The difference between an informative essay and an argumentative essay is the amount of -- and focus on -- information.  An informative essay has a thesis that is readily provable, by providing information that the reader just might not know.  An argumentative essay, however, may not be literally "provable."  Think of political elections -- both of the extreme polar stances on important issues that face us as a country can be proven by "facts."  Where you stand just depends on which facts you choose to believe.

That reminds me of a line from the movie Hero.  Bernie LaPlante, a two-bit scumbag criminal, played by Dustin Hoffman, is getting ready to explain to his son how he really ended up being the hero who saved a whole plane-load of people from burning up in a plane crash.  Everyone in the world thinks the hero was another guy, a gentle, homeless Vietnam vet down on his luck, and no one would ever believe Bernie LaPlante would do such a thing because his life motto is "Don't stick your neck out."   

So Bernie begins by telling his son, "Life is crazy.  You think you know the truth, but really what it is is just bullshit.  Layer upon layer of bullshit.  You just pick what's your layer of bullshit."  In a way, argument is like identifying your own layer.

So how can you argue?  Keep in mind that "argue" here doesn't mean the kind of mindless bickering that children do.  It doesn’t mean that whoever yells the loudest wins.  Think of the word "argue" as also meaning "persuade."  Here it means making your point.

The Greeks wrote "essays" through their speeches.  Aristotle taught these three techniques for argument or persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.  Now we have commercials that use these same techniques to persuade us to buy whatever is being sold.  Commercials make good illustrations of these techniques because they are a whole argument condensed into 60 seconds.  The argument technique, then, is more obvious in commercials than it would be in your essay.


Ethos = Argument from Authority

Ethos is the word from which we get "ethics" but here it might be more accurately translated as "reputation," or "authority."  

We accept an argument by someone who should know what he's talking about.  If a doctor tells us information about our health, we tend to believe it.  Sometimes, if the person supporting the argument isn't famous, persuasion needs to first establish the authority or reputation of that person.  Commercials that put actors in lab coats are saying, "Look, this person is a scientist who knows all about whatever we're trying to sell."   

Because Dr. Jarvik invented the artificial heart, he is considered an authority on heart health, which Lipitor is supposed to help.

(*Note -- Jan. 16, 2008, a recent congressional investigation is looking into this advertising series as being misleading, since Dr. Jarvik only completed medical school and never did an internship to become a practicing medical doctor.)


Soccer star David Beckham endorses Adidas soccer shoes. 

The commercials in which a famous basketball player endorses certain basketball shoes make sense.  After all, he probably knows which shoe is better for jumping, twisting, turning, etc.  However, when the same basketball player endorses something that has little relationship to why he's famous -- something like a riding lawnmower -- then I know the advertisers are banking on name recognition and the need we have to relate somehow to our celebrities.  That's also ethos, because we want to be like our celebrities, so what they like, we'll go for!


  Kirstie Alley recommends Jenny Craig Weightloss System.  She works as ethos on several levels.  First, she's fairly famous.  People might recognize her from the work she did in Cheers and various movies.  It seems people trust the celebrities they can recognize more than they do the average person on the street.  Second, she actually knows what she's talking about.  She had gained so much weight that she starred in the movie Fat Actress.  Then she started losing weight through Jenny Craig's system.

And she no longer represents Jenny Craig because she has gained her weight back.


Ethos in text ->
Here are three examples from our composition textbook:

“When I first began writing magazine articles, I was frequently required to interview big names – people like Richard Burton, Joan Rivers, sex authority William Masters, baseball-great Dizzy Dean.  Before each interview I would get butterflies and my hands would shake” (Collier 82).  -- The topic of the essay is anxiety.  Here, Collier establishes himself as an expert in anxiety.

“Alan Greenspan, a polished practitioner of bureaucratese, once testified before a Senate committee that ‘it is a tricky problem to find the particular calibration in timing that would be appropriate to stem the acceleration in risk premiums created by falling incomes without prematurely aborting the decline in the inflation-generated risk premiums’” (Lutz 128).  -- The topic of this essay is doublespeak.  Lutz uses the well-known name of Alan Greenspan, and Greenspan's actual speech to demonstrate bureaucratese.  If you don't recognize the name, you probably aren't into the stock market, because for many, many years, Alan Greenspan was the "Fed" the news media talked about when they said, "The Fed raised interest rates . . ."

