Chapter 6 Three Writing Strategies – Strategic Thinking and Writing


Three Writing Strategies


Aristotle used these three terms, ethos, pathos, and logos, to explain how rhetoric works: “Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”1

Ethos (sometimes referred to as an appeal to authority), then, is used as a means of convincing an audience via the authority or credibility of the persuader, be it a notable or experienced figure in the field or even a popular celebrity.

Pathos (appeal to emotion) is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response to an impassioned plea or a convincing story.

Logos (appeal to logic) is a way of persuading an audience with reason, using facts and figures.

Ethos, pathos, and logos are tools of persuasion that assist writers in making their argument appeal to readers; this is why they’re known as the argumentative appeals. Ethos refers to the expertise of the writer or the inclusion of expert statements in the writing. Pathos involves the application of emotion as a form of argument. The third type of rhetoric, or writing strategy, concerns the inclusion of facts or logic. Please remember that effective writing often involves some combination of two or more of these forms of rhetoric. Make sure to carefully consider your audience and to stress the kind(s) of appeal that will create a clear, concise, and compelling piece of writing.

Ethos (Think EXPERTISE of the Writer)

This appeal involves convincing your audience that you are intelligent and can be trusted. Writers cannot simply say to their audience: “I can be trusted because I’m smart and a good person.” This appeal is perhaps the most difficult to establish: You have to prove yourself by demonstrating that you understand what you are arguing for because you are providing personal experience or know someone else who has personal experience; you are using expert support through extensive, up-to-date research, through recognized authorities in the field (this will also help to prevent your appeal from seeming too personal); you are using appropriate writing style by means of professional and strong words that carry appropriate connotations; and you don’t sound overly emotional, by using mostly third-person narrative. Write in first-person narrative. Doing so provides a clear, concise, and compelling format.

Find some meeting ground for both sides of the argument by acknowledging that your opinion and the opinion of the opposite side agree on at least one aspect. This is essential in establishing your ethos (or credibility) and your ability to treat the topic fairly. However, be careful not to overdo this; remember which side you are supporting.

Brief Examples of Ethos

“As a surgeon, I am qualified to tell you that this surgery will likely generate the best results.”

“My 35 years in this field, my tireless commitment to the people of this community, and my willingness to reach across the aisle and cooperate with the opposition, make me the ideal candidate for your governor.”

“The veterinarian says that a Shetland Sheepdog will be the perfect match for our active lifestyle.”

“If my years as a naval officer taught me anything, it’s that caution is the best policy in this sort of situation.”

“You know me—I’ve taught Sunday School at your church for years, babysat your children, and served as a playground director for many summers—so you know I can run your preschool.”

“Our expertise in roofing contracting is evidenced not only by our 50 years in the business and our staff of qualified technicians, but in the decades of satisfied customers who have come to expect nothing but the best.”

“He is a forensics and ballistics expert for the federal government—if anyone’s qualified to determine the murder weapon, it’s him.”

“Based on the dozens of archaeological expeditions I’ve made all over the world, I am confident that those potsherds are Mesopotamian in origin.”

“If my age doesn’t convince you that I know what I’m talking about, at least consider that I am your grandfather and I only want the best for you.”2

Detailed Example of Ethos

Example #1: “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.”

Democratic Presidential Candidate Acceptance Speech by Barack Obama. August 28, 2008.

Example #2: “When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won’t be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House. If we had chosen a different path, the right path, we could have finished the job in Afghanistan, and put more resources into the fight against bin Laden; and instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Baghdad, we could have put that money into our schools and hospitals, our road and bridges—and that’s what the American people need us to do right now.”

Barack Obama Potomac Primary Night Speech. February 12, 2008


Example #3: “I have pledged myself and my colleagues in the cabinet to a continuous encouragement of initiative, responsibility, and energy in serving the public interest. Let every public servant know, whether his post is high or low, that a man’s rank and reputation in this Administration will be determined by the size of the job he does, and not by the size of his staff, his office, or his budget. Let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of dissent and daring—that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change. Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: ‘I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.’”

