The rhetorical triangle is a common reference to the three rhetorical appeals identified by Aristotle: ethos, pathos, and logos. These three Greek terms make reference to the primary concepts from which messages–in any communication channel–are created. Check out this diagram for a quick overview of the rhetorical triangle (and read below for more description):


In English, the direct translation of ethos from Greek is “ethics.” But when we talk about the rhetorical appeals, “ethos” makes broader reference to what makes the speaker (person or organization) credible. When you create a communication, you want to establish ethos by employing rhetorical devices that will make you appear credible. Credibility, depending on the topic or substance of a communication, can take years to establish. Consider, for example, the ethos of a brand like Nike. Nike wasn’t considered one of the top athletic clothing lines over night. Rather, it built ethos by employing a number of communicative messages that eventually built credibility: celebrity endorsements; top-notch professional advertising; quality products; strong reviews; and so forth.

On the flip side, however, ethos can be damaged in almost an instant. Consider, for example, when it was revealed in 1988 that then Senator Joe Biden plagiarized many of his speeches. Although he had a long and distinguished political career, in an instant, his ethos was questioned and he had to withdraw from the 1988 presidential race. When ethos is damaged and an audience no longer trusts you, it can take months, years, or even a lifetime to build that trust back (Joe Biden, it seems, did built back his credibility to enough people, since he was eventually named the vice president during the Obama administration).

Examples of How to Build Ethos in Communications:

  • Use appropriate and professional language for your intended audience
  • Design your communications professionally
  • Conduct sound and ethical research (and cite all sources)
  • Use appropriate jargon to demonstrate awareness of the field and your audience
  • Follow established conventions and paradigms
  • Use celebrity endorsements (get credible and well established people on board with your idea)
  • Make logical connections between ideas and avoid logical fallacies at all costs


In English, the direct translation of logos is “logic.” But when we talk about the rhetorical appeals, “logos” makes broader reference to the message as a whole and, more specifically, the facts and statements that build a logical argument. Consider, for example, a cell phone company trying to market a new phone. To appeal to their customers, they might build an argument around all of the phones’ features: size of screen, durability, length of battery life, water resistance, and so forth. These are logical appeals, or use of “logos.”

Examples of How to Use Logos to Be Persuasive:

  • Use statistics or established facts
  • Name features of a product or service
  • Reference research in support of your claim
  • Make logical connections between concepts
  • Be specific (when appropriate, be as specific as possible and avoid generalizations)


In English, the direct translation of pathos is “emotion.” But when we talk about the rhetorical appeals, “pathos” makes broader reference to the audience and the way in which they react to a message. When you think of the words we use in English that have “path” as a prefix or suffix, you can see how emotion and experience play into the term (consider “pathology” or “pathetic” or “psychopath”). The idea behind pathos is that you want your audience to feel a certain way when you communicate to them. You may want them simply to feel confident. But you may also want them to feel sad, angry, emotionally charged, excited, content, or any other number of emotions. Consider how your audience will feel when they are done reading or viewing your communication. That is pathos.

Consider, for example, watching an advertisement for Target. There may be people dancing and singing, enjoying a good time in their new clothes with their new stuff. This may make you feel energized to get similar clothes and stuff. When we feel cool, excited, nervous, or anything else when we read or view a communication, we are being affected by the communication piece’s pathos.

When making an argument using pathos, be cautious. Recognize that pathos can be manipulative and it isn’t always as credible as logical facts that are intended to remove emotion. Emotionally charged persuasion is good for advertising and for gaining awareness of a social issue, but it’s not good for a research report on cell biology.

Examples of Ways to Use Pathos to Persuade:

  • Use humor to keep people engaged
  • Show images that evoke strong emotions
  • Choose words that get people excited or emotionally charged
  • Change your tone of voice or pace to evoke enthusiasm or angst