Six major types of persuasion are: ethos, pathos, logos, statistics, deliberation, and refutation.
The ability to use and apply each form of persuasion at the right time can help you to convince others to your side and embrace your perspective. Furthermore, in school debating, knowledge of each type can help you to steelman your perspective in order to convince an objective panel of judges to give you the win.
Note that many of these persuasion techniques might not be useful (or could even be counterproductive) in many situations. Pay close attention to the context of the examples to gather insights into when they might be useful, and when they may not.
Types of Persuasion
1. Ethos (Ethical Appeal)
Ethos, also known as ethical appeal, is a persuasive technique that relies on the credibility and trustworthiness of the speaker or writer to influence their audience.
The concept of ethos is based on the belief that people are more likely to believe and accept ideas from someone they perceive as being reliable, honest, knowledgeable, and competent (Wrobel, 2015).
This means that if you want to persuade someone to take your side or adopt your position on an issue, it’s crucial that you establish yourself as a person with good character (Varpio, 2018).
There are several ways in which you can build and enhance your ethos.
One way is by presenting yourself as an expert in the relevant field or industry. For example, if you’re trying to persuade people to invest in a particular company, highlighting your expertise in finance or business can help bolster your credibility (although, beware, that doing this is engaging in the appeal to authority bias, which is why I prefer the next method).
My preferred method is by demonstrating your integrity and trustworthiness through what you say and the stories you tell. By showing your interlocutor that you’re a reliable source of information who has their best interests at heart, you increase the chances of them being persuaded by your arguments and suggestions.
Imagine I’m trying to convince my boss to promote me to a higher position within our company. To do so successfully, I would need to establish my ethos by showcasing that I am worthy, perhaps by demonstrating my work ethic and evidence of my successes. I could provide examples of successful projects I’ve completed in the past and highlight any awards or recognitions I’ve received for my work performance. Additionally, I could ask colleagues for testimonials about my abilities and professionalism. By doing so, I am able to present myself as someone deserving of the promotion based on merit rather than solely through favoritism.
2. Pathos (Emotional Appeal)
Pathos, also known as emotional appeal, is a persuasive technique that evokes strong emotions in the audience to encourage them to take a particular action or adopt a specific point of view (Meyer, 2017).
Pathos aims to sway people’s emotions by appealing to their fears, hopes, values, or desires. A critical reader would be able to tell already that pathos is widely used in advertising and marketing!
This type of persuasion typically uses vivid language and storytelling techniques to create an emotional connection between the speaker and their audience (Ihlen & Heath, 2018).
To be effective, the use of pathos should be appropriate for the context and audience.
For instance, it’s inappropriate to use tragic events or personal losses for mere political gain, as it may harm those affected by such events. Instead of exploiting people’s pain and sadness, pathos should be used responsibly and respectfully.
Consider a charity advertisement aimed at persuading viewers to donate money towards fighting poverty in developing countries. The advertisement may show images of impoverished children struggling with hunger and disease while sad music plays in the background. This appeals to the viewer’s emotions by invoking feelings of compassion and empathy for those less fortunate than themselves. The ultimate goal is for viewers to feel more inclined to take action after seeing how they can make a positive impact on someone else’s life through donating.
3. Logos (Logical Appeal)
Logos, also known as logical appeal, is a persuasive technique that relies on the use of reason and logic to influence an audience.
Logos is based on the idea that people are more likely to accept and adopt a particular position or argument if it coheres to rules of logic and doesn’t fall into heuristics or logical fallacies (Dillard & Shen, 2013). In other words, to be effective with logos, it is important to ensure that all claims made are supported by a rational thought-process and/or clear evidence.
This means that the information presented should be accurate and verifiable from credible sources. Additionally, the arguments presented must be logical and coherent with clear connections between each point presented (Baumlin & Meyer, 2018).
Consider an ad campaign by a toothpaste company claiming that their product prevents cavities better than any other brand. In this case, the company might use data from clinical studies demonstrating how their product significantly reduced the incidence of cavities compared to competitors’ products. This provides objective evidence to support their claim and makes it more believable for consumers who care about having strong teeth without cavities.
4. Statistics (Appeal to Facts)
Statistics, also called statistical evidence or quantitative data, is a persuasive technique that relies on numerical information to support a claim. This method can be used alongside logos to support one another.
Statistics are often used as evidence in order to give credibility and support an argument with hard numbers (Dillard & Shen, 2013).
To use statistics effectively for persuasion, it is important to ensure that the statistics presented are accurate and relevant to the argument being made (Ihlen & Heath, 2018).
Any infographics or visual aids should be easy for the audience to comprehend and include enough context so that there can be no misconceptions about how they were derived.
