Persuasion Techniques Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 19, 2011


The most frequently seen of Aristotle's three persuasion techniques is pathos, or emotional influence. For example, using scare tactics is common.

Scare Tactics

Here's an example of scare tactics: Linda receives a phone call from a stranger, asking if she knows if her local emergency response units are prepared to handle a terrorist attack. He describes the aftermath of a bombing, with all of its destruction and bloodshed, and tells her that her local medical community, fire-fighters, and law enforcement aren't ready to respond adequately. He goes on to describe the chaos that would ensue due to the inadequate response. Then, he asks for a donation to a national organization that he says can provide funding for local emergency response units. Linda is so frightened by the phone call that she gives the caller her credit card number, authorizing him to charge a $50 donation to the organization he represents. The caller persuaded her to give money to a group she never heard of, and which actually might not exist, because he successfully used scare tactics.

If you ever feel afraid after hearing someone speak, watching a TV ad, reading something, or browsing the Internet, put aside your emotions and think logically. Did the material aim at getting this emotional response from you? Did the speaker or writer mean to scare you in order to persuade you to do/buy/think something?


Evoking pity is another example of the pathos technique. Someone tries to make others feel sorry for him or her, hoping they'll do something, give money, or think a certain way out of pity. Some examples are TV and magazine ads that show hungry children surrounded by flies, panhandlers who tell passersby that they haven't eaten in days, and holiday news stories about poor families with no money to buy gifts for their children.


Flattery, another form of pathos, makes people feel good about themselves, by complimenting their intelligence, good taste, or some other characteristic. This form of persuasion is important when trying to make a personal connection, so advertisers use it often. For example, "Because you're smart, you care about your health." The listener or reader is supposed to agree that, "Yes, I'm smart, so I care about my health." Then this smart person is expected to believe that a certain brand of food or over-the-counter drugs is what all smart, healthy people should buy.


Look closely at people's word choices as they try to influence your thinking. Do advertisers say you'll look "slim" or "skinny" in their clothes? Do TV reporters refer to a car crash as an "accident" or a "disaster"? Has there been an "incident" or a "threat"?

Persuasion and the Written Word

Writers use many tactics to persuade their readers. Known as rhetorical devices, these techniques subtly show the reader that the writer's point of view should be theirs, too. Here are six of the most common such devices, with definitions and examples.

  1. Rhetorical question: implies that the answer is so obvious that there is no answer required. It persuades without making an argument.
  2. Example: Can we really expect our teachers to maintain a high standard of professionalism when we won't pay them a fair wage?

  3. The Rule of Three: based on the theory that people remember things when they are listed in threes, it can be used to repeat the same thing exactly, the same idea said three different ways, or three items that belong together.
  4. Examples: "Stop, look, and listen"; "The most important factor in selling real estate is location, location, location"; "Is your car old? rusting? ready to be replaced?"

  5. Emotional language: uses adjectives to get the reader to feel a certain way.
  6. Example: Management won't stop these cutbacks until all our children go hungry. Then they will close the plant and leave us unemployed and out on the street.

  7. Hyperbole: the use of exaggeration for extravagant effect; often humorous.
  8. Example: The lines in my bank are so slow. Only the tellers who fail their training get jobs there.

  9. Sound patterns: meant to get the reader's attention and cause him or her to remember content better; some of a number of different patterns are: rhyming, alliteration (repeating the same sound at the beginning of words), consonance (repeating the same consonant sound), and assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds).
  10. Examples: sweet smell of success; dime a dozen; plain Jane

  11. Comparisons: show a relationship between two unlike items by metaphor (uses verb "to be"), simile (uses "like" or "as"), or personification (gives human qualities to animals or objects).
  12. Examples: His eyes are searchlights, looking for any sign of recognition; She's as quiet as a mouse; The Moon smiled down as we walked away.

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