What is a rhetorical triangle?


Communication is basically a trilateral relationship with each point influencing the other and contributing to the success of any communication. The rhetorical triangle refers to the relationship of the three forms of Aristotelian rhetoric-Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. A speaker who aims to attain perfection in his speech must strive to use all three forms of rhetoric. Similarly Ethos, Pathos and Logos form the basic components of all kinds of writing. It is important to learn and recognize the use of these three elements not only in our own writing but also in others writings. It is by the use of Ethos, Pathos and Logos that one can develop a text appealing to readers on various levels.

What are the three points of the rhetorical triangle?

Ethos is directly related to the speaker and his character. Any writing which is ethos-driven focuses on the author’s reputation. Aristotle believed that the speaker’s task would become easier if the audience identified with the speaker’s credibility. The general perception being that the audience readily believes good men than others. Ethos is the result of an interpretation resulting form the interaction between the speaker and the audience. Ethos refers among other thing various aspects of the speaker relating to his charisma, expertise, height, movement, dress, eye contact, trust, sincerity, grooming and other such qualities that lend credibility to his personality.

Pathos is appeal focusing on psychological state and emotions of the audience. The basic premise here is that when we are in a pleasant mood we are easily persuaded than when we are in a hostile mood. Most advertisement writing takes recourse to pathos in their manner of expression.

Logos appeals to one’s reasoning or logical ability. Proof is provided to the listener by the substance or logic of the message. Humans basically function and make decisions on what appeals to their senses. By this reasoning the audience tries to find if the speaker’s communication is convincing. Any academic writing or official documents are often driven by logos.

What are the guidelines for using Ethos, Pathos and Logos?

It is possible to understand how others are using ethos, pathos and logos in their writing as well as to asses whether you are using them correctly in your communication by following some basic guidelines.

While dealing with ethos, it is necessary to be aware of the writer’s qualifications and make sure that he has established his authority over the subject matter. The writer should also take care to refer to a number of viewpoints and document the sources used in the text appropriately. The other things that the writer has to keep in mind are the use of an appropriate diction, tone and style in the text.

With respect to pathos, the writer should take care to include vivid details, images and examples that can satisfy the reader’s imagination and engage his emotions. Besides the writer should keep in mind the reader’s beliefs and values and make it easy for the reader to connect with the examples used in the writing.

With respect to Logos you can find out if the thesis or writing is clear and to the point. The arguments should be arranged in a well ordered sequence and supported by appropriate reasons and strong evidence.

The rhetorical triangle suggests a balance of the three elements of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. At times depending on the audience and the purpose of the text, it may be possible to tilt the favor more towards a certain element or appeal. But it’s best to achieve a balance of all the three appeals in any communication.


External References