Appeals to Ethos

Learning Objective

  • Recognize appeals to ethos

Good speakers or writers lead the audience to feel comfortable with their knowledge of a topic. The audience sees them as people worth listening to—clear or insightful thinkers, or at least people who are well informed and genuinely interested in the topic.

When you evaluate an appeal to ethos, you examine how successfully a speaker or writer establishes authority or credibility with his or her intended audience. You ask yourself what elements of the essay or speech would cause an audience to feel that the author is (or is not) trustworthy and credible.

Author’s Background

The first and most obvious marker of ethos is the author’s background. Ask yourself whether the writer’s education or experience provides credibility to speak or write about this issue. Will the audience be persuaded that this individual has authority in this area? Evaluating an appeal to ethos should not stop there, however.

Evidence and Sources

You should also consider the evidence and sources used by the author. Investigate whether the writer or speaker has cited sources or provided opportunities for the audience to access further information on the issue. Does the writer provide complete and accurate information about the issue? Does the writer use the evidence fairly? Does he or she avoid selective use of evidence or other types of manipulation of data? Fair incorporation of credible evidence from authoritative, accessible sources builds ethos.

Acknowledgment of Opposition and Complexity

Finally, consider the author’s willingness to examine the scope and depth of the issue, including arguments that may oppose the author’s position. Does the writer demonstrate familiarity with different opinions and perspectives? Does the writer speak respectfully about people who may have different opinions and perspectives? Does the writer use unbiased language? Does the writer accurately convey the positions of people with whom he or she disagrees? Does the writer avoid oversimplification? Full, even-handed treatment of topics is a marker of ethos.