Example of Statistics
Let’s say you want to persuade your school’s administration team to increase funding for arts programs by showing how popular these programs are with students. You could gather data from surveys showing the percentage of students participating in extracurricular music classes or art clubs at school as well as academic studies highlighting how music education improves cognitive development among teenagers. By presenting this data persuasively, you can help convince your school administrators of the value of these programs not just socially but academically too.
5. Deliberation (Dialectical Reasoning)
Deliberation, also known as dialectical reasoning, involves personal reflection and weighing of options in a critical and logical way. (Meyer, 2017)
This type of persuasion seeks to prompt individuals to reason for themselves, rather than being told what to think or do.
Deliberation involves using the socratic method to present competing ideas or arguments and encourage people to consider different perspectives. You should try to ask questions that lead the audience towards coming up with their own conclusions (Wrobel, 2015).
To use deliberation effectively, one must provide a space for open dialogue and encourage individuals to voice their opinions.
The goal is not necessarily to convince the audience but rather to initiate thoughtful debate on the topic at hand leading everyone involved closer towards arriving at a consensus.
Example of Deliberation
Imagine your school plans on banning certain types of plastic products such as water bottles or straws due to environmental concerns. Instead of simply telling students that they should abide by this regulation without further justification, you choose to host discussion sessions where students and teachers can express their views. This open deliberation can help increase buy-in among motivated parties who formerly may have opposed it otherwise. They will feel like they came to their own perspective, while you facilitated this by presenting new evidence for them. This approach can lead everyone involved closer towards arriving at a shared group consensus.
6. Refutation (Anticpating Counterarguments)
Refutation is a persuasive technique that involves anticipating and addressing counterarguments.
Refutation acknowledges that the audience may have objections or doubts about your argument and allows you to effectively neutralize those concerns before they become an issue. It is an excellent way to steel man your argument (Varpio, 2018).
This can be done by identifying potential objections ahead of time and figuring out how you will address each one, or examining your opponent’s best arguments and breaking them down (Baumlin & Meyer, 2018).
To use refutation effectively, it is crucial to make sure that you accurately understand the disagreement being presented so as not to distort it during rebuttal (what we’d call the strawman approach).
Refutation helps to ensure the credibility of your response. Additionally, this technique should be used strategically and only when necessary rather than overusing it, which may create a confrontational atmosphere damaging receptiveness towards genuine non-hostile discussion.
Imagine you’re trying to persuade your employer to give every employee two weeks off for vacation, but there’s a concern that other employees will protest due to their workload. Instead of ignoring this objection, you might acknowledge the possible disruption while also highlighting potential benefits in improved employee happiness and retention rates resulting from more frequent performance breaks. Ultimately this would allow workers who recharge fully maintaining productivity over extended periods while reducing chances for burnout among stressed-out staff members.
See More: Examples of Counterarguments
Additional Forms of Persuasion
Persuasion can also be dissected into the peripheral route and the central route.
These routes represent a distinction between appeals to direct logical argumentation (central route) and appeals to secondary signals, such as credibility and emotional appeal (peripheral route).
Each are outlined below:
- The peripheral route to persuasion does not directly engage with the strength of the argument or its inherent logic. Instead, it appeals to heuristics that suggest the argument is sound, such as the speaker’s attractiveness, emotional appeals, and appeals to authority. Generally, it leverages a range of cognitive biases to convince disengaged, misinformed, or low-information interlocutors (Baumlin & Meyer, 2018).
- The central route to persuasion goes straight to the logic of an argument, presenting logical and rational perspectives as well as empirical evidence in order to convince a high-information or highly engaged audience. It encourages critical thinking as part of a deep, engaged, debate (Meyer, 2017).
You’ll note that we can place several of the different types of persuasion explored earlier into these two buckets: logos most obviously being placed in the central route bucket, while pathos might be more likely to be taking the peripheral route.
Strong knowledge of (and ability to execute) persuasion techniques can be extremely useful for getting your way, winning debates, and subtly convincing others of your point of view. However, it needs to be applied in contextually-approproate situations to minimize the chances of your methods backfiring.
Dillard, J. P., & Shen, L. (Eds.). (2013). The Sage handbook of persuasion. London: Sage.
Ihlen, O., & Heath, R. L. (Eds.). (2018). The handbook of organizational rhetoric and communication. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Meyer, M. (2017). What is rhetoric? Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Varpio, L. (2018). Using rhetorical appeals to credibility, logic, and emotions to increase your persuasiveness. Perspectives on medical education, 7, 207-210. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-018-0420-2
Wróbel, S. (2015). Logos, ethos, pathos. Classical rhetoric revisited. Polish Sociological Review, 191(3), 401-421.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]