November 25, 2016 (Updated: May 16, 2023)
Rhetorical appeals have been used throughout the centuries. Discussed by Aristotle, these ways of addressing an audience for the most effective appeal are still relevant (and super useful!) today with creating successful copy. Understanding how to find your audience, and then how to use ethos, pathos, and logos to craft a rhetorical appeal to that audience can help make your copy not only strong but convincing as well.
First things first: establish who the audience is. If your article is focused on helping small businesses pin down a loan, it’s probably reasonable that your audience isn’t someone looking for help figuring out what car to buy. However, it’s not always as simple as that. Sometimes audience can be a little trickier to work out, but knowing how to do so can save you time and frustration and increase overall traffic to the post.
The easiest way to work out the audience of a post is to assess the client’s website. Of course, your style guide may already state who your audience is, but doing your research is always important. What kind of content already exists? What product or service is being sold? Look at other examples of similar businesses –- who appears to use those sites? Are they looking for middle aged men? Younger women? Homeowners? Car renters? Budget-strapped couples? New parents? Once you’ve settled on a group, it’s time to start crafting your appeal.
With successful copy, your establishment of ethos is arguably the most important component. Ethos is your credibility — it is how you show your audience that you’re an expert. Without ethos, the argument, and therefore the copy, falls apart at the seams. Luckily, establishing ethos is typically rather straight forward.
Using easily verifiable facts and choosing words that convey a sense of authority can help quickly establish ethos. For example, if the market you’re approaching mostly uses a certain turn of phrase or has specific terminology, it’s best to discover those during your research and employ them within the copy to show that you’ve not only done your research, but you can address their communication community like a member.
If you’re unsure about how to use terminology and research isn’t helping, it’s better to not use the terminology than to use it incorrectly. Instead, see if you can include quotes or expert advice in order to solidify your claims. Keeping a pleasant but professional tone is an easy and automatic way to establish authority if you’re unsure about the topic – the more confident your tone, the more your reader will trust your copy!
An easy way to understand ethos is to think about buying a car. When you’re talking to the salesman, it’s best for him to sound like he knows what he’s talking about. If the salesman stumbles over facts or doesn’t seem to know anything about the car he’s selling, you’re less likely to buy it. Copy is always selling something, whether it’s an idea or a product. By cementing your authority, you’ll be more able to convince your reader of your copy’s intent.
Pathos is perhaps the least considered component when writing successful copy, but it can be a useful tool, especially when trying to build a complete appeal. Pathos is the emotional appeal you build into your copy. Typically, people don’t associate copy with emotional appeal, but it’s actually a smart thing to include, so long as you’re subtle.
Emotional appeal doesn’t mean sob stories or dramatic prose. Instead, emotional appeal can be built into successful copy through tone and fact. Copy needs to be able to reach through the screen to the audience, and the personality infused into the text.
Being personable and pleasant in your text makes you more relatable, which makes your copy more successful. Humor and a light tone can go a long way for setting the mood in a piece, and also make it more engaging for your readers so that they’re not only enjoying the copy but are more likely to remember it, therefore successfully imparting your message.
Pathos is your most direct link to your message and audience. If you’re writing about teaching a teen how to drive, appealing to the emotions of a parent is a smart approach. Assigned an article about interior decorating? Tune your word choice so it sounds excited about paint chips and fabric swatches!
Logos, or logic, is the easiest to follow and the most widely recognized tool for copywriters. Logos is, quite simply, using clear and coherent logic in order to convince the audience of your point. Make sure you’re being as clear and concise as possible, without making claims or describing product/service specific points without getting muddled in your language or intent.
Logos is what makes the structure of the piece and your sentences work. If you’re trying to persuade your audience, which is what successful copy does, after all, your work needs to follow logical proceedings. You can’t make claims that are unsubstantiated by your copy, nor claims that seem nonsensical. For example, if writing for an auto company, you wouldn’t claim the car can fly (or at least not yet!)
By being logical in your claims, and then following that up with clear, well thought out sentences, your audience will be able to follow your line of logic, which makes you a more convincing author.
If this hasn’t stood out already, it’s important to note that all three of these components feed back into each other. If you don’t utilize logos, your ethos will suffer. If you don’t include pathos, sometimes, your logos will suffer. It’s also important to analyze and see if the audience and subject matter call for prioritization: sometimes establishing ethos more heavily works, sometimes relying on pathos is better.
Understanding your audience and manipulating how you use ethos, pathos, and logos to address them makes the different between good and successful copy. The audience is the focus, always, of the copy: without an audience, there is no need for it at all. Therefore, by creating carefully tailored rhetorical appeals within your writing using ethos, pathos, and logos, you’ll be well on your way to creating effective and enjoyable to read copy, no matter the audience or subject matter.
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