The Rhetorical Triangle: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

The Rhetorical Triangle: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos


The Rhetorical Triangle is a simple, useful tool that can help you develop a strong and well thought-out essay, especially in persuasive writing and speeches. Each side of the triangle represents one of the three classical rhetorical approaches used to build informative, persuasive arguments that influence audiences in specific, powerful ways.

There are many visual representations of the Rhetorical Triangle available online, such as the following:

The Three Classical Appeals: Ethos, Pathos and Logos

Each of the three approaches attempts to prove arguments and persuade readers by emphasizing a specific type of appeal. These appeals are not mutually exclusive, and you will often find elements of all three working together in effective writing.

Ethos: Appeals to Credibility and Authority

To use this appeal, you might emphasize experience or educational background, your own or those of your sources, as the reason the reader should believe you. By citing credentials, the argument is being built on the word of experts. Your reader expects to acknowledge the qualifications of the individuals or organizations presented as capable of supporting an argument with valid, factual, and credible information.

Pathos: Appeals to Emotions

Although this appeal is not as commonly used in academic writing as the other two, it does appear regularly in literary work. Recognizing and using pathos appeals to personal values and emotions, which are some of the most powerful appeals.

Logos: Appeals to Logic and Reasoning

When you think about academic writing, you probably think of logic-based writing, which targets a reader’s intellect and often includes facts that build upon each other to support complex arguments. Because this appeal relies on a reader being able to follow well-constructed arguments, it is critical this writing is clear, organized, and focused. Extra information that does not directly support the logic of the arguments can distract and confuse a reader, and ultimately weaken an argument.

Identifying and Using Rhetorical Appeals in Your Projects

Now that you are familiar with each of the three rhetorical appeals, you can consider how you might use them in your writing, based on the specific rhetorical situation you are working with.


If your paper is discussing the effects of drinking and driving, you might include an interview with a veteran DPS Trooper who can discuss his fifteen years of experience working New Year’s Eve patrols. His professional credentials help your readers believe his observations and ideas are informed, relevant, and appropriate to the topic. By citing them, you are presenting your source’s DPS training, certifications, and experience as the reason your readers should accept your argument.

Incorporating topic information from reliable, well-informed sources strengthens your argument and makes it easier for your reader to accept. Writers present their source’s credentials through in-text citations as well as through their Works Cited listings. These citations provide your readers with the background and information they need to evaluate the quality and credibility of your sources.


If your goal is to get your reader to feel something, or to take a certain action, you may find this appeal highly effective. Think about the popular TV commercials that raise money for abused animals. Those commercials are designed to make viewers feel sadness by showing images of pain and suffering. By the end, they switch to hopeful images and dialogue to inspire viewers to take a specific action and become supporters of their cause. You can visit Youtube to view many ASPCA commercials as great examples of this appeal in use; be warned, you may become emotional!

Pathos is often used in literature. Think about stories that seem to come alive in some way. Perhaps it is a character to whom readers can genuinely relate or stories that make readers feel happy, sad, or angry. Writing that evokes emotion often uses Pathos. It is also commonly used in spoken word compositions like speeches, poetry, and theater. When possible, including thoughtfully chosen images and music is another way you can use pathos through sensory details to connect with your audience’s emotions.


To create logical support in your work, you might include data, case studies, statistics, lab reports, and other similar information. This is a popular appeal, and if you watch for it, you will find it used to support claims in everything from scientific reports to advertising, such as the familiar “Nine out of ten dentists recommend using an automatic toothbrush over regular brushing.”

Combining Rhetorical Appeals

As you start planning your essay, you may find that a combination of appeals works best. For example, you might decide that case studies and lab reports will provide the best data to support your claims, focusing on only highly-qualified sources that are well known in your field. By making these choices, you are employing the power of both Logos and Ethos into your essay, a combination that will result in a clear, organized, credible, and effective argument that conveys your message.

Page last updated July 12, 2023.