Rhetoric: The Basics

First, let’s establish some basic terminology:

  • Rhetoric: A term used to generally describe language or other forms of communication that intend to alter other’s ideas, opinions, beliefs, or resulting actions
  • Rhetorical situation: The circumstances involving one or more people communicating with the intent of changing the perspective of others. Composed of the following elements:
    1. Sender / speaker (the "rhetor")
    2. Receiver / audience
    3. Medium (speech, essay, etc.) and language of the message
    4. Important context of message: the issue at stake, the purpose of the message, the exigence of the situation, etc.

The appeal of LOGOS:

  • Greek for "word" or "text." Focuses the audience’s attention on the message.
  • Often called the "appeal to logic and reason."
  • Consistency and clarity are key. Verifiable proof is essential. A pragmatic approach is valued.
  • What should you look for?
    • Theories and scientific facts
    • Reasoned arguments ("XYZ is true because …")
    • Literal or historical analogies
    • Definitions
    • Factual data and statistics
    • Citations from experts and authorities (verified quotes)
    • True examples/real-life examples 

The appeal of ETHOS:

  • Greek for "character." Focuses the audience’s attention on the writer's credibility or trustworthiness.
  • Plausibility and appropriateness are often strong elements of ethos. Use of jargon can establish ethos, too.
  • What should you look for?
    • The author’s profession or background is often important
    • Author’s publications or endorsements can establish ethos
    • Appearance of sincerity, fair-mindedness
    • Conceding to opposition (counterirritants) where appropriate
    • Morally/ethically "likeable"
    • Appropriate language for audience and subject
    • Appropriate vocabulary and grammar
    • Professional appearance/demeanor/format, etc.

The appeal of PATHOS:

  • Greek for "suffering" or "experience."
  • This appeal focuses attention on the values and beliefs of the intended audience.
  • Often called the "appeal to emotion or imagination."
  • What should you look for?
    • Emotionally loaded language, images, etc.
    • Vivid descriptions or examples (that would appeal to our emotions)
    • Anecdotes, testimonials, or narratives concerning emotional experiences or events
    • Figurative/poetic language (metaphors, similes, etc.)
    • Emotional tone/mood (humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, etc.)

BONUS ROUND!  There are two more appeals that are often discussed less frequently, but may still be important to take into consideration:

The appeal of KAIROS:

  • Greek for “right time” or “opportunity.”
  • This appeal Focuses attention on the RIGHT MOMENT OR OPPORTUNITY of the argument.
  • The Timing of, or timeliness of the argument, is critical.
  • An exigence is usually evident—the need for immediate action (an emergency).

The appeal of TELOS:

  • Greek for “purpose” or “intent.”
  • This appeal focuses on the inherent purpose—of both the argument and the audience (which often differ).
  • an argument is often driven by the rhetor’s end goals or objectives, but those can also be influenced by the audience’s goals and objectives. Each one affects the other.