From a Greek Philosopher: 3 Lessons on Persuasive Writing
In business, when we write, it is often to convince somebody of something. We may be trying to convince a customer to buy a product, trying to convince a client to buy our service, trying to convince a supplier to sell us product, or trying to convince somebody to hire us. The Greek philosopher Aristotle understood that we often need to persuade people to our side, so he fathered what he called rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the art of using words to convince people to agree with us. Rhetoric consists of three tools: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. We can use these three methods of persuasion in either writing or speech.
- Ethos: Ethos is an appeal to authority; either to your own, or to that of another entity. For example, if you are writing a sales copy for a nutritional supplement that contains ingredient A, you may cite a Harvard university study that found that ingredient A lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of heart disease, etc. By citing a study done by Harvard—one of the most prestigious universities in the world—your statement becomes far more convincing. You are thus borrowing Harvard’s credibility to convince your reader to buy your product.
- Pathos: Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Imagine that you go to a job interview and you tell the interviewer that you’ve been unemployed for over a year, your sixteen-year-old son is working full-time to feed your family, and if you don’t find a job soon your family will starve. Though your family’s situation has nothing to do with your ability to fill the position for which you are being interviewed, your plight makes your potential employer feel like he should hire you. This is because you used pathos to appeal to his emotions. Pathos is a valuable asset in persuasive writing and speech.
- Logos: Logos is an appeal to logic. To use logos, simply explain the logic behind your proposal. If you are selling a product, explain why a customer should buy it. How will it help them? How will it help their family? How are you giving them a better deal than other sellers? It’s powerful and simple.
So there they are, straight from one of history’s greatest thinkers. These three rhetorical tools have lasted thousands of years and are still applicable today. If you use them, your writing will carry a powerful persuasive punch.
Look in again next month, when the topic will be "How to deal with difficult people".
Best of luck in all your endeavours!