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Getting Your Audience to Invest

Even as far back as ancient Greece, speakers and writers knew the value of hooking–keeping–their audience. The influential philosopher, Aristotle, outlined the basics for this with his 3 appeals–and they still prove effective today. Aristotle believed that we must hit our audience on three fronts: ethos, pathos, and logos. If these 3 appeals are in balance, writers have successfully pulled their audience in and have the right level of investment. By making sure we have included the appeals appropriately for our subject and audience, our writing can make the most impact.

Appeal 1: Ethos

When we appeal to ethos, we are building trust and credibility. Before we can get a reader to invest, we have to get them to trust us. You may notice that many speakers begin by giving a little background about themselves and their education. Audiences don’t need to know our whole life story (or our character’s), but they do need to trust that we know what we’re talking about, and that we also believe in our message. Typically, we attack ethos right away and then continue to gradually build it throughout our work. Without successfully building the appeal to ethos, our audience never invests in what we are saying at all. Ethos makes our audience trust.

For example, in nonfiction, writers may begin with how long they have spent researching the subject at hand or give a short personal anecdote about why the topic is so important to them.

In fictional works, authors may begin building characterization immediately with heroic and selfless behaviors so that the reader knows which characters to trust and which to distrust.

Appeal 2: Logos

Appealing to logos involves factual information and an appeal to reason (what makes sense, or common sense). Once we have gained our audience’s trust, we must PROVE our point with logos. If we do not have proper facts or reason, the audience stops reading or listening. Logos makes our audience believe.

In nonfiction, this may include using respected outside source materials, citing well known experts in the field of topic. 

In fiction, this involves characters following reasonable courses of action and plots taking turns that make sense in the world of the characters. When a plot stops making sense, or takes an absurd turn that does not continue the willing suspension of disbelief, we lose logos, thereby losing our audience.

Appeal 3: Pathos

Finally, once we have proven ourselves as trustworthy and informed, we must engage the audience’s emotions-and the emotions need to be appropriate to our topic. For example, authors commonly use sympathy, empathy, humor, and anger to elicit reactions from a reader. Pathos makes the audience care.

Some great examples in nonfiction are from our earliest American writings: The Declaration of Independence, for example, purposely drew anger out of the colonists so that the colonists would fight against England!

In fiction, some of us may remember the first time we cried over a book (I see you, Charlotte’s Web) or laughed over a character’s antics (silly old Winnie the Pooh!).

Although most of us naturally use the appeals when speaking and writing, when revising, it pays to purposely look for them and see where we have applied them. Also, having an outsider read or listen to our work, like our experts at Em and a Pen and getting quality feedback can help ensure our success in grabbing our audience as well. These 3 appeals–ethos, pathos, logos–when thoughtfully applied in our writing, help us bring our reader in fully and create a lasting impact with our words.