of persuasion, and frequently all three work together to create a powerful argument.

Ethos refers to the speaker’s credibility with the audience, which is necessary in order for the argument to be accepted and believed. We might not listen to someone who has no background or knowledge in a certain area, but we tend to believe an expert on a subject. A speaker creates ethos by referencing sources that support the argument. Citing such sources as experts in a particular field, research studies, a company or organization, or a government entity are just some of the ways a speaker can establish credibility.

Pathos refers to the emotions generated by the speaker’s argument. Words with heavy connotations and imagery are tools that can be used to stir the audience’s sympathy. A speaker who connects with the audience through the human condition guarantees that audience will feel and respond. Therefore, the audience is placed in a position of sympathy and can understand and believe the argument.

Logos refers to the logic that is presented in the claim. When attempting to convince an audience, a speaker who gives a rational argument will support a premise with ample evidence. Specific and well-explained examples are the key to a logical argument. A clear, reasoned discussion can be convincing and does not leave much room for counterclaims.

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There are many ways to appeal to an audience when giving an argument or a persuasive speech. Aristotle outlined three of these appeals, which he called logosethos, and pathos. The best arguments combine elements of all three, but many strongly hew to one in particular.

1) Logos: Logos comes from the Greek for "knowledge." The logos appeal refers to the argument itself: the facts, the logic, the reasoning. Giving an argument based in logos may include a lot of hard data and scientific evidence. It may also include empirical evidence and real-life examples—provided they're based more in fact than emotion. A written argument may include many citations. In theory, a well-written argument with a logos appeal will make the audience come away thinking, "that person really knows his/ her stuff."

2) Ethos: Ethos comes from the root that gives us "ethics." The ethos appeal refers to an appeal using one's own character or ethics to convince the audience; in other words, how they build credibility and trustworthiness on a personal basis. An argument with an appeal to ethos may include a lot of information about the writer/ speaker's credentials and background, or it may include specific personal examples where the author/ speaker demonstrated strong morals. A well-done appeal to ethos will make people think, "That person is someone I believe in."

3) Pathos: Pathos refers to emotion. An argument based in pathos is considered the weakest type of argument from a rational standpoint, but often has a strong impact on its listeners. There have been many appeals to emotion in recent political speeches. An argument based in pathos focuses primarily on tone and language and includes many examples that evoke strong feelings (anger, joy, triumph, grief, etc.). Figurative language and vivid descriptions are common. A well-done appeal to pathos will make people walk away thinking, "I feel [emotion] about [issue]."

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