The Use of Logos, Pathos and Ethos in a Business Letter

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Whether you are composing a letter of application for a job, a letter of complaint to a company or a letter of recommendation for a colleague, you want to be effective at the art of persuasion. You can meet this challenge through the use of logos, pathos and ethos. Through these three persuasive appeals, you might be able to get your audience to see things your way and respond accordingly.

Audience and Purpose

  • Before crafting an effective business letter that incorporates logos, pathos and ethos---or logic, emotion and authority---ask yourself who your audience is and what your purpose is. Consider who will be reading your letter and how likely or unlikely it is that the recipient will be sympathetic toward you and your ideas. Be clear about what you hope to see happen as a result of your letter. You might want to change your reader's position on a particular topic or you might want action.

Logos, or Appeal to Logic

  • Appealing to logic, or logos, encompasses both your overall argument and the evidence you use to support your argument. To build an effective argument, begin with two to four primary lines of reasoning that you will discuss in the letter. If you are writing a letter to apply for a job, your two lines of reasoning could be that you have extensive experience in the field and you are a creative, proactive problem-solver. Once you have identified your primary arguments, provide supporting evidence in the form of data and testimony. Data refers to factual information, such as statistics and case studies, whereas testimony encompasses expert opinions, firsthand accounts and illustrations and examples. Logical appeals are most effective in business letters when they are based on both sound reasoning and credible supporting evidence.

Pathos, or Appeal to Emotion

  • Appealing to your recipient's emotions, or pathos, can also strengthen a business letter, particularly when you want to convince your audience of your point of view. Emotional appeals can be a powerful way to engage your audience, but the use of pathos should be appropriate to the situation and the audience. If you are writing a letter of complaint to a manufacturer with the purpose of receiving a replacement product, you should appeal to the reader's emotions in such a way that she or he can identify with your concerns. Avoid expressing emotion in such a way that your audience will feel angered or alienated. In business letters, you can make strong emotional appeals through the use of compelling supporting evidence and persuasive language.

Ethos, or Appeal to Authority

  • Appealing to authority, or ethos, begins with your own credibility or trustworthiness. In a business letter, you can appeal to authority through your overall tone as a writer. You want to convince your audience that you are respectful toward them and truthful about your subject. You can do this by using language that is fair and unbiased. You can also use examples and illustrations that show how well you know your subject and how objective you are. If you are composing a letter of recommendation for a colleague, you can appeal to authority by discussing how long you have known your colleague or by describing a project that you worked on with her or him. Taking the time to use ethos in a business letter helps to build greater trust and good will between you and your audience.

Additional Considerations

  • While logos, pathos and ethos can serve as powerful, persuasive elements in business letters, they should be used with thoughtful regard of your audience. consider and anticipate any objections your audience might have to your ideas. Once you have identified your audience's primary objections, respond to those concerns as briefly or fully as may be needed in your business letter. Make sure that the overall tone of the letter is appropriate to your audience and the occasion for the letter. A formal tone is appropriate for a letter of application or complaint, but that same tone might seem stilted and detached in a letter of recommendation.

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