The popular Speak Previews® article Three for Three closes its discussion of the "magic of three" with a reference to the Aristotelian persuasive strategies ethos, logos, and pathos. Each speaks or appeals to different parts of a listener's brain, list of concerns, and worldview.

Finding the right balance among the three, however, is the real trick. You must look for a balance that suits the characteristics and purposes of the audience, author, and text while selecting one appeal as the primary driver of the message. Although in some instances the three appeals may hold equal weight or importance, one generally dominates and the other two support.


To work out an effective balance, complete an analysis of your audience to determine which concerns, perspectives, or sensitivities its members hold and how you could engage them. Then, ascertain how credible the audience will find you, how your reputation and image may increase or decrease the trust its members afford you. Finally, shuffle through the content, structure, and reasoning in your text, examining each for a logical progression and a carefully constructed message.

Based on what you find, select the one appeal that promises to be most persuasive. Some writers, speakers, and rhetoricians believe that ethos trumps the other two appeals. Others bestow that position to logos and others, pathos. Why the different rankings?

Those that favor ethos believe that if an audience does not find an author or speaker trustworthy, persuasion fails. The pathos faction counters that an inability to emotionally engage an audience renders the other two appeals impotent. The logos syndicate declares that the message reigns, that quality content, structure, and evidence will move listeners and readers to acceptance.

Our stance? Using all three appeals in a proportion that advances your communication purpose seems just right. Perhaps the proportions will be equal, but most likely you'll choose one that dominates and then subordinate the other two.


As you work on a document or presentation, you may find that the appeals you constructed are not working well enough. To increase their effectiveness, try revising some of the following elements:

1.) If your appeal to ethos seems ineffective, modify it by using more (or less) of the audience's vocabulary, changing your use of personal experience and references to your expertise, or altering your tone. When delivering a presentation, eschew the language of doubt. Use facial expressions and stance to demonstrate respect and authority.

2.) The success of an appeal to logos depends on the structure, content, and reasoning of your argument as well as on supporting evidence or data. To strengthen logos, examine your text to assess the effectiveness of its components. Is the structure so formulaic that your message won't fit it? Try other cognitive structures, including deduction or induction. Scrutinize each bit of evidence, choosing that which not only supports your messages well but will resonate with your audience. In a presentation, keep your voice lively and emphatic. Pauses may be especially important, for they will give listeners more time to understand and reflect.

3.) Pathos is created largely through figurative language, stories or narratives, anecdotes or cases, and rhetorical devices. Manipulate them to produce a greater or lesser measure of pathos. In addition, for a presentation, build into every rehearsal the performance techniques and voice variation that engage the audience and help guide it toward meaning.

Balance the three appeals as much and as well as possible. Doing so gives you and your message a finely persuasive edge.