John F. Kennedy State of the Union Message, January 30, 1961


Pathos (Think PASSIONATE or Emotional Appeal)

This kind of appeal can be very effective if it’s not overdone, especially if your topic is an emotional one. Because your audience has emotions as well as intellect, your argument must seek to engage the audience emotionally. However, using emotional appeal alone is not as effective as when it is used in conjunction with logical and/or ethical appeals. The best way to incorporate pathos (or emotional) appeals is by using words that carry appropriate connotations.

Brief Examples of Pathos

“If we don’t move soon, we’re all going to die! Can’t you see how dangerous it would be to stay?”

“I’m not just invested in this community—I love every building, every business, every hardworking member of this town.”

“There’s no price that can be placed on peace of mind. Our advanced security systems will protect the well-being of your family so that you can sleep soundly at night.”

“Where would we be without this tradition? Ever since our forefathers landed at Plymouth Rock, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving without fail, making more than cherished recipes. We’ve made memories.”

“They’ve worked against everything we’ve worked so hard to build, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process. Make no mistake, they’re the enemy, and they won’t stop until we’re all destroyed.”

“Don’t be the last person on the block to have your lawn treated—you don’t want to be the laughing stock of your community!”

“You should consider another route if you leave later. I heard that street is far more dangerous and ominous at night than during the daytime.”

“You’ll make the right decision because you have something that not many people do: you have heart.”

“After years of this type of disrespect from your boss, countless hours wasted, birthdays missed. . . it’s time that you took a stand.”

“Better men than us have fought and died to preserve this great nation. Now it’s our turn to return the favor. For God and country, gentlemen!”

“You will never be satisfied in life if you don’t seize this opportunity. Do you want to live the rest of your years yearning to know what would have happened if you had just jumped when you had the chance?”

Detailed Example of Pathos

Example #1: “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest—quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. August 28, 1963.


Example #2: Kimberly N. had a senior position at a charitable organization when her son was born. She planned for a six-week maternity leave, but her son was born with a life-threatening condition, and she ended up taking 12 weeks with partial pay. Kimberly’s supervisor was unhappy that she took such a long leave and refused to let her work part-time or from home. After going back to work, Kimberly had a terrible performance evaluation that contrasted sharply with her previous positive evaluations. She soon left her job, which significantly impacted family finances. Savings quickly dwindled, debts grew, and Kimberly filed for bankruptcy. A few months later, she found a part-time job at a lower level with no benefits but was laid off when the recession hit. She worries that future employers will question her period of unemployment.

An Argument for Parental Leave in the United States, written by: Walsch, Janet. Failing It’s Families New York City, NY: Human Rights Watch, 2011 Online.


Example #3: “The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers—at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms. Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe de Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your ‘lives fought for life...and left the vivid air.’”

Ronald Reagan “The Boys of Point Du Hoc” speech at Normandy France. June 6, 1984


Example #4: This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work. This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for 20 years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news. We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Barack Obama Night before the Election Speech Manassas, Prince William County, Virginia. November 3, 2008.


Example 5: The little crowd of mourners—all men and boys, no women—threaded their way across the market-place between the piles of pomegranates and the taxis and the camels, wailing a short chant over and over again. What really appeals to the flies is that the corpses here are never put into coffins, they are merely wrapped in a piece of rag and carried on a rough wooden bier on the shoulders of four friends. When the friends get to the burying-ground they hack an oblong hole a foot or two deep, dump the body in it and fling over it a little of the dried-up, lumpy earth, which is like broken brick. No gravestone, no name, no identifying mark of any kind. The burying-ground is merely a huge waste of hummocky earth, like a derelict building-lot. After a month or two no one can even be certain where his own relatives are buried.

When you walk through a town like this—two hundred thousand inhabitants, of whom at least twenty thousand own literally nothing except the rags they stand up in—when you see how the people live, and still more how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. The people have brown faces—besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil. Sometimes, out for a walk, as you break your way through the prickly pear, you notice that it is rather bumpy underfoot, and only a certain regularity in the bumps tells you that you are walking over skeletons.

George Orwell “Marakesh” 1939.


Logos (Think LOGICAL Appeal)

You appeal to logic when you rely on your audience’s intelligence, and when you offer credible evidence to support your argument. That evidence includes:

FACTS—These are valuable, because they are not debatable; they represent the truth.

