How to Correctly Use Emotional Appeals

Good writing not only appeals to the mind, but also the heart. After all, one of the three forms of persuasion is pathos (defined by Merriam Webster as an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion). Writers may use pathos to provoke sympathy from their audience, often emotions such as pity, nostalgia, or even anger. Unfortunately, emotional appeals can also be a form of logic fallacy if the appeal to emotions supersedes a sound logical argument. How do you as a writer navigate emotional appeals and use them to your advantage? 

Understand what goes into a good emotional appeal

The best emotional appeals will resonate with your values and illustrate ideas with compelling stories and examples from both sides of the argument. One way to make sure that your emotional appeals are fair is to build credibility in your writing. You can do this by addressing the opposing side fairly and quoting credible sources that also handle the material fairly. Another way you can build credibility is to identify your purpose and context before laying out your argument. View your audience as a panel of jurors and envision what would be necessarily to overcome their skepticism fairly and honestly. You will need to support your claims with specific evidence and use strong examples and illustrations to flesh out your persuasive arguments.

Identifying incorrect emotional appeal

How can you tell if your emotional appeals are not credible? Even better, how can you as a reader identify non-credible appeals (a necessary skill if you are working from multiple sources)? One way is to look for common fallacies that crop up in this type of writing, such as the straw man fallacy. A straw man fallacy is when a writer oversimplifies or distorts the opposing viewpoint. Loaded terminology, red herrings, and appeal to consequences are other fallacies you may find in faulty emotional appeals. 

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