Persuasive communication

A lesson from Aristotle: a message is more likely to persuade when these three components are in appropriate balance. *


The character of the person delivering the message. It’s about your reputation – what you are known for. It involves your qualifications – are you credible on this matter?; are you worth listening to?. Ethos establishes trust and confidence in your audience. This is probably an area of strength for many in business or government. However, you may need to establish your credibility if your audience has not heard of you or your organisation. Or you may need to rebuild your reputation if it has been sullied in some way.


Logic, rational argument and reasoning. Following through an argument based on established scientific principles. This is the work of the mind. Again, this is often an area of strength in written communication, particularly for those working in government.

Of course, the depth and type of logical argument will vary depending on your purpose and your audience.


Passion. The commitment you have for the subject you are presenting. Passion is the power that makes things happen. Anybody who has achieved anything really great has had a measure of passion. This is the work of the heart.

Passion is often hidden in business writing, particularly in documents by government agencies. Being objective does not mean you cannot be passionate. They are not mutually exclusive. Allowing a bit more passion in your writing will increase its power. (Some marketers, of course, could do with much less pathos and a bit more logos!)

If you have a good idea, or if you want to change the way things are done, inject some emotion. Back up your case with solid logic and rational argument. But it is passion that provides power in both the workplace and the marketplace.

No matter what message you are delivering, it’s important that it is believable, that it makes good sense and that it is attractive. But remember, it is ultimately the reader who makes these judgements, not the writer.


Analyse your information products for ethos, logos and pathos. Are they in the best balance to achieve your objectives?

* adapted from Peter Thompson, Persuading Aristotle, Allen & Unwin 1998.