Appeals: Emotional and Ethical

Paper 1 – Appeals: Emotional and Ethical

                 Primary methods of organization: narration and description



Stories are often very effective at getting people to pay attention.  In class, in church, in a business meeting, often our attention will drift away when the speaker veers into abstraction, but when the speaker begins to tell a story, we are riveted.  The reason is that stories about human beings are rooted in the concrete.  They are about human lives.  If the stories are successful, they are, in effect, about our lives.  They allow us to see an abstract issue in human terms.  They often allow us to empathize with the speaker, to understand why he or she feels so passionately about an issue.


Assignment:  Think about some experience you once had that persuaded you to see some issue differently than you previously had seen it. The lesson learned or insight gained should be something that applies to others as well.  For example, a tragic accident involving a drunk driver may serve as a dramatic reminder for all of us never to drink and drive.  Or, perhaps experiences with an unruly puppy led you to understand the value of enrolling your pet in an obedience class, a lesson that applies to all owners of new puppies. Regardless, use a well-described story to persuade an audience to reach the same conclusion that you reached.  In telling your story, use the emotional and ethical appeals, and the narrative and descriptive methods of development.  Min. length: 3 pages



The emotional appeal (pathos) – The primary appeal of this story will be the emotional appeal, the appeal to the heart.  You want to tap into the reader’s emotions, to allow the reader to feel an emotional connection between his or her own life and the story told.  These emotions can take many forms.  The goal is to allow your reader to sympathize or empathize.  Your story may appeal to negative emotions, like fear or anger directed toward a drunken driver.  Or, your story might appeal to positive emotions, like a desire for companionship from well-behaved puppy.  Your paper may also appeal to both positive and negative emotions.


The tricky thing about emotional appeals is that it can be hard to gauge how much emotion will work in a given argument.  For example, an overdone emotional appeal can turn into a scare tactic.  On the one hand, for example, a dramatic appeal to fear and outrage in a tragic story about drunken driving would be legitimate.  But let’s say the writer is trying to urge readers to go to college.  The story tells about a man who opts not to. He ends up in one dead-end job after another – so far so good.  His wife, tired of the struggle, divorces him — still believable.  Then, the man finds himself homeless, becomes a petty thief just to survive, ends up getting caught one night, gets shot in the leg, develops gangrene while in prison, loses his leg, gets out of jail and ends up dying at age 30, one cold, unforgiving night on the street. The consequences of not getting a college education can be harsh, but they’re not usually that harsh.  Even if such a person did exist, one could argue that other factors led to his miserable life besides the lack of a college degree.  After a while, the intelligent reader understands that the argument is nothing but a cheap scare tactic.



The appeal to character and credibility  (ethos) – This appeal, also known as the ethical appeal, is about presenting yourself a credible, wise, trustworthy and even likeable.  There are many ways to gain the trust of a reader, but for this paper, the key will be addressing a subject that you know well because you have experienced it.  Also, another way to gain credibility is to be honest about your thoughts, fears and hopes. It’s okay, and often advantageous, to present yourself as human — someone the reader can relate to.  (After all, who really wants to be in the company of little Mr. or Mrs. Perfect?).  Again, an exaggerated story is not honest, and the writer who exaggerates will lose the trust of his or her reader.   In addition, although there is sometimes a legitimate use of strong language, in general, try to avoid language that is overly hostile.  Such hostility can alienate the reader. If humor is appropriate for your topic, you can also win over the reader with your sense of humor .


Choosing Your Topic –   Picking a topic that you know well, from experience, is key.  If the central incident in the narrative happened to you personally, you should be able to relate the story in clear, concrete terms so that the reader can picture what happened. You should also be able to dramatize your thoughts and feelings regarding what happened.  Sometimes, though, if the emotions involved are very recent and raw, you might have trouble communicating on paper and you might want to avoid such a topic.  However, some people also find that kind of experience to be therapeutic.  If the central incident happened to someone other than you – say, a car accident involving your friend —  you can succeed in this case also, but the task becomes more difficult.  To keep the story compelling and honest, you must tell the story as you experienced it, not as your friend experienced it.  You might first talk about the phone call you received from a friend telling you about the accident. You can relate what was said, how it was said and how you felt.  Then you can describe racing over to the hospital. Then you can describe what you see, hear, and smell as you enter the hospital room and your feelings as you see your friend lying in the hospital bed.


