What Is the Rhetorical Triangle?

Deneatra Harmon

The rhetorical triangle represents a style of speaking and writing that is designed to inform, influence, and persuade an audience. Originally developed by the philosopher Aristotle, this particular language device uses three key components to appeal to the audience or to readers. They include logos, ethos, and pathos, which are sometimes referred to as subject, writer, and audience. Certain questions or characteristics can help when writing or identifying rhetorical analysis.

The rhetorical triangle came from the Greek philosopher Aristotle.
The rhetorical triangle came from the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

One of the goals of the rhetorical triangle is to appeal in a rational manner to the audience. Logos can be best described as the reasoning or the text of an argument. In this case, the writer or speaker also presents knowledge about the subject matter and offers different perspectives. Logos may be used to argue or take a stance on a subject while presenting facts and evidence to support all of the research. Case studies, lab experiments, and statistics are examples of works that appeal to the logos, or logical reasoning, of the audience.

Rhetorical appeals that focus on logic may be used in academia.
Rhetorical appeals that focus on logic may be used in academia.

Credibility also helps to appeal to an audience. The ethos part of the rhetorical triangle refers to the form or delivery of a debate, which in turn gives insight into the writer’s or speaker’s character. Ethos must help to demonstrate the author’s credibility and trustworthiness, as well as the ability to demonstrate any knowledge about the subject. With the ethos component of the rhetorical triangle, the audience expects the author’s presentation to be clear, fair, and balanced.

Pathos provides the strongest appeal to an audience because it triggers emotions and interest. This aspect of rhetoric focuses on the audience’s reactions in addition to helping them to draw upon their own imaginations. The writer or speaker uses pathos to connect to the audience and tap into their values and beliefs.

Students can apply the rhetorical triangle in their writing or learn to identify it by using certain criteria. When using logos in a research paper, for example, the thesis must be clearly identified and supported by credible evidence as well as valid reasons. Logos must also demonstrate a well-thought, logical argument that is presented in logical order. When applying pathos, the argument must provide visual details and solid examples that engage the listener or reader, as well as relate to the audience’s values and belief systems.

Ethos must show a connection to the writer and the subject being discussed. Sources in this case must be appropriately identified and cited. The writer or speaker must demonstrate qualifications not only by demonstrating knowledge, but by using word choices and tone in a fair and professional manner. Finally, if a document or speech argues a specific viewpoint, the writer must display ethos by respecting multiple viewpoints, which can be done by citing the appropriate references.

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