I recently moved from New York to North Carolina. My new home is surrounded by woods that are so beautiful and peaceful. I’ve bought a new desk, and I’m torn over whether to go out exploring or stay here in my writing space typing away. After several weeks of not having a permanent address, I’m happy to finally have a place to call home. And to once again have a desk to write at!
As I wrote in my last post, I had to get rid of many belongings and pieces of furniture during my move from New York. My desk was one of the things that I ended up giving away, and I never could have imagined how difficult it would be to replace it.
If you’ve ever hunted for furniture before, you know that there are hundreds of decisions to make.
What’s your budget? How big of a desk can fit in your space? What type of a desk? A traditional design of solid wood or a contemporary design of metal and glass? One with a computer drawer? Or maybe you’d like to try a standing desk?
I visited several furniture stores but didn’t see anything that I liked. So my hunt for a desk ended up involving many hours of searching online. I read countless product descriptions, which are really advertisements in disguise. Each one tried to convince me that this was the perfect desk for me.
Of course, my eyes started to glaze over as I read so many product descriptions, but some stood out from all of the others. Those were the ones that had my cursor hovering over the “add to cart” button.
What made those descriptions different from all of the rest?
In a nutshell, they expertly employed four powerful rhetorical strategies known as the modes of persuasion.
These four persuasive techniques are essential for making any argument compelling.
You can use them in a blog post, in a speech, in an essay, or even on your website’s homepage – anytime you’re trying to persuade your reader to take action, form a new opinion, or take a big step that will change their life.
Read on to discover the four modes of persuasion and how you can use them to make your writing more effective.
I’ve also made a video version of this blog post that you can watch below:
The Four Modes of Persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, Logos, & Kairos
Allow me to transport us to Ancient Greece. 😉
Aristotle introduced the modes of persuasion in his book Rhetoric. The first three modes he identified as ethos, pathos, and logos.
The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.
Don’t worry. We’ll dive into exactly what all that means in a second.
Kairos is the fourth mode which, in Greek, means “right or opportune moment.” While Aristotle did not group it together with the first three modes, he did mention the concept throughout Rhetoric. Many scholars now consider it of equal importance to the first three modes.
Let’s look at how we can use these four modes of persuasion to make our writing more powerful and convincing to our readers.
Rhetorical Strategy #1: How to Persuade with Ethos
The Greek word ethos means “character”. When used in the context of rhetoric, it refers to the authority or credibility of the speaker.
Whenever anyone presents an argument, we first evaluate whether or not we can trust them.
For example, if you were seriously ill (which I hope never happens!), you’d probably trust your doctor’s advice rather than your friend’s. Sure, your friend may have done a lot of research on WebMD, but your doctor has authority and experience. She’s trained for years and treated thousands of patients.
If you were suffering from a less serious illness, however, you might trust the advice of a friend or loved one who has personal experience. For example, if you woke up one day with a cough and sore throat, you’d probably trust your mom’s advice to have a bowl of her chicken soup.
Similarly, when we read a piece of writing, we look for ways to determine the writer’s credibility. We ask, “Why should I believe you?”
In the book Story Brand (affiliate link), Donald Miller describes the research of Harvard Business Professor Amy Cuddy who has spent more than fifteen years studying how business leaders can make a positive first impression. Miller writes,
Cuddy distilled her research into two questions people subconsciously ask when meeting someone new: ‘Can I trust this person?’ and ‘Can I respect this person?’ In her book Presence, Cuddy explains human beings value trust so highly, it’s only after trust is established that a person begins to consider getting to know us further.
So how can we establish trust with readers, prospective customers, or website visitors?
Here are four ways:
1. We can share personal stories that show we have experience with the topic.
For example, you write a blog post about how to cope with grief and share your own experience of losing a loved one.
2. We can show that other people trust us.
If you’re selling a product, one of the best ways to do this is with reviews. Glowing reviews are an indicator that other people trust a company and love their product. That’s why you’re more likely to buy the product on Amazon that has thousands of four and five-star reviews rather than the one that only has one or two.
A freelance writer can share testimonials on her website from happy clients who praise the quality of her writing. An author can share an endorsement on the cover of her book from a well-known expert.
3. We can point to our qualifications.
This might be a degree like a Ph.D, work experience, or awards. For example, a blogger might share logos on their homepage of the many authoritative websites where they’ve been published. A business owner might write on their about page about how long they’ve been in business.
4. We can show we care about our readers or customers.
Remember that ethos is ultimately about character. Thus, it’s important not to go overboard when establishing our qualifications. The point is to make people trust us, not think of us as braggarts.
For example, if you’ve been published in twenty magazines, you don’t need to display the logos of every single one on your website. Just pick a select few that will demonstrate your expertise and experience.
Further, we can demonstrate qualities like compassion and empathy in order to build trust. Many businesses offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee on their products to alleviate customers’ concerns when placing an order. Bloggers can write in a conversational style, addressing readers as friends, rather than in a standoffish, overly formal tone.
Rhetorical Strategy #2: How to Persuade with Pathos
The Greek word pathos means “suffering,” “experience,” or “emotion.” As Aristotle explained, this technique has to do with putting your readers into a certain frame of mind. In short, you’re trying to appeal to your readers’ emotions.