“Two years ago, a study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni showed that four out of five seniors from leading colleges and universities were unable to pass a basic high school history test” (McCullogh 206). -- The topic of this essay is learning history.  We would assume that the American Council of Trustees and Alumni isn't just a two-bit research group, but rather an authority on all things academic.

Bottom line:  An argument that uses ETHOS will be a name dropper. 
Ethos in your essay ->

How can you use authority in your essays?   One way is to show your own authority.  If it is a topic you know well, describe your credentials, so the reader will believe you when you say something about the topic.  If, however, you don't know it so well, you can use authority by doing research.  Be sure you do find real authority to prove your point.  It's best to find and use a scientists' research in the field directly (rather than taking a reporter's word that this is what the research suggests.) 


Logos = Logical argument




We tend to believe an argument if the connections are clear, if the causes are shown to clearly be causes of the results.  However, we also often accept poor logic, as long as a connection is made.  Sometimes just showing correlation makes us assume causation.  For example, you can see a correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks.  Both go up at the same time and down at the same time (in the summer when people go to the beach).  That does not mean that ice cream sales causes shark attacks.

  The familiar face of Professor Ryuta Kawashima appears on TV after we are given a quick mental alertness test and asks "Does this make your head spin?  Then get Brain Age."  Although we may recognize his face, this is not an ethos commercial.  Yes, he is a famous Japanese neuroscientist, but rather than being based on his authority (we Americans, anyway, don't know him as an authority), this ad relies on the logic that if you can't do well in the little test, you need to train your brain.  
Here's some logos in response to the drive to raise the minimum wage to a "living" wage.  The interest in raising minimum wage assumes that the people working minimum wage must make a living for themselves and family.  However, a good majority of minimum wage earners are teenagers in high school who do not have to pay for their room and board, and who do not have families they are trying to support.  A second assumption is that minimum wage earners continue earning that wage indefinitely.  My daughter, a high school dropout, got a job at McDonald's starting at over the minimum wage and within a month or two, she'd been given a raise.  This is not an unusual situation at McDonald's; it's the policy.  Even when a worker starts out at minimum wage, most companies automatically raise wages as the worker proves himself.  It would be extremely difficult to maintain a minimum wage status.  The worker would have to be doing really poor work.  Therefore, a "living" wage would not encourage people to do a good job in order to improve their position and pay like the present minimum wage does.
Logos in text ->
Three examples from the textbook:

“The point is that the new, the different, is almost by definition scary.  But each time you try something, you learn, and as the learning piles up, the world opens to you” (Collier 83).  -- Collier is explaining, using definition and consequences.

 “Legitimately used, jargon allows members of a group to communicate with each other clearly, efficiently, and quickly.  Lawyers and tax accountants speak to each other of an ‘involuntary conversion’ of property, a legal term that means the loss or destruction of property through theft, accident, or condemnation” (Lutz 127-128). -- Lutz' specific example includes a definition. 

“What’s so worrisome about the college student who doesn’t know that George Washington was the commanding American general at Yorktown is that he also, therefore, has no idea that it was Washington who commanded the Continental Army through eight long years in the struggle for independence” (McCullough 207). -- McCullough has drawn a logical conclusion (if you don't know this fairly well-known fact, you won't know the less known facts related to it.)

Bottom line:  An argument that uses LOGOS will show connections between ideas: the results, the causes, the reasons, the definitions.
Logos in your essay ->

How can you use logic in your essay?  It often takes many more words to explain and make clear logical connections.  But this is the one you probably think of when first developing your essays.  If you give reasons why you like something or why you agree -- that's logos.

Pathos = Emotional argument

Think of emotion for this technique.  The words "sympathy," "empathy," and "pathetic" come from this word.  Hitler showed that you can do just about anything with a group of people if you push their buttons and get them angry.  Usually it's a person or group of people that represents what they're angry at.  It's probably not very effective to set "life" or "fate" up as the object of anger.  Most people know they can't argue with life.  But they can argue with people who seem to have put them where they are.