EXAMPLES—These include events or circumstances that your audience can relate to in their life.

PRECEDENTS—These are specific examples (historical and personal) from the past.

AUTHORITY—The authority must be timely (not outdated), and it must be qualified to judge the topic.

DEDUCTIVE/INDUCTIVE—Deductive reasoning works from the more general to the more specific. Sometimes this is informally called a “top-down” approach. We might begin with thinking up a theory about our topic of interest. We then narrow that down into more specific hypotheses that we can test. We narrow down even further when we collect observations to address the hypotheses. This ultimately leads us to be able to test the hypotheses with specific data—a confirmation (or not) of our original theories.

Brief Examples Logos

“The data is perfectly clear: this investment has consistently turned a profit year over year, even in spite of market declines in other areas.”

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: we have not only the fingerprints, the lack of an alibi, a clear motive, and an expressed desire to commit the robbery. . . We also have video of the suspect breaking in. The case could not be more open and shut.”

“It’s a matter of common sense that people deserve to be treated equally. The Constitution calls it ‘self-evident.’ Why, then, should I have been denied a seat because of my disability?”

“More than 100 peer-reviewed studies have been conducted over the past decade, and none of them suggests that this is an effective treatment for hair loss.”

“History has shown time and again that absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

“Private demand for the product has tapered off for the past three years, and this year’s sales figures are at an all-time low. It’s time to research other options.”

“The algorithms have been run in a thousand different ways, and the math continues to check out.”

“You won’t find any deer along this road. In 25 years of driving the same route, I haven’t seen a single one.”

“He has a track record of success with this company, culminating in some of our most acclaimed architecture to date and earning us Firm of the Year nine times in a row.”

“Research compiled by analysts from NASA, as well as organizations from five other nations with space programs, suggests that a moon colony is viable with international support.”

Detailed Example of Logos

Example #1: “However, although private final demand, output, and employment have indeed been growing for more than a year, the pace of that growth recently appears somewhat less vigorous than we expected. Notably, since stabilizing in mid-2009, real household spending in the United States has grown in the range of 1% to 2% at annual rates, a relatively modest pace. Households’ caution is understandable. Importantly, the painfully slow recovery in the labor market has restrained growth in labor income, raised uncertainty about job security and prospects, and damped confidence. Also, although consumer credit shows some signs of thawing, responses to our Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices suggest that lending standards to households generally remain tight.”

The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy by Ben Bernanke. August 27, 2010.


Example #2: The price of Apple stock has come down from $363 in February to $316 Monday. Furthermore, that masks the fact that the company is sitting on a ton of net cash. At the end of the last quarter, cash, securities, and other liquid assets exceeded liabilities by $51 billion, or around $55 a share. This may top $60 by the end of this quarter. So the cash-free stock price—the enterprise value of the business—may only be around $260. That’s barely 10 times forecast earnings of $25 for the fiscal year ending in September. It’s just nine times next year’s forecast earnings. And it’s only around 2.3 times this year’s sales.

Brett Arrends Is Apple Becoming a Value Stock? on June 21, 2011.


Example #3: Two major studies from military intelligence experts have warned our leaders about the dangerous national security implications of the climate crisis, including the possibility of hundreds of millions of climate refugees destabilizing nations around the world. Just two days ago, 27 senior statesmen and retired military leaders warned of the national security threat from an “energy tsunami” that would be triggered by a loss of our access to foreign oil. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues, and now the war in Afghanistan appears to be getting worse.

Al Gore “A Generational Challenge to Repower America.” July 17, 2008.

Rhetoric Exercise: Identifying Ethos, Pathos and Logos

Understanding the different aspects of rhetoric will make you more aware of what goes into creating a persuasive argument. The preceding examples should also help you construct your own arguments or appeals. Read the following letters and identify the style of writing used in each.


President Lincoln’s letter of condolence was delivered to Lydia Bixby on November 25, 1864 and was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript and Boston Evening Traveller that afternoon. The following is the text of the letter as first published.


Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln.

Did Lincoln use logos, pathos, or ethos? What words or phrase/s support your answer?