The most effective ways to do this is through stories.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is said to have once stated,
When one man dies, it’s a tragedy. When thousands die, it’s statistics.
It’s a harsh statement, but it does hold a grain of truth. Large numbers and generalizations do not act on our emotions the same way a vivid story about individuals does.
That’s why an article about finding a cure for Alzheimer’s with stories of Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families is far more powerful than one that only quotes studies and statistics. Those stories will impact your readers more than any study or stat could.
Check out this blog post where I share a simple technique that will help you use stories more often in your writing. I delve into how stories stimulate a person’s brain far more powerfully than data and abstract language can.
You can also check out this post where I share a strategy for using stories to write captivating blog post introductions.
Of course, stories filled with pathos aren’t only for blog posts.
You can use pathos in a product description to describe how a craftsman built a piece of furniture with love and care, how beautiful the piece of furniture will look in a person’s home, and how the furniture can be passed down in the family as an heirloom.
Ultimately, with a dash of pathos, you can increase trust with your readers and make them laugh or cry or feel proud or hopeful.
Pictures are another way to employ pathos. As the saying goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words.
Sharing a photo of yourself on your blog shows readers that you’re a real human being. Photos in blog posts pique a reader’s curiosity and make an emotional connection. They also help readers visualize the concept or product.
I certainly would only buy a desk if there was a photo of it in the product description. And I might be even more likely to buy the desk if the company showed a photo of how the desk would look in a beautifully decorated room. Even better if other buyers shared photos in their reviews of how the desk looks in their homes.
While pathos is a necessary ingredient for making your writing compelling, avoid using it on its own without any accompanying logic or facts. You don’t want to end up manipulating your readers’ emotions.
In fact, “appeal to emotion” is considered a logical fallacy if you don’t have any factual evidence to back up your statements.
So in the next section, we’ll look at how we can use logos too.
Rhetorical Strategy #3: How to Persuade with Logos
Logos means “word” or “reason” in Greek. In the sense in which Aristotle used it, it means to appeal to reason or logic. It’s the proof you present to show that your method works, that your position is rock solid, that your claims are accurate.
While some people can be swayed by pure pathos alone, there are many others who will think you’re trying to dupe them if you don’t present facts and figures.
This is a pretty straightforward step so I’ll just give three examples of some ways you can use logos:
1. Quoting outside sources in your blog posts to support your arguments (for example, referencing a scientific study, a statistic, a book by an authority, etc.) Instead of making an unsupported claim (e.g., most people find it difficult to exercise), back it up with proof (e.g., this recent study shows that over 80% of people who join a gym only use their membership once or twice).
2. Presenting numbers and data that show how your product has been successful. Many businesses share case studies on their websites. A case study is usually a detailed write up of how the business helped a customer. For example, a copywriter might share a step-by-step case study of how they helped a company re-write their homepage and increase conversions and sales.
3. Listing all of your product’s features (be sure you also include how each of those features will benefit the customer)
Rhetorical Strategy #4: How to Persuade with Kairos
We now arrive at the last piece of the puzzle: kairos. Essentially, this word means proper time and timing. An article on the website Writing Commons explains kairos in this way,
In Greek, both kairos and chronos literally mean ‘time,’ but kairos does not mean ‘time’ in the same sense as used in contemporary English. In Greek, kairos represents a kind of ‘qualitative’ time, as in ‘the right time’…Kairos means taking advantage of or even creating a perfect moment to deliver a particular message.
For example, an article about why it’s important to register to vote might have readers nodding their heads in agreement. They might think, “Sure, I’ll get around to registering eventually.” But the odds are most readers probably won’t register any time soon.
However, if the author writes that article several months before an upcoming, important election and tells readers that they only have a few weeks left to register, the author’s argument has now become even more persuasive. It’s given the readers a reason to act now, a sense of urgency.
So in a sense, you can think of kairos as the ‘urgency strategy’. To make your argument more persuasive, show your readers or potential customers why it’s imperative for them to change their thinking or buy your product now.
Marketers do this by offering sales (especially ones tied to a time of the year like a Black Friday sale) and limited time offers. You can bet that I didn’t buy my desk full price. 😉
In a blog post, you can point out the negative consequences if someone doesn’t take a certain course of action. For example, if you write a blog post about the importance of going for a daily walk, you might list the immediate (and longterm) negative consequences of sitting all day long.
If urgency doesn’t come into play with the topic you’re writing about, you can still employ kairos to give your article relevancy. If you write a blog post during the Christmas season, you might include a story that touches on the Christmas festivities.
The four modes of persuasion are like the four legs of a desk. 😉 Take one away, and the desk will no longer stand. Similarly, the four modes of persuasion are all equally important for making your arguments effective and your writing compelling.
But don’t worry if you find it difficult at first to implement these rhetorical strategies. It will take practice to figure out how to best include all four modes when you’re working on a piece of writing.
The examples I’ve included in this blog post are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the creative ways you can employ ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos.
Ultimately, the four modes of persuasion will elevate your writing, helping you craft irresistible arguments that will inspire your readers to action.
How will you use the four modes of persuasion in your writing? Why not try including all four in your next blog post or on a page of your website? If you do, leave a link to it in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with.
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