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What Aristotle Can Teach Us About Persuasive Communication

What Aristotle Can Teach Us About Persuasive Communication

Persuasiveness is one of the main principles of quality content. It’s the superpower you need to turn the readers into leads. But how do you make a persuasive piece of writing? This problem was solved two thousand years ago by a Greek philosopher. Curious to learn how? Read this article to find out!

Persuasion is a fundamental skill for content marketers. Whatever goal you decide to pursue with your content – to demonstrate your expertise, to sell your product, to share your experience – you need to persuade the readers that your expertise is valid, your product can fit the needs of buyers, and your experience is worth replicating. If your content doesn’t persuade, what's the point in writing it?  

Being persuasive in writing is a hard skill to master. And most content marketers don’t do a good job at persuading or “selling” their ideas through content, except this problem was solved 2000 years ago. 

Read also: How Ace Argumentation: the Anatomy of Logic and Arguments

In his work Rhetoric, Aristotle outlined three core concepts of persuasive communication:

  • Ethos
  • Logos
  • Pathos

Let's talk about them in detail. 

Appeal to ethos

Demonstrate that you are a trustworthy source.

To be able to convince, you need to build a sense of trust between you and your readers from the very first lines. You need to establish yourself so readers who don’t know anything about you have a reason to trust you. How do you do that?

  • Use the language that is appropriate for the audience and topic
  • Introduce yourself, your expertise, and your accomplishments if that fits in the context
  • Talk about your experience whenever it's relevant
  • Include some information about how much effort you've put into this piece of content
  • Needless to say, use correct grammar and syntax

Here is an example of appealing to ethos in an article called The Transformative Business Model in Harvard Business Review: 

What, exactly, enables a business model to deliver on a technology’s potential? To answer that question, we embarked on an in-depth analysis of 40 companies that had launched new business models in a variety of industries. Some succeeded in radically altering their industries; others looked promising but ultimately did not succeed. In this article, we present the key takeaways from our research and suggest how they can help innovators transform industries.

Here the authors are talking about how much effort they've put into the research. We have every reason to trust them. And now, we’re ready to listen to their arguments.

Appeal to logos

Use logic and reason to argue for your position.

With credibility established, you can start building logical arguments to gain support for your ideas and defend your main stance. Here is what you can do to appeal to logos:

  • Cite facts and statistics
  • Use historical and literal analogies
  • Cite authorities on a subject
  • Show the causes and effects of a situation
  • Show how your claim works using examples and anecdotes
  • Repeat yourself throughout the text to reinforce your point 
  • Address counterarguments to show that you have truly considered all the evidence and that your argument still holds
  • Use social proof

Let me give you a couple of examples. 

If we needed to support an argument about gender discrimination in entrepreneurship, we could use the following statistics:

According to a report by Morgan Stanley, nearly 40% of male investors say that investing in women-owned businesses is not a priority at all, compared to only 7% of female investors.

This pretty shocking data helps persuade our readers that gender discrimination is indeed a real problem.  

Now, how do you use social proof to build an argument?

Social proof can help you appeal to a reader’s innate tendency to follow the crowd.

Here is a case in point. 

One of our Kaiiax's clients, a company that provides a solution for sourcing global tech talent, published an article called Best Turing Alternative for Hiring Pre-Vetted Global Remote Software Engineers

Turing is considered one of the best platforms for hiring software developers remotely. But in this article, we wanted to argue that Turing might not be as perfect as its website promises. To find evidence for our claim, we researched developers’ reviews of Turing and even got in touch with Turing directly to find out what a reader can expect from this platform. 

We argue, for instance, citing Turing's reply to our inquiry about hiring React Native developers, that despite the promise of a 1,5 million pool of software engineers on the platform, Turing is unable to satisfy their client's request immediately.

In another paragraph, we use a screenshot of a software developer's review to evidence that the company promises competitive salaries to all the developers they collaborate with but tends to lower the rates after a developer passes the test.

Social proof gives your readers a reason to believe your argument because it demonstrates that other people believe your supporting claims.

Now that you've established credibility and delivered some logical arguments to defend your position, you should also appeal to your audience's emotions or pathos.

Appeal to pathos

Move the reader emotionally to connect with your position.

Aristotle believed that you can't persuade people without making them feel a certain way. In other words, you need to appeal to their emotions. 

How do you evoke emotions in readers?

One way is to use power words that can trigger anger, excitement, inspiration, curiosity, fear, trust, and other positive and negative emotions.

Here is a good example of using power words to make an impact. 

At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a speech to the European Parliament, calling on the EU to stand with Ukraine as Russia continued its deadly advance. This speech has moved his English translator to the brink of tears. Here is what he said:

The European Union is going to be much stronger with us. We have proven our strength. … Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans, and then life will win over death, and light will win over darkness.

Simple words – stronger, strength, do, prove, win, life, death, light, darkness – make this speech so powerful. 

Another way to tap into people’s emotions is by using stories. Aristotle believed storytelling is the best way to transfer emotion from one person to another. 2000 years later, this claim was proved true by neuroscientists. 

When a reader’s brain sees a story, its neurons light up in the same patterns as in the storyteller’s brain. This process is called neural coupling. “Mirror neurons” make the reader feel like the story they’re reading is their own experience. When a story is well told and emotionally engaging, the brain produces oxytocin – the “love hormone.” 

Thanks to oxytocin, the reader feels a bond with your brand and comes to trust it.

Do you know that stories make up 65% of the most popular Ted talks? If you’ve ever watched Ted, you know that the most popular speakers share their personal stories. 

For example, Brené Brown starts her talk "The power of vulnerability" with a funny story about how an event planner, responsible for one of the speaking events that Brené participated in, was trying to find a proper title for Brené to write on a flyer. Tim Urban talks about how he tried to write papers at college in his talk "Inside the mind of a master procrastinator." Gill Hick's talk "I survived a terrorist attack. Here's what I learned" is based entirely on her personal story of being a survivor of the London terrorist bombings in 2005.

A personal story is the best story you can tell. It's because it's more relatable. People relate to stories and not facts, so be sure to incorporate personal experiences into your writing whenever possible.

The most effective arguments use all three appeals

To sum up, here is how to persuade by Aristotle:

  1. Demonstrate that you’re a trustworthy source
  2. Use logic and reason to argue about your position
  3. Move the reader emotionally by using power words and storytelling.

The most effective arguments appeal to the audience's emotions, logic, and ethics. When you use these appeals responsibly, your argument is convincing. But using them irresponsibly is called a logical fallacy, which you can learn more about in my video "What Is a Logical Fallacy? How to Avoid Making Bad Arguments."

Watch it instead:

If you have any questions about argumentation, or you want to see more content like this, just post a comment underneath my video on YouTube. I've got new content coming out every week so you should definitely subscribe to my channel for more useful stuff about copywriting and content marketing. 

I also have daily writing tips on Instagram, so make sure you follow me there too.

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