6 Tips for Writing Persuasive Rhetoric
The craft of persuasive speech has interested scholars dating all the way back to the ancient Romans (such as Cicero in his text De Oratore) and the Ancient Greeks (including Plato and, most notably, Aristotle). Here is how Aristotle advised that rhetoriticians use persuasive rhetoric to impart a point of view:
- Use general logic. Aristotle believed that a logical appeal to reason can be the basis of persuasive arguments. Using the ancient Greek word logos, Aristotle proposed that data, facts, and reasoned examples can be crafted into logical arguments that convince your audience of your point. He wrote a text called Rhetoric to expound on the art of deliberative rhetoric, and the book has been a cornerstone of rhetorical analysis ever since.
- Use syllogism. Among the strongest local rhetorical strategies is syllogism. This hallmark of classical rhetoric involves making two statements which lead to a natural conclusion. For instance, one could state that all trees have roots and that a cypress is a tree. This leads to the syllogistic conclusion that a cypress has roots.
- Avoid logical fallacies. Aristotle's Rhetoric delves into a topic the philosopher called epideictic oratory, which is sometimes called “praise-and-blame rhetoric.” This involves combining strong logic with a roller coaster structure that alternates between positive and negative appeals. This can effectively manipulate an audience's emotions, but it also runs the risk of letting emotional language override the actual logic at the core of your argument. Make sure your argument, no matter how passionate, doesn’t deviate from its logical core.
- Craft an emotional appeal. Despite his predilection toward logic, Aristotle did believe in the power of pathos, which is rhetoric designed to evoke an emotional response. If logos appeals hit audiences in their cerebrum, pathos appeals hit them in the gut. Humans are emotional animals, and oftentimes emotion overrides cold reason. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this quite well, and his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech is a primer on how public speaking can be carried by emotional resonance. King also used logos and pathos in his written “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” proving he was every bit as adept at written persuasion as he was at spoken persuasion. King was a scholar who was well acquainted with Aristotle’s writings on rhetoric, and as a pastor, he also knew the power of pathos from the pulpit.
- Apply an ethical appeal. Aristotle referred to the concept of ethos, an appeal to ethics that was predicated on the good character of the speaker. If you, as the author of an argument, are able to present yourself as an ethical person with proven knowledge in your subject, you can naturally provide a basis for which you and your reader can find common ground. Let’s say that you’re trying to make an argument for vegetarianism. You could start an argument by stating that you personally love animals. If your reader also loves animals, you’ve established an ethical connection with them, and this connection will aid you in your quest to persuade.
- Use rhetorical devices. Persuasive arguments in the English-speaking world often make use of certain colloquial devices, sometimes known as figures of speech. One such figure of speech is an anaphora, which repeats words or phrases for effect. (Think of the famous Winston Churchill declaration: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end... we shall never surrender.”) Another popular figure of speech is the rhetorical question, which is a statement in the form of a question. (Here’s an example: If you ask “Why would you own a car in New York?” you are effectively making a statement that you think it’s foolish to own a car in New York.)
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