2.4 Persuasion: Cognate Strategies

[Author removed at request of original publisher] and Linda Macdonald

Learning Objectives

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

  • Describe the nine cognate strategies
  • Identify ways to apply these strategies in speaking and writing

The ancient Greek teacher Aristotle identified three types of appeals: logos (logic), ethos (ethics and credibility), and pathos (emotional appeal). These elements in presenting an argument are often applied to oral communication, especially public speaking, but they are also fundamental to good writing.

An additional set of tools  includes “cognate strategies”, or ways of understanding,  developed by Charles Kostelnick and David Rogers (1998). Like rhetorical elements, cognate strategies are techniques for developing an effective argument.

Charles Kostelnick and David Roberts (1998) outline several ways of framing, expressing, and representing a message to an audience. The word “cognate” refers to knowledge, and these strategies are techniques to impart knowledge to your audience. The strategies help the writer, designer, or speaker answer questions like “Does the audience understand how I am arranging my information?” “Am I emphasizing my key points effectively?” and “How does my expression and representation of information contribute to a relationship with the audience?” The cognate strategies can help you to better anticipate and meet your audience’s basic needs.

Aristotle outlined three main forms of rhetorical proof: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos involves the speaker or writer’s character and expertise. Logos is the logic —something that will be greatly enhanced by a good organizational plan. Aristotle discussed pathos as the use of emotion as a persuasive element. We don’t always make decisions based on clear thinking. Sometimes we are moved by words, by a scene in a movie, or by other mediated forms of communication.

The cognate strategies are in many ways expressions of Aristotle’s three elements.


From the choice of your words in writing to the choice of your dress in public speaking, you contribute to the tone of your message. Tone conveys feeling.

When you speak, is your voice relaxed, or shaky and nervous? Your voice is like a musical instrument that, when played expressively, fulfills a central role in your ability to communicate your message to your audience. If your voice is shaky, you will communicate anxiety to your audience. How is your tone expressed through your body language? Are your arms straight down and rigid at your sides or crossed in front of you? Your dress, your use of space, and the degree to which you are comfortable with yourself all contribute to the message.

In written expression, tone is reflected in language choice and design. The decision to use “hi or “dear” in the opening of an email can indicate whether you are establishing a formal relationship or one that is more casual and friendly. Design elements like typeface and format also communicate tone. Because typefaces communicate feelings, the selection of Times New Roman, with its traditional, textbook style look, can convey trustworthiness, while the developers of the modern font Manrope hope to convey creativity, simplicity, and elegance.


If everyone speaks at the same time, it’s hard for anyone to listen. In the same way, if all your points are equally presented, it can be hard to distinguish one from another or to focus on the points that are most important. Consider how you place emphasis—stress, importance, or prominence—on some aspects of your speech or document and how you lessen the impact of others. To use the strategy of emphasis, consider how you link ideas through transitions, how you repeat and rephrase, and how you organize your points for a powerful start and finish.

In writing, emphasis can be achieved through the placement of words within a sentence, through the placement of sentences within a paragraph, and the placement of paragraphs within the document. The last words of a sentence typically have the most emphasis because of the pause created by the full stop that follows. The second strongest placement is at the start of the sentence. Similarly, the first sentence in a paragraph receives strong emphasis, and this emphasis is heightened by the white space created by the line break between paragraphs or after a heading. The organization of the document can also serve to emphasize or diminish paragraphs or sections. Writers often present the weakest points or the counter-arguments in the middle of a document so that the document begins and ends with stronger points.

Design elements like headings emphasize the structure of the message and stand out on the page because of the surrounding white space. Numbered or bulleted lists break the paragraph form, and the use of white space around them highlights them further. The use of CAPITALIZATION, bold, and italics also add emphasis. A well-selected word or phrase in bold can dramatically emphasize a point. Note that if there is too much emphasis through capitals, bold, or italics, there is no emphasis at all. No element will stand out, and in fact, your audience can tire quickly. A few words emphasized can work well, but an all-cap message of one sentence or more loses urgency and becomes annoyingly difficult to read.


