Strengthening the pillars—Ethos, or “a reason to believe”

A while back, I introduced you to (or reminded you about) the pillars of effective communication: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.

(Here’s a quick refresher: ethos is your credibility, logos is the evidence and logic you use, and pathos is the emotional appeals you use.)

So how do you strengthen your ethos, that is, your credibility as a source? You have no direct control over what your audience believes about you (the Wikipedia article on ethos puts it like this: “In a sense, ethos does not belong to the speaker [or writer] but to the audience.” But can you influence those beliefs?

Why yes. Yes you can.

You can do a few things that will give your audience reasons to believe that you are believable.

First off, you can demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about. If you show your audience that you are competent to discuss a topic—for example, by letting them know your credentials and experience, by writing (or speaking) with authority, and by giving them the opportunity to check your sources and verify your work—you will gain credibility in their eyes.

Another way to build credibility is to build a connection with your readers, showing that you are like them, that you understand them and their concerns. “As a fellow writer, I understand what it’s like to face a blank page with an equally blank mind” is a statement that says to the reader “I’m like you; I struggle with writer’s block just like you do.” Connections like that make the audience more inclined to view you as credible.

As you build your ethos, your credibility, keep in mind that it is fragile. In Poor Richard’s Almanack, Ben Franklin wrote that “Glass, China, and Reputation, are easily crack’d, and never well mended.” Once you do something that undermines your audience’s trust, you will find it hard to gain it back again.

Don’t count on your readers (or listeners) to be like the narrator in Tim Hardin’s song “Reason to Believe:”

If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true

Do everything you can to give your audience reasons to believe.

This entry was posted in Growing as a writer, Rhetorical devices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Strengthening the pillars—Ethos, or “a reason to believe”

  1. Pingback: A little more on ethos-building: rhetorical devices that can make your writing more credible | Writing, Clear and Simple

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