Job Interview: 10 Minute Introduction to Ethos


When you think of argument, do you think of two people yelling?

(Maybe do some kind of visual/movement of argument.)

The kind of argument we’ll be talking about in class, though, is a plan of persuasion. How are you going to convince people to listen to you? What can you use? How do you use it?

When we are trying to persuade someone we make appeals. These are what we are calling on to get people to listen. There are three kinds of appeals.

There is ethos. This is an appeal to credibility. This is when the author shows how believable they are.

In advertising, ethos is used with celebrity endorsements. When the match between the celebrity and the product is good, when the believability is there, the celebrity endorsement is useful. Most people believe that Michael Jordan loves Nikes. But when the celebrity doesn’t match the product, the advertisement fails because the celebrity isn’t credible. The Olsen Twins were contracted for the “Got Milk” commercials. Then one of them went into rehab for health related issues, including an eating disorder. The loss of credibility was sufficient that the company pulled the Olsen “Got Milk” ads.

Let’s talk about ethos on a more personal level.

If you and your buddy are having a disagreement over whether the possessive for of it is i-t-s or i-t-‘-s and you come ask me, whatever I answer, right or wrong, you will accept. Dr. Davis is the English teacher, don’t you know? She does grammar. Unless something else happens to make you think I don’t know grammar after all, you are going to listen to me. You are “appealing” to my “credibility” as an instructor who knows grammar.

That’s ethos.

Now, I’m not from around here. If someone asks me what the best place to get something to eat and I answer, the questioner might not listen to me as much. I don’t have credibility on where is the best place to eat because I don’t really know. I haven’t eaten around here a lot.

Even if you ask me where the best place to eat is around my house, I might not have credibility for you. If you love spicy food and you know I like bland food and you ask me for a recommendation of a Mexican restaurant, you can pretty much count on the fact that it will be a restaurant that doesn’t do spicy and that you won’t like it. Even though I live around my house and have eaten at most of the Mexican food restaurants around there, if our tastes are very different, I still might not have credibility.

So that is what credibility is. It’s the amount of believability someone has on a particular topic.

Someone can be very credible on one topic and not have a lot of ethos in another area. For example, I know a lot about grammar. I know a lot about writing in general. And I know a lot about literature. If you ask me a question on a type of music, I may have an opinion. I may even know something. But I’m not a terribly credible person on music because I am just not that interested or involved with music. You might be. I’ve had lots of students who were singers, songwriters, and composers. Some even had their own bands. They were definitely more credible on just about any issue having to do with music than I am. They know music and I don’t.

How do you show you have credibility? Because people don’t listen to people they don’t think are credible. And if they aren’t listening to you, you are not going to be able to persuade them to agree with you on any topic.

In this class, you are writing. How do you show credibility in writing?

Credibility is foundational for building a good paper. If you aren’t believable, it doesn’t matter how good your information is. So you need to have established a strong ethos in order to encourage the reader to believe your side of the argument.

One basic way is to put your name on your paper. That says that you are willing to own your work.

Another way is to follow the directions for length and type of paper, as well as format. That says you were listening to directions.

brickOkay, those are not big issues of credibility, but think of it as a brick. You are building credibility within your paper. Maybe, going with my metaphor of foundational, we’re building the brick floor to the building with ethos. The other two appeals will be walls and details.

Could I use legos here? Or a brick?

Another brick for your foundational credibility would be having the paper look nice. If you turn in a paper that was stuffed down in your backpack and got all wrinkled, that paper says, “I didn’t care about this assignment.” That takes away some of your credibility.

If the essay is an out-of-class paper, use the computer. Studies have shown that neatness counts. In fact, it can make as much as a twenty percent difference in the grade. Your handwriting, no matter how beautiful, will never be as neat and uniform as typing. So type it.

Another way to make your paper credible is to spell check it. If you are using a computer and you don’t spell check, that says that you didn’t care about the paper. So make sure you check your spelling.