Eye contact can help you form a connection—an engagement—with individual audience members. Holding your arms at your sides and bent at the elbow with palms up can also help to establish a relationship with the audience. This gesture is welcoming and friendly. Starting your presentation by asking the audience a question can also form a connection.

A speaker or writer should attempt to form a relationship with the audience. Audiences are more likely to engage if the content is relevant to them. Explaining the benefit of a product for the audience can help them see how it meets their needs. Using “you” instead of “I” or “we” can develop engagement. Student cover letters for co-op jobs often use the first person, “I”. This focus on the “I” has an effect on the audience. The potential employer wants to know what you can do for them. Their focus is on their needs. “I have great team skills” is not as effective as “My collaborative approach and dependability would contribute to the team at PwC.”

Interactive social media tools are designed to foster engagement. “Like” and emoji buttons, comment and chat sections, and accessible language contribute to audience engagement.


As a speaker, you may have excellent ideas to present, but if they are not made clear to the audience, your speech will be a failure. Clarity helps the audience understand your message. Your word choices, how you say them, and in what order they are said all relate to clarity. If you use euphemisms (indirect expressions) to communicate a delicate idea, your audience may not follow you. If you use a story or an interesting image and fail to connect it clearly to your main point or idea, your audience will also fail to see the connection. The use of jargon may clarify your message for the audience or confuse them depending on their background knowledge.

You’ll also need to consider the visual elements of your presentation or document and how they clarify your information. Is the font sufficiently large on your PowerPoint slide to be read in the back of the room? Is your slide so packed with words that they key ideas are lost in a noise of text? Will it be clear to your listeners how your pictures, motion clips, or audio files relate to the topic? Does the report use headings to clarify the structure and importance of ideas?


Being clear is part of being concise. Conciseness refers to being brief and direct in the visual and verbal delivery of your message and avoiding unnecessary intricacy. It involves using words as necessary to get your message across, and no more. If you only have five to seven minutes for a presentation, how will you budget your time? Being economical with your time is a pragmatic approach to ensuring that your attention, and the attention of your audience, is focused on the point at hand. Your supervisor does not have time to read lengthy messages. How can you state your information as briefly and directly as possible without sounding abrupt and rude?


You will gather and present information in some order. That order requires strategically grouping information. Arrangement means order– the organization of visual (and verbal) elements in ways that allow the audience to correctly interpret the structure, hierarchy, and relationships among points of focus in your presentation (Kostelnick, C. and Roberts, D., 1998).


Here we can clearly see Aristotle’s ethos—character and expertise. You will naturally develop a relationship with your audience, and creating trust is key to that development. The word “credibility” comes from the word “credence,” or belief. Credibility involves the power to elicit from the audience belief in your character, knowledge, and abilities. Cultivating a sense of your character and credibility may involve displaying your sense of humor, your ability to laugh at yourself, your academic or profession-specific credentials, or your personal insight into the topic you are discussing.

For example, if you are going to present a persuasive speech on the dangers of drinking and driving and start with a short story about how you helped implement a “designated driver” program, the audience will understand your relationship to the message and form a positive perception of your credibility. If you are going to persuade the audience to give blood, practice safe sex, or get a HIV test, your credibility on the subject may come from your studies in the medical or public health field, from having volunteered at a blood drive, or perhaps from having had a loved one who needed a blood transfusion. Consider persuasive strategies that will appeal to your audience, build trust, and convey your understanding of the rhetorical situation.


