Types of Support and Appeals

A good argument will have a variety of appeals and various types of evidence.  Let’s go over a few of the basics here.

Appeals:

There are three basic types of appeals you can use to persuade your audience and give your ideas credibility.   Sorry, if we get a little Greek and geek here.

Logos:

As the name suggests, appeals to your audience’s sense of logic.  Statistics and data work well as support here, but also just a sound progression of ideas.  While it may often seem Logos is the best way to build an argument, you have to be careful in how you craft it.  If there’s a hole or exception that you haven’t allowed for, it could sink your whole argument.  Take Socrates famous syllogism as an example:

  • Major Premise: All men are mortal
  • Minor Premise: Socrates is a man
  • Conclusion: Socrates is mortal

Socrates from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure on IMDB.com

Pretty simple, pretty logical . . . now what if we make a more modern example

  • Major Premise: All women like to shop
  • Minor Premise: John likes to shop
  • Conclusion: John is a woman.  (“Syllogism”)

Photo by Lefteris kallergis on Unsplash

 

Ethos:

Ethos appeals to a higher authority.  I mean, you’re a high schooler which means that even though you know that you know almost everything, everyone else thinks you know nothing, BUT everyone thinks Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin know everything, so if I can get them in on my argument . . .

Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not. (@neiltyson)

If you’re writing an argument on the overemphasis placed on grades and achievement in school, for example, a quote like this – from someone famous who has excelled to the highest possible academic level – could help add gravity (see what I did there, the astrophysics thing, get it?) to your argument.

Pathos:

Pathos appeals to the audience’s emotions – it might draw them into feeling pity, sympathy or empathy. Our word passion used to mean pity or suffering, but just like that has changed, pathos can also use humor or sex appeal to attach positive emotions to a subject or idea.  Pathos arguments are a great way to conclude after a series of logos and ethos, for example:

“Yes, revamping the grading system in our school is pretty radical and could even be costly, but isn’t the welfare and education of our children worth it?”

Striking a balance between appeals and evidence is important, but that balance may not always be the same.  You might, for example, use more logic (logos) and data in a science paper, but in a paper about school safety, you might lean more towards the emotional (pathos) side of things, and in history and literature, ethos and quotes might get the stronger nod.

Types of Support: Advantages and Disadvantages

Facts and Statistics: 

Use them often!  Facts and statistics are great for building logical arguments and it’s tough to have a believable argument without facts, BUT there is a downside to packing too much data into your argument: it can get dry and unpersuasive.  I mean, just about every apocalyptic movie has some scientist that no one listens to until it’s too late because he was too boring and technical to be persuasive.

FACT: Rain Wilson as Dwight Schrute on The Office from IMDB.com

Anecdotes and Examples:

Stories can be really powerful and illustrative and add pathos to your argument, but they need to be paired with facts and statistics.  Arguments based on case studies and individual testimony alone run the risk of being exposed as unsound or anomalies.  What if those examples are the exceptions, not the rule?  While you should use anecdotes and examples to give your argument life and color, too many can get repetitive and distracting or build a weak argument.

 

Expert Opinions:

As we covered under ethos, quotes and opinions from reliable sources can help you take on some of their credibility.  Too many quotes and paraphrases, however, can overshadow your own voice and even get list-like.  Once again, balance is everything.  Take a minute to research your sources, too.  If someone exposes your quote as being out of context or establishes that your source was wrong in some other area, they can use that to undermine your argument.  For example, did you know that Benjamin Franklin had a son who died at age four of smallpox because Franklin didn’t have him inoculated and Franklin’s other son was illegitimate and a British loyalist, so while Franklin could add positive ethos in lots of areas, parenting and fidelity is probably not one of them (Biography.com editors).

Photo: Getty Images


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