2.1 Persuasion: Aristotle’s Rhetorical Elements

Linda Macdonald and University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  • Define Aristotle’s rhetorical elements of logos, ethos, and pathos
  • Identify examples of the use of the three elements in business
  • List possible ways you might include each of the three rhetorical elements in presentations and documents

Your employer needs you to have the ability to analyze and evaluate information to solve business problems. How you design an email to a client, how you adjust communications for an international team with diverse interests, and how you maintain a relationship with a disgruntled client all require the ability to think critically and utilize elements of persuasion.

Most of your communications in business will be informational, but a message announcing the closure of a parking area or updating delivery dates has persuasive elements. Even an informational message aims to convince the reader of your credibility and professionalism and works to foster and maintain a positive relationship with the audience.

Persuasion is the ability to influence someone’s actions or beliefs. To succeed in persuading your audience, you need to make a reasonable request, establish your credibility, and show the audience the direct and indirect benefits of granting the request.

Your documents in application for co-op positions are persuasive. In the resume, you will provide evidence that you have the background and skills to do the job. You will establish your credibility through your affiliation with a reputable university. In establishing your fit with the organization, you will appeal to the reader’s emotions of pride and loyalty in the company’s mission and values. These strategic uses of evidence, credibility, and emotions align with Aristotle’s means of persuasion.

Aristotle and Rhetorical Elements

Aristotle outlined the rhetorical strategies of logos, ethos, and pathos two thousand years ago, yet these persuasive devices remain relevant for business today. A sales message, recommendation report, commemorative speech, cover letter, grant proposal, or any other business message requires all three rhetorical devices to be successful. Watch this short interactive video. Be sure to watch to the end; then submit your answers by clicking on the green button.

(Direct link to The Three Persuasive Appeals: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos by Kristina Ulmer video)


Aristotle defined logos as a mode of persuasion appealing to the audience’s reasoning. Clear, reasoned arguments supported by evidence make your claims more convincing. If you are promoting a new product, you will need factual evidence about the product’s quality to be successful. If you are making changes in service procedures, customer reviews may support your argument for change. In requesting health care benefits to add paid sick days for front-line workers, your argument might be supported by employee surveys of workplace satisfaction and statistics on absenteeism compared to numbers of positive pandemic cases.

When incorporating logos,  you might include

  • data
  • graphs
  • charts
  • statistics
  • logical reasoning


The ethos mode of persuasion refers to establishing authority, credibility, and trust through character and ethics. Credibility is especially important in finance. Banks rely on consumer trust to generate opportunities for building revenue. Loss of trust can be devastating.

Wells Fargo lost trust through a series of scandals. As the title of a CNN report states, “Wells Fargo is a hot mess” (Egan, 2020). Employees opened millions of fake credit card accounts to meet the company’s sales targets and charged customers for unnecessary auto insurance. The company was accused of retaliating against whistleblowers and forcing employees to work overtime. As a result of these scandals and the penalties resulting from them, it was, according to Egan, the only major lender to lose money during the pandemic (2020). Unethical practices have led to a loss of trust, a loss of credibility, and subsequently, a loss of business.

To build ethos in your communications, you might include

  • evidence of ethical business practice
  • reference to experts or people familiar to and respected by the audience
  • your affiliation and experience as the speaker
  • credible sources
  • clear, understandable language and minimal jargon or vague terms

(Direct link to Ethos, Pathos, & Logos: How to Use Persuasive Ad Techniques by StudioBinder video)


Robert Plutchik, identified eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust (Plutchik, 2001). Plutchik wrote that Emotion is a complex chain of loosely connected events that begins with a stimulus and includes feelings, psychological changes, impulses to action and specific, goal-directed behavior” (pp. 345-346). In using pathos, the speaker or writer provides a stimulus to initiate a response.

Andrew Dlugan says, “As a speaker, your goal is to create a shared emotional experience with your audience. Pathos describes your ability to evoke audience emotions and strategically connect these emotions with elements of your speech.” You can create an emotional response through written communication as well. You might, for example, appeal to a donor’s sense of loyalty to a school society in a fundraising email or appeal to a buyer’s homesickness for Nova Scotia in a marketing campaign for East Coast Lifestyle .

Pathos can be developed through

  • pictures
  • storytelling
  • emotive language
  • gestures

(Personality quiz H5P 7597 by Chandra Hodgson [2020] licensed by CC-BY-NC-SA)

Check Your Knowledge (5 Questions)


Dlugan, A. (March 8, 2010). What is pathos and why is it critical for speakers? Six Minutes. http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/pathos-definition/

Egan, M. (July 15, 2020). Wells Fargo is a hot mess. It has only itself to blame. Markets Now. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/15/investing/wells-fargo-bank-dividend/index.html

Photo: “Aristotle with Mobile Phone, after Francesco Hayez” by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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Building Relationships With Business Communication Copyright © 2021 by Linda Macdonald and University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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