Your audience, as we’ve addressed previously, will have inherent expectations of themselves and of you depending on the rhetorical situation. Expectations involve the often unstated anticipation of the norms, roles and outcomes of the speaker or writer. If you are giving an after-dinner speech at a meeting where the audience members will have had plenty to eat and drink immediately before you get up to speak, you know that your audience’s attention may be influenced by their state of mind. The “after-dinner speech” often incorporates humor for this very reason, and the anticipation that you will be positive, lighthearted and funny is implicit in the rhetorical situation. If, on the other hand, you are going to address a high school assembly on the academic transition to university, you may also be motivational, funny, and lighthearted, but there will be an expectation that you will also discuss some serious issues as a part of your speech.


Reference involves attention to the source and way you present your information. If you are a licensed pilot and want to inform your audience about aviation safety, your credibility will play a role. You might add to your credibility with reference to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada occurrence data. The audience won’t expect you to personally gather statistics and publish a study, but they will expect you to state where you got your information. If you are talking to a group of children who have never flown before, you will need to consider how to reference key ideas within their scope of experience.


Consider the cognate strategies and how to address each area to make your message as effective as possible, given your understanding of the rhetorical situation.

Table 2.4.1: “Rhetorical Elements and Cognate Strategies” presents Aristotle’s rhetorical elements beside the corresponding cognate strategies as well as their purposes and examples of how they may be carried out in business writing. Incorporating the cognate strategies can make your writing or presentation more effective.

Table 2.4.1 

Rhetorical Elements and Cognate Strategies

Aristotle’s Rhetorical Elements Cognate Strategies Focus Example in Business Writing
Logos Clarity Clear understanding An announcement will be made to the company later in the week, but I wanted to tell you personally that as of the first of next month, I will be leaving my position to accept a three-year assignment in our Singapore office. As soon as further details about the management of your account are available, I will share them with you.
Conciseness Key points In tomorrow’s conference call. Sean wants to introduce the new team members, outline the schedule and budget for the project, and clarify each person’s responsibilities in meeting our goals.
Arrangement Order, hierarchy, placement Our department has a matrix structure. We have three product development groups, one for each category of product. We also have a manufacturing group, a finance group, and a sales group; different group members are assigned to each of the three product categories. Within the matrix, our structure is flat, meaning that we have no group leaders. Everyone reports to Beth, the department manager.
Ethos Credibility Character, trust Having known and worked with Jesse for more than five years, I can highly recommend them to take my place as your advisor. In addition to having superb qualifications, Jesse is known for their dedication, honesty, and caring attitude. They will always go the extra mile for their clients.
Expectation Norms and anticipated outcomes As is typical in our industry, we ship all merchandise FOB our warehouse. Prices are exclusive of any federal, state, or local taxes. Payment terms are net 30 days from date of invoice.
Reference Sources and frames of reference According to an article in Business Week dated October 15, 2009, Doosan is one of the largest business conglomerates in South Korea.
Pathos Tone Expression I really don’t have words to express how grateful I am for all the support you’ve extended to me and my family in this hour of need. You have made a difficult period more bearable.
Emphasis Relevance It was unconscionable for a member of our organization to shout an interruption while the president was speaking. What needs to happen now—and let me be clear about this—is an immediate apology.
Engagement Relationship As members of our university alumni association, we share a dedication to ensuring the success of our Commerce students.



Use the table below as you prepare a speech or persuasive document to ensure that you use a range of cognate strategies. Fill in the far right column according to how each rhetorical element, cognate strategy, and focus will apply to your rhetorical situation.

Aristotle’s Forms of Rhetorical Proof Cognate Strategies Focus My speech/document will address each element and strategy by…
  • Tone
  • Emphasis
  • Engagement
  • Expression
  • Relevance
  • Relationship
  • Clarity
  • Conciseness
  • Arrangement
  • Clear understanding
  • Key points
  • Order, hierarchy, placement
  • Credibility
  • Expectation
  • Reference
  • Character, trust
  • Norms and anticipated outcomes
  • Sources and frames of reference



Kostelnick, C., & Roberts, D. (1998). Designing visual language: Strategies for professional communicators. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.




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2.4 Persuasion: Cognate Strategies Copyright © 2021 by [Author removed at request of original publisher] and Linda Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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