Incorporating appeals to pathos into persuasive writing increases a writer’s chances of achieving his or her purpose. Read “Pathos” to define and understand pathos and methods for appealing to it. The following brief article discusses examples of these appeals in persuasive writing.
An important key to incorporating pathos into your persuasive writing effectively is appealing to your audience’s commonly held emotions. To do this, one must be able to identify common emotions, as well as understand what situations typically evoke such emotions. The blog post “The 10 Most Common Feelings Worldwide, We Feel Fine,” offers an interview with Seth Kamvar, co-author of We Feel Fine. According to the post, the 10 most commonly held emotions in 2006-2009 were: better, bad, good, guilty, sorry, sick, well, comfortable, great, and happy (qtd. in Whelan).
Let’s take a look at some potential essay topics, what emotions they might evoke, and what methods can be used to appeal to those emotions.
Example: Animal Cruelty
In “To Kill a Chicken,” Nicholas Kristof describes footage taken by an undercover investigator for Mercy with Animals at a North Carolina poultry slaughterhouse: “some chickens aren’t completely knocked out by the electric current and can be seen struggling frantically. Others avoid the circular saw somehow. A backup worker is supposed to cut the throat of those missed by the saw, but any that get by him are scalded alive, the investigator said” (Kristof).
This narrative account, which creates a cruel picture in readers’ minds, will evoke anger, horror, sadness, and sympathy.
Example: Human Trafficking
- Sadness (sorry)
Method: Direct Quote
“From Victim to Impassioned Voice” provides the perspective of Asia Graves, a victim of a vicious child prostitution ring who attributes her survival to a group of women: “If I didn’t have those strong women, I’d be nowhere” (McKin).
A quote from a victim of human trafficking humanizes the topic, eliciting sadness and sympathy for the victim(s).
Method: Empathy for an Opposing View
The concerns of some people who oppose the criminalization of cyberbullying are understandable. For example, Justin W. Patchin, coauthor of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying, opposes making cyberbullying a crime because he views the federal and state governments’ role as one to educate local school districts and provide resources for them (“Cyberbullying”). Patchin does not oppose cyberbullying itself; rather, he takes issue with the government responding to it through criminalization.
Identifying and articulating the opposing view as well as the concerns that underpin it helps the audience experience a full range of sympathy, a commonly held emotion, as a consequence of sincerely investigating and acknowledging another view.
The method a writer uses to persuade emotionally his or her audience will depend on the situation. However, any writer who uses at least one approach will be more persuasive than a writer who ignores opportunities to entreat one of the most powerful aspects of the human experience—emotions.
"Cyberbullying." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2015. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 July 2016.
Kristof, Nicholas. “To Kill a Chicken.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 3 May 2015. Web. 20 July 2016.
McKin, Jenifer. “From victim to impassioned voice: Women exploited as a teen fights sexual trafficking of children.” The Boston Globe. Boston Globe Media Partners, 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 July 2016.
Whelan, Christine. “The 10 Most Common Feelings Worldwide: We Feel Fine.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 18 March 2012. Web. 21 July 2016.