The Rhetorical Triangle and Three Rhetorical AppealsWriter's Web
David Wright, Furman University English Department
(printable version here)

Aristotle defined rhetoric as "the ability to see or identify in any given circumstance the available means of persuasion.” Analyzing rhetoric focuses on the "how" and "why" of persuasion rather than what specific things people say or write in order to be persuasive. One way of breaking down the components of a rhetorical strategy is to use the Rhetorical Triangle. This model puts into a generalized framework the interactions among various actors and devices in persuasion. The Three Rhetorical Appeals are the main strategies used to persuade an audience and are also important devices to understand when constructing or deconstructing an argument.

Professor David Wright of Furman University has created a short but comprehensive video (shown below) explaining the Rhetorical Triangle and Three Appeals and how to utilize them in analysis.

You can also see the video on Youtube.

Transcribed notes:

 1. The Rhetorical Triangle allows you to effectively analyze different texts an arguments for their rhetorical strategies and devices. The model shapes the rhetorical process into manageable and distinct parts through the Rhetorical Triangle and Three Rhetorical Appeals:

 2. Rhetorical Triangle: made up of three components which are present in any persuasive process:

  • Author: the person who generates text.
  • Audience: the person/people who receive/s text.
  • Text: the message being conveyed from the author to the audience

 3. Rhetorical Appeals: the three main avenues by which people are persuaded.

  • Logos: Strategy of reason, logic, or facts. Any type of argument which appeals to someone’s rational side is appealing to logos.
  • Ethos: Strategy of credibility, authority, or “character.” Appeals to ethos demonstrate the author’s trustworthiness, expertise and honesty and attempt to put the author in a more positive light to the audience.
  • Pathos: Strategy of emotions and affect. Pathos appeals to an audience’s sense of anger, sorrow, or excitement.
  • Aristotle argued that logos was the strongest and most reliable form of persuasion; the most effective form of persuasion, however, utilizes all three appeals.

Further Explanation of the Three Appeals:

Logos: An appeal to logic.

When a writer today employs logos, s/he might draw upon statistics, credible sources, arguments premised on reason, and the inherent logic of a situation. Consider this claim in a student paper about heart disease and pork-rind consumption:

The information about the risks of eating pork rinds comes from no fewer than seven scientific studies published in respected journals. Each study was reviewed by a panel of readers who did not know the authors. The journals receive no outside funding except from their subscribers. Based on these factors, one must conclude that unless other studies come forward, pork-rind consumption poses health risks.

Pathos: Appeals to emotion are common in non-academic writing but tend to distort factual evidence.

From our pork-rind paper:

When you see someone reaching for the pork rinds in the supermarket, you should slap it out of their hands and tell them the terrible story of these crunchy death-bags full of poison. Oh, consider the children who will grown up addicted to these vile things, unless we all act now!

Pathos-based appeals can play on fears or other emotions. Advertising has elevated the use of pathos to a very fine art.

Ethos: Can rely on reputation or experiences to prove a point. Credibility is key to winning an audience's belief and support for one's argument.

Again, from the same paper:

Darleen Diggler of Greasy Bottom, VA, was the first to testify at the Congressional hearing on pork rinds. Ms. Diggler, who had suffered four heart attacks, needed assistance getting into the chair provided her by the Congressmen. As she testified, "see what a pound of rinds a day will do to you! I've been eating them for thirty years! Now it is too late." She broke down, sobbing, at this point. Ms. Diggler's testimony was followed by Dr. I.M. Smarte, an award-winning cardiologist from the Medical College of Virginia. Dr. Smarte presented evidence from his four decades of practice, and he noted the high levels of saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol found in pork rinds and urged Congress to pass the legislation outlawing the snack.

Both Ms. Diggler and Dr. Smarte use ethos to make their claims; Smarte also employs logos (the claims about what the rinds contain). Diggler's plea could be seen as employing pathos to sway the lawmakers.

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