Our previous president, George W. Bush, became just such a representative.  Mention Bush, and people become rabid.  I You could hear people say (mostly on talk radio) things like, "Bush is listening to your phone conversations."  And of course, Bush was doing no such thing (just as President Obama isn't listening to everyone's phone conversations!")  Even when people attributed to Bush some political action that actually did came from the White House or Congress, I seriously had my doubts that Bush did it.  What they really meant was that Bush's cabinet made these decisions, or Congress, overloaded by Republican Bush supporters at the time, made these decisions.  They say "Bush" simply because he has come to symbolize the "other side" to their own stance. 

If you want to really get people's attention, use Bush as a comparison or simile for the negative side of your argument.  And of course this was part of the strategy for Barack Obama's successful bid for the White House.

And the same thing is now happening to the Obama Administration.  When people say "Obama," they often really mean his administration.

  Think of all those starving children in Africa.  Anything that's a CAUSE, that can give us emotion-evoking images, is pathos.  When our mothers said, "There are starving children in Africa" to get us to clean up our broccoli, they were using pathos.



Here are some more pathos pictures.  What argument do they make?


Children are good for pathos.


This is apparently the typical photo that homeless shelters use to effectively raise money.  In the fund-raising business, it's called OME (for Old Man Eating).  Research has shown that although the majority of people at homeless shelters are women and children, and although people feel the children are the most important recipients, they don't respond to pictures of children as much as they do to OMEs!


  Some of the above photos have been used for advertising; some are just striking, emotion driving. 

Pathos can be used not only for negative ideas, but also positive.  The gist of this Marlboro ad is emotion evoking.  It isn't logical and it doesn't use an authority.  It creates a feeling.

  Of course, these are pictures, and as you know, a picture is worth a thousand words.  The point is when you're writing an essay, you have to write those thousand words.  More than anything, describe in graphic detail what you want to show the reader.  Make the reader cry -- or laugh or sing and dance.
Pathos in text ->
Three examples from the text:

“I am not, of course, talking about severe states of anxiety or depression, which require medical attention.  What I mean is that kind of anxiety we call stage fright, butterflies in the stomach, a case of nerves – the feelings we have at a job interview, when we’re giving a big party, when we have to make an important presentation at the office” (Collier 81).  -- This is not very strong on pathos.  To strengthen it, Collier could give much more detailed descriptions of that job interview and the feelings we have.  But really, he's not using that much pathos in his essay.  Note, however, how he begins to list the kinds of anxiety and list the examples.  Listing like this is a way of strengthening the point.

“. . . and when that happens, doublespeak accomplishes its ends.  It alters our perception of reality. . . It breeds suspicion, cynicism, distrust, and ultimately, hostility. . . even the devils in hell do not lie to one another, since the society of hell could not subsist without the truth, any more than any other society” (Lutz 130).  -- This is definitely pathos.  Using "red flag" words like suspicion, distrust, hostility, devils, hell, and lie evokes emotions in people.  In addition, Lutz gets on a soapbox.  He begins to list the evils, like a litany.  It's almost as if a writer in the throes of pathos cannot use ONE adjective; he's got to use three or four.

“History is about life – human nature and the human condition and all its trials and failings and noblest achievements” (McCullough 206).  -- Red flag words here are life, trials, failings, achievements.  Notice how many "ands" are in this sentence!  This again, is the rhythmic litany of emotion.

Bottom line:  An argument that uses PATHOS will manipulate the reader's emotions.
Pathos in your essay ->
How can you use emotion in your essay?  Choose your words carefully.  When you have a choice of thin, slim, slender, or skinny, choose the one that best fits the emotion you want to convey.  Then describe in the most graphic of details.  And by this, I don't mean necessarily in a negative way.  Use all your senses in this description:  sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound.  Allow yourself to use red flag words. 

All three methods can be used within one essay, as you might have noticed from my textbook examples above.  They are just three tools, probably the most important tools, to add to your essay-writing toolbox.


Works Cited

Collier, James Lincoln.  "Anxiety:  Challenge by Another Name."  Models for Writers.  9th ed. Eds. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  Boston:  Bedford, 2007. 80-83.

Lutz, William.  "Doubts about Doublespeak."  Models for Writers.  9th ed. Eds. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  Boston:  Bedford, 2007.  127-130.

McCullough, David.  "Why History?"  Models for Writers.  9th ed. Eds. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  Boston:  Bedford, 2007.  205-208.