Keep in mind too that the topic is not one that has to be dreadfully serious.  For example, an argument about enrolling your puppy in obedience class could be a very funny paper about outrageous puppy antics (see “The ‘F Word’” as an example of a humorous essay)


The Claim — The claim is your thesis statement.  You have two basic choices with this paper: stating your claim outright, or merely implying your thesis.


Stating your claim outright: If you state your claim outright, you can do so in a traditional introduction — a broad opening with a gradually sharpening focus. The last sentence of the introduction will be your thesis statement.  The other option is to begin with the story.  Tell your story in its entirety.  After the story, state your claim.  This option is more difficult to pull off, as you need to make sure the story is compelling enough so that the reader does not become lost.  Regardless, make sure your thesis connects to your story. Also, make sure it is properly qualified.  For example, instead of saying that everyone should enroll in college, you might instead argue that most students should enroll in college immediately following high school graduation.



Implying your thesis: This is the most difficult method.  Here, your entire paper will be a story. The details of the story should allow the reader to understand the point you are making.  For example, a paper on the dangers of drinking and driving could tell a tragic story of someone who died in such an accident.  If the story is well-told, the reader will be persuaded not to endanger himself or herself, or others, by drinking and driving.  A directly stated claim may not be necessary. The implied thesis, indeed, often works better than the stated thesis in stories, such as one about drunken driving, that are very dramatic.


Tips for narration and description: 


  1. Your story should have a plot. The basic elements of plot are background, rising action, climax, and resolution.  Of those parts, the climax is the most important.  This is the part you want to draw out.


  1. In an effective story, the writer shows rather than tells. Use concrete details, details that appeal to the senses. If you are describing a car accident, don’t just tell the reader that you were scared.  Show what happened — the screeching of tires, the crunching of metal, the screaming from your passenger, the pounding of your heart, the sweating of your hands, the flashing of your mother’s face before your eyes.  Use dialogue (exact speech, enclosed in quotation marks), if appropriate, to appeal to the sense of sound.  Remember that the paragraphing rules are different with dialogue – each time the speaker changes, you make a new paragraph.


  1. Climb inside your head and reveal thoughts and feelings. Here is where you have the opportunity to be honest. These internal details are especially important in the climax.


  1. The more narrow in time the story, the easier it will be to tell. In general, try to limit the story to a day or less. You can cover a larger period of time, but the task will become more difficult.  In a narrative that covers a large period of time, you should relate several key incidents that led to your conclusion.  The difficulty is that you will still need to keep the stories concrete and specific, but you will have to make tough decisions about what material must be left out.


  1. Make good use of paragraphs. Change paragraphs whenever there is a shift in time, location, mood, event, etc. If your paragraphs are too long, your reader can become overwhelmed in the text.  Although there are no absolute rules, in general, a paragraph that goes beyond a half a page is pushing the limit.  Paragraphs shorter than five sentences generally don’t have much to say.  Again, though, there are always exceptions to these rules.  For example, sometimes a one-sentence paragraph can have a dramatic effect.  Keep in mind that in this paper, you are moving beyond the basic four paragraph essay. In this essay, the number of paragraphs will be determined by the story itself.


  1. Use transitions to move your story along. For a narrative, these transitions are time markers such as “after that,” “later that day,” “half an hour later,” “soon,” “next,” “suddenly” etc.


Suggestions for topics:

Don’t drink and drive

Don’t take up smoking; quit smoking; change a law regarding smoking

Don’t drive recklessly.

The importance of driving defensively

Don’t abuse alcohol.

Don’t take drugs

Be careful with prescription drugs

Childproofing your home

Making an escape route in case of fire

Having a fire-extinguisher in the home

Preparing for a storm

Getting (or not) a tattoo

Getting (or not) a piercing

Taking your puppy to obedience class

Taking up skiing, yoga, music, or some other activity

Participating in an extracurricular activity in school

Taking a trip to __________________

Confronting fears

Taking depression seriously

Taking eating disorders seriously

Working (or not working) while in high school

Not driving/texting while talking on a cell phone

Legalizing medical marijuana

Doctor-assisted suicide

Taking medication (or not) for ADHD (or some other condition)


Paper 1, first submission, is due____________________

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