Understand how to make and refute arguments. Learn how to analyze a Web site from a rhetorical perspective. Identify a place to publish your work online.

Appeals to persona, appeals to emotions, and appeals to logic--these three appeals, as outlined by Aristotle and described below, are used with varying degrees of success and emphasis to persuade people. Persuasive arguments targeting critical readers tend to be thoroughly grounded in logic.


Examine a subject from a rhetorical perspective. Identify the intended audience, purpose, context, media, voice, tone, and persona.Writers bring focus to their arguments by summarizing their argument in a sentence or two. As determined by the context for their argument, writers provide these thesis statements in their introductions or their conclusions.


It's true that some arguments are won on appeals to emotion. But ultimately, an argument needs to be based on reason. You need to conduct research to find the facts, opinions, and research that support your claim.Reading sample arguments can help you find and adopt an appropriate voice and persona. By reading samples, you can learn how others have supported claims with evidence.Below are some additional suggestions for developing your argument.

Introduce the Topic

Before attempting to convince readers to agree with your position on a subject, you may need to educate them about the topic. In the introduction, explain the scope, complexity, and significance of the issue. You might want to mention the various approaches that people have taken to solve the problem.

Note: It is not always easy to determine which ideas your readers will take for granted and which ones they are likely to question. Even professional writers may have difficulty deciding which aspects of the topic they need to highlight and which they can assume the reader already knows. Reading other peoples' arguments on the same topic can give you a sense of what background information you need to define. You may need to write several drafts before you can decide what information you can omit and what information is critical to provide. In addition, you should fight the tendency to cling to evidence you discovered early in your investigation that has been contradicted or made obsolete by more comprehensive, updated research.

A discussion of background information and definition of terms can constitute a substantial part of your argument when you are writing for uninformed audiences, or it can constitute a minor part of your argument when you are writing for more informed audiences.

Before asserting a claim, nearly all of the sample arguments provided in Readings present the context for argument. Note, for example, how Sandra Serrano used the first two paragraphs of her essay to place the use of "he/she" in the context of the Women's Movement of the 1960s. Her introduction thus established her topic as both worthy of consideration and a point of conflict.

Or note how Paul Klite summarizes factors that may have contributed to the Columbine High School tragedy before introducing his explanation--that media violence is an important contributor to "the culture of violence":

In the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in Colorado, a broad national debate has developed to intervene in the American "culture of violence." Many fingerprints are on the proverbial trigger -- inadequate parenting; the availability of guns; alienation of youth; mental illness; school security; manipulative violence in film, video games, television, the Internet and pop music.

Let us also include the contribution of television news to this toxic stew. More than society's messenger, more than a mirror of reality, the electronic communication media collect and concentrate the planet's woes and deliver them into our living rooms each night.

State Claims

Arguments are driven by claims. The claims can be about:

  • Facts (Females are better mathematicians than males).
  • Cause-and-Effect Relationships (Media violence creates a "culture of violence" in America).
  • Solutions (Vegetarian diets are healthier and easier on the environment).
  • Policies (Students who plagiarize should be expelled).
  • Value (It's unethical to hurt animals to conduct medical research).

As discussed below, claims are typically presented near the beginning of arguments, but they can also be implied or presented in the conclusions of the texts.

Appeal to Persona

As described by Aristotle, the credibility of the person making the argument has an effect on the success of an argument. If the person has a reputation as a credible source, his or her argument appears more persuasive. Ideally, the person making the argument has the best interests of his or her readers in mind.

Today's reader's are extremely skeptical--perhaps even jaded. The constant bombardment by advertisers has enhanced our ability to ignore claims. In many ways, we have lost faith in our leaders and businesses, grouping them, perhaps, in the same category as "used car salespeople." On the national level, President Clinton's debating the definition of the word "is" or "sex" eroded our faith in politicians. Anderson Consulting's illegal cooking of the books at Enron, WorldCom's lying about a four-billion-dollar accounting error, Xerox's lying regarding a 6.4-billion-dollar accounting error --these are recent examples of credible sources who have acted in immoral or illegal ways.

