Supporting a Thesis: Using Rhetorical Appeals


The purpose of a position argument is to persuade readers to adopt a viewpoint. Writers of position arguments focus on a thesis that takes a stance on a debatable issue and supports that thesis with reasoning and evidence. When writing persuasively, consider your audience and use the kinds of reasoning strategies and evidentiary appeals you believe will be convincing. In addition, use language with which your audience is most comfortable. In academic environments, academic language is generally most acceptable, although you may choose to challenge this notion for rhetorical purposes. Outside academic environments, tailor your language to connect best with your audience.

Reasoning is most effective when it is built on evidence that readers recognize as logical and practical. Suppose you want to persuade your audience that because of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, additional police should be hired to protect the building and the people who work there. You could include information about the number of police on duty that day, the number of people injured, and the amount of damage done. You then could explain how the number of police on duty was insufficient to protect the people and the Capitol.

Additionally, you identify and refute the counterclaims. An example of a counterclaim against hiring additional police officers might be that the cost is too high. Your response, then, might be that the cost could easily be shifted from another nationally funded source.

Characteristics of Position Arguments

Ethos (Ethical Appeal)

You establish credibility by showing readers that your approach to the issue is fair and that you can be trusted. One way to demonstrate fairness and trustworthiness is to use neutral language that avoids name-calling. For instance, in your paper about hiring additional police to defend the Capitol, you would avoid taking political sides and would use neutral language when describing police, workers in the Capitol, and demonstrators.

To show trustworthiness, always follow these guidelines:

  • Use only respected, reliable sources as evidence. Avoid sources that lean heavily to the political right or left or that are otherwise questionable as to accuracy. Reliable sources include scholarly, peer-reviewed articles and books, professional articles and books, and articles from magazines, newspapers, websites, and blogs. For more information about credible sources, see the chapter in Part 5 on evaluating sources.
  • Present evidence from sources in the same context in which it was originally presented. Do not change the original author’s meaning or tone. Be especially careful of such changes when paraphrasing or summarizing.
  • Cite evidence from the proper sources. Use the citation style required by your instructor, usually MLA Documentation and Format or APA Documentation and Format Proper citations direct readers to more information about your sources and show you are not plagiarizing.
  • Incorporate common ground between readers who support your position and those who do not. To do this, many authors use evidence pulled from patriotic or religious documents to create ethical appeal. For instance, regarding the activity that took place at the Capitol, both sides might find common ground in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the rights of the people. The protestors might cite the section of the amendment that deals with freedom of assembly; those on the other side might point out that the amendment guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” and make the case that the assembly was not peaceable.

Logos (Logical Appeal)

You appeal to your audience’s intelligence by showing that you understand the value of sound reasoning. To do this, state your position clearly and support it with rational arguments, critical thinking, and credible evidence. Also, avoid exaggerating or making claims you cannot support with reliable evidence. Many authors use facts and statistics to create logical appeal.

To appeal to logic, follow these guidelines:

  • State your position clearly with easy-to-understand language. For example, to appeal to readers’ intelligence in your paper about hiring additional police to defend the Capitol, avoid using vocabulary that would feel unnatural. Instead of writing, “The verbiage from the campaigners importuned the dispossession of their statesmen,” write, “The protestors demanded the resignations of their congressional representatives.”
  • Support your position with sound reasoning that is neither incomplete nor faulty. Sound reasoning is that which all can agree makes sense. For example, you would not contend that the Capitol police force must be doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 to be ready for future protests because you cannot know the number needed at any time. However, you could argue that the Capitol police force and government leaders should study the January 6, 2021, riot to determine how many additional police are needed, should such an occasion arise again.
  • Present your critical thinking through a well-constructed argument. By ordering your position argument in a manner that moves logically from one point to the next, you help guide readers through your thought process, which is reflected in the smooth flow of ideas that work together to support your thesis.
  • Incorporate credible evidence from trusted and reliable academic, government, media, and professional sources. Using these sources shows readers that you recognize biased material and have excluded it from your paper.

Pathos (Emotional Appeal)

You appeal to your audience’s feelings—such as sympathy, anger, fear, insecurity, guilt, and conscience—to support your position.

For example, to appeal to your audience’s emotions in your paper about the need for more Capitol police, you might do the following:

  • Help your readers understand feelings of fear. One way to appeal to this emotion is to quote from interviews with government workers and bystanders who were hiding behind locked doors and had no police protection.
  • Use vivid description and concrete language to recreate images that showed lone officers overwhelmed by crowds of people and beaten.
  • Use nonaggressive language to address the positions of readers who do not support your stance. For example, some readers may believe that the federal government spends too much money already and should not allocate more. By using language that is not inflammatory, you can show your empathy for others, and this may help you convince them to support your position.

Kairos (Timeliness)

The sense of timing—presenting your position at the right time—is critical in a position argument. For readers to feel a sense of urgency, the issue must be worthy of attention at the time it is presented.

For example, in an argumentative paper about the significance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, you could do the following:

  • Point out the history of the BLM movement, which began in 2013 after the acquittal of the man accused of killing Trayvon Martin (1995–2012) in 2012.
  • Note that today, most of the speeches delivered in BLM rallies held across the country reference the May 2020 murder of George Floyd (1973–2020).
  • Emphasize that Floyd’s killing remains front and center in the minds of rally participants. In other words, the topic of Floyd’s death is timely, and related circumstances indicate a favorable time for action.

Key Terms

  • Allusion: direct or implied reference to a person, place, work of literature, idea, event, or anything a writer expects readers to know about. Allusion is a frequently used literary device.
  • Citation: reference to the source of information used in a writer’s research.
  • Critical thinking: the ability to identify and solve problems by gathering information about a topic and then analyzing and evaluating evidence to form a judgment.
  • Counterclaim (dissenting opinion): statement of what the other side might say in opposition to the stance the writer takes about an issue.
  • Ethos: appeals to readers’ ethical sense, establishing authority and credibility.
  • Evidencefacts and other information that prove or disprove the validity of something written or stated.
  • Introduction: first part of a paper. In position arguments, the writer alerts readers to the issue or problem discussed and often presents the thesis at the end of the introduction.
  • Kairos: appeal to the timeliness of the subject matter.
  • Logosappeal to readers’ sense of logic or reason.
  • Pathos: appeals to readers’ emotions.
  • Purpose: author’s reason for writing the paper. In a position argument, the purpose is to persuade readers to agree with the writer’s stance.
  • Reasoning: logical and sensible explanation of a concept.
  • Recursive: movement back and forth from one part of the writing process to another.
  • Rhetorical appeals: methods of persuasion (ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos).
  • Rhetorical question: questions intended to make a point rather than to get an answer. Rhetorical questions, which often have no answers or no obvious answers, appear frequently in argument writing as a way of capturing audience attention.
  • Topic: subject of a paper.
  • Thesis: a declarative sentence (sometimes two) that states a writer’s position about the paper’s debatable issue or topic.
  • Transitional words or phrases: words and phrases that help readers connect ideas from one sentence to another or from one paragraph to another. Transitions establish relationships among ideas.


Adapted from Michelle Bachelor Robinson and Maria Jerskey’s “10.3 Glance at Genre: Thesis, Reasoning, and Evidence” of Writing Guide with Handbook, 2021, used according to  CC by 4.0. Access for free at


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