Sol LeWitt’s Letter to Eva Hesse

Artist Sol LeWitt’s (1928–2007) 1965 letter to his friend and trailblazing sculptor Eva Hesse. Hesse, a disciple of Josef Albers and a pioneer of the post-minimalist art movement of the 1960s, began suffering from creative block and self-doubt shortly after moving from New York to Germany with her husband. She reached out to her friend for counsel and consolation. Below is an excerpt of LeWitt’s letter. Please note that the original letter contains language some may consider offensive. The complete letter can be found at


Dear Eva,

It will be almost a month since you wrote to me and you have possibly forgotten your state of mind (I doubt it though). You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “&^%$* You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!

From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability, the work you are doing sounds very good “Drawing—clean—clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder. . . real nonsense.” That sounds fine, wonderful—real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, whatever—make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you—draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!”

Did LeWitt use logos, pathos, or ethos? What words or phrase/s support your answer?

A Profile in Strategy #5: Ridley Scott

In the fall of 2017, 80-year-old English film director and producer Ridley Scott decided to re-film 22 scenes in his movie All the Money in the World; he had only nine days. Scott made the strategic decision following the news regarding disgraced Kevin Spacey who starred in the movie. Christopher Plummer agreed to take Spacey’s role, while lead cast members Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg agreed to work through Thanksgiving to re-film scenes with Mr. Plummer. Scott described his strategy very succinctly when he said, “You can sit there and let something kill you, or you can take action. I took action.” Scott and others “began a race to pull off something never before attempted in Hollywood: revisiting a finished movie, reassembling major members of the cast, re-filming crucial scenes, re-editing many sequences, retooling the marketing campaign—and doing it all at the last possible minute. Mr. Scott and others worked 18-hour days as they rushed to finish in nine days what would typically have taken at least a month.” The rush was mandatory since a trailer with Spacey in it was already on heavy rotation in theaters. As the New York Times reported: “For nine days, Mr. Scott arrived at filming locations by 6:30 a.m. to eat a quick breakfast and finalize planned shooting angles with his longtime cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski. Filming usually continued straight through lunch. As sequences were shot—Mr. Scott typically does very few takes—footage was digitally shipped to the film’s editor, Claire Simpson, who would start stitching it together. In the evening, Mr. Scott would make adjustments. ‘I’m kind of like a funny battery that never wears out,’ he said.”

Thinking Exercise #5: Ethos, Pathos and Logos

Directions: Identify whether each phrase best represents ethos, pathos, or logos.

  1. __________ “60% of the time, it works every time.”—Anonymous.

  2. __________By donating only 50 cents a day, you can help give a child clean drinking water.

  3. __________ “Choosy moms choose Jiff.”—Jiff Peanut Butter Commercial.

  4. __________The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting a flu vaccine each fall.

  5. __________Nearly 25 percent of all car accidents are caused by drivers using cell phones while driving.

  6. __________My coach suggested I cross-train on Sundays to work different muscle groups.

  7. __________Since my little brother has to start school before me, I should let him shower first.

  8. __________Smoking around kids is dangerous because the defenseless children are exposed to dangerous chemicals that can lead to coughing and difficulty breathing and could even lead to deadly asthma attacks.

  9. __________Michael Jordan is better than LeBron James because Jordan won six championships and James has won only two.

10. __________Listerine is recommended most by dental professionals.


  1. LOGOS “60% of the time, it works every time.”—Anonymous.

  2. PATHOS By donating only 50 cents a day, you can help give a child clean drinking water.

  3. ETHOS “Choosy moms choose Jiff.”—Jiff Peanut Butter Commercial.

  4. ETHOS The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting a flu vaccine each fall.

  5. LOGOS Nearly 25 percent of all car accidents are caused by drivers using cell phones while driving.

  6. ETHOS My coach suggested I cross-train on Sundays to work different muscle groups.

  7. LOGOS Since my little brother has to start school before me, I should let him shower first.

  8. PATHOS Smoking around kids is dangerous because the defenseless children are exposed to dangerous chemicals that can lead to coughing and difficulty breathing and could even lead to deadly asthma attacks.

  9. LOGOS Michael Jordan is better than LeBron James because Jordan won six championships and James has won only two.

10. ETHOS Listerine is recommended most by dental professionals.