Nonetheless, the persona you project as a writer plays a fundamental role in the overall success of your argument. Your opening sentences generally establish the tone of your text and present to the reader a sense of your persona, both of which play a tremendous role in the overall persuasiveness of your argument. By evaluating how you define the problem, consider counterarguments, or marshal support for your claims, your readers will make inferences about your character. When your readers are aware of your good reputation, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Most academic readers are put off by zealous, emotional, or angry arguments. No matter how well you fine-tune the substance of your document, the tone that readers detect significantly influences how the message is perceived. If readers dislike the manner of your presentation, they may reject your facts, too. If you do not sound confident, your readers may doubt you. If your paper is loaded with spelling errors, you look foolish. No matter how solid your evidence is for a particular claim, your readers may not agree with you if you sound sarcastic, condescending, or intolerant.

Occasionally writers will hide behind a persona. Their reasons for hiding may be totally ethical. For example, in Joseph Scaglione's Into the Wilderness--Victimization and the Criminal Justice System, he does not tell readers that he lost a daughter to a drunk driver, fearing readers would dismiss his argument as idiosyncratic.

Appeal to Emotions

While appeals to emotions are generally frowned upon in traditional academic arguments, speakers and writers still use them because of their persuasive power. Advertising seeks to invoke your emotions and capture your attention because advertisers know people make some decisions based on emotion rather than reason.

We all tend to perceive certain situations subjectively and passionately—particularly situations that involve us at a personal level. Even when we try to be objective, many of us still make decisions based on emotional impulses rather than sound reasoning. Those who recognize the power of emotional appeals sometimes twist them to sway others. Hitler is an obvious and extreme example. His dichotomizing—"You're either for me or against me"—and bandwagon appeals—"Everyone knows the Jews are inferior to true Germans"—helped instigate one of the darkest chapters in human history.

Additional emotional appeals include:

  • Appeals to authority (According to the EPA, global warming will raise sea levels).
  • Appeals to pity (I should be allowed to take the test again because I had the flu the first time I took it).
  • Personal attacks on the opposition, which rhetoricians call ad hominem attacks (I wouldn't vote for that man because he's a womanizer).

Like arguments based solely on the persona of the author, arguments based solely on appeals to emotions usually lack the strength to be completely persuasive. Most modern, well-educated readers are quick to see through such manipulative attempts. For example, after Americans and others in the international community established a blockade of Iran during the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein tried to ignite religious fanaticism and class hatred. He called on the Arab countries to establish a Holy War to drive out the Americans. And he even called on Iranians, with whom his country had fought a bitter war for nearly ten years, to "deter all those fishing in dirty waters and cooperate to turn the [Persian] Gulf into a lake of peace free of foreign fleets." Describing the Americans as impure infidels tainting the Holy Lands and calling for Arabs to rally around a higher cause—the preservation of Mecca and the Arab way of life—was a purely emotional tactic. Fortunately, most of the Arab world turned their back to Hussein's emotional appeals because they remembered Hussein's cruelty to his Arab brothers and sisters, and they remembered that Hussein had led an anti-Moslem campaign when fighting Iran.

Emotional appeals can be used to persuade readers of the rightness of good causes or imperative action. For example, if you were writing an essay advocating a school-wide recycling program, you might paint an emotional, bleak picture of what our world will look like in 50 years if we don't begin conserving now. Ultimately, however, emotional appeals by themselves lack persuasive force.

To achieve the non-threatening tone needed to diffuse emotional situations, avoid exaggerating your claims or using biased, emotional language. Also, avoid attacking your audience's claims as exaggerated. Whenever you feel angry or defensive, take a deep breath and look for points in which you can agree with or understand your opponents. When you are really emotional about an issue, try to cool off enough to recognize where your language is loaded with explosive terms.

If the people for whom you are writing feel stress when you confront them with an emotionally charged issue and have already made up their minds firmly on the subject, you should try to interest such reluctant readers by suggesting that you have an innovative way of viewing the problem. Of course, this tactic is effective only when you can indeed follow through and be as original as possible in your treatment of the subject. Otherwise, your readers may reject your ideas because they recognize that you have misrepresented yourself.