Pathos

two drama masks; one happy, one sadAppealing to pathos is about appealing to your audience’s emotions. Because people can be easily moved by their emotions, pathos is a powerful mode of persuasion. When you think about appealing to pathos, you should consider all of the potential emotions people experience. While we often see or hear arguments that appeal to sympathy or anger, appealing to pathos is not limited to these specific emotions. You can also use emotions such as humor, joy or even frustration, to note a few, in order to convince your audience.

It’s important, however, to be careful when appealing to pathos, as arguments with an overly-strong focus on emotion are not considered as credible in an academic setting. This means you could, and should, use pathos, but you have to do so carefully. An overly-emotional argument can cause you to lose your credibility as a writer.

You have probably seen many arguments based on an appeal to pathos. In fact, a large number of the commercials you see on television or the internet actually focus primarily on pathos. For example, many car commercials tap into our desire to feel special or important. They suggest that, if you drive a nice car, you will automatically be respected.

With the power of pathos in mind, here are some strategies you can use to carefully build pathos in your arguments.

  • Think about the emotions most related to your topic in order to use those emotions effectively. For example, if you’re calling for change in animal abuse laws, you would want to appeal to your audience’s sense of sympathy, possibly by providing examples of animal cruelty. If your argument is focused on environmental issues related to water conservation, you might provide examples of how water shortages affect metropolitan areas in order to appeal to your audience’s fear of a similar occurrence.
  • In an effort to appeal to pathos, use examples to illustrate your position. Just be sure the examples you share are credible and can be verified.
  • In academic arguments, be sure to balance appeals to pathos with appeals to logos (which will be explored on the next page) in order to maintain your ethos or credibility as a writer.
  • When presenting evidenced based on emotion, maintain an even tone of voice. If you sound too emotional, you might lose your audience’s respect.

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