Grammar checking doesn’t work very well yet. I used to teach high school and I put one hundred sentences into MS Word. Every single one had a grammar error. It caught one of them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use grammar check. You should. But you can’t rely on it to get the grammar right. That means that, to be credible, you need to check your own grammar.

target-robin-hoodOne way to police your grammar is to keep a running list of your grammar errors. If you get a comma splice error on a paper, write down comma splice. Then next time you write a paper, make sure you check that no commas are inserted between two independent clauses. If you could make both halves of the sentence a sentence, then do that. Or use a semi-colon. But use the notations I make on your paper to learn.

Now, you might make a lot of grammar errors. Can you fix all of them? people-working-on-paperNo. What you can do is keep a running list of how many you make and what kinds. Then as you write your next paper, choose the top three errors that you made on the last one and make sure you don’t make them on this paper. Go over it yourself. Get someone who does well at English to go over it. Find someone else to go over it too. The more eyes you get looking at your paper, the more likely it is to look right when you turn it in.

And a paper with minimal grammar errors is more credible than a paper that is riddled with grammar errors.

If you know a lot about a subject beforehand, you can put that information into the paper. Maybe you can include the information in the introduction. I had a student who loved a particular musician. She knew everything about that artist that related to his biography or his music. She knew which songs he composed, which he co-wrote, which he thought were good, and which ones he thought were done poorly. If she were writing a paper on this guy, she would be considered an expert. She would be credible–IF the reader knew that his life is her particular hobby, that she operates a MySpace page dedicated to him, and that she has a copy of every article any US newspaper ever put on their website about him. If you don’t know that, when you start reading her paper, you are not going to think she is credible, unless she tells you.

So what do you do if you have to write a paper on a topic you aren’t an expert in? How do you show credibility then? How do you create an ethical appeal?

If you are not an expert, then you use the experts.

You find sources who know what they are talking about. You find the articles all the other articles on the topic refer to. You find the people who are the experts in the field and you use their information, properly identified, to build your paper. That makes your information credible, even if you don’t have any personal credibility. You use the ethos of the experts to give your own paper a strong ethical appeal.

This is an issue even for college teachers. If I write a paper, to be published in a journal somewhere, the editors are going to look at my works cited first. Are my citations recent? Are the important authors for my field used in it? Do I cover the most important works on that topic?

So when I write and submit a paper for my job, the list of sources makes a difference. It makes a difference when you write and submit a paper too.

As we go through this unit we’ll be talking about what kinds of sources have more credibility. We’ll be looking at age, authority, documentation, and types of sources. Ethos is important not just for you and for me, but also for the sources you use. If they aren’t credible, then you shouldn’t be using them.

Now, if you cite a source because it is an important work, you also need to use that source in your paper. I had a student once who decided to look up the really good sources. They were very credible. But, unfortunately, the sources he found didn’t talk about what he wanted to talk about. So, he left the documentation for the sources at the end of his paper BUT he used other sources in the paper itself.

If I had just looked at his works cited, I might have thought he did a great job understanding ethos. But when I saw that he knew what the good sources were but decided not to use them, that actually took away from his credibility even more than it would have if he had simply cited popular sources rather than academic ones.

So, you need to know what the good sources are AND use them to be credible.

Another way to establish credibility is to use the sources correctly. If you say a source says something, it better say it. If it doesn’t, you will lose credibility. One time I misread a source. It was exactly what I needed, if my misreading had been correct, and I spent a couple of days drafting other information into an argument to support the source. When I went to type the exact quote into my paper, however, I found that what I thought it said was not what it did say. All that work had to be thrown out because the starting point, the misread quote, wasn’t useful to support my argument.

Sometimes people have something they want to say and they can’t find someone in authority who says it, so they make it up. Have you ever seen that happen in the news? Someone says something and everyone quotes it and then you find a few days later it wasn’t true. The first person just made it up. Doing things like that takes away from your credibility, if you are the speaker, and if you are quoting the speaker. If the information is accurate, a quoter ought to be able to show that it is accurate from more than a single source.

If one lie, one untruth, one incorrect citation, shows up in your paper, you lose credibility. It makes the reader, in this case usually me, doubt the entire paper. That makes the paper weaker, because the ethical appeal that should be holding the paper up is weak.

How Long?

I had thought I would go through all the appeals this way, but I am not going to have time to do them all like this. So, should I shorten the ethical appeal and give a short one of all of them? Or should I make this ten minutes all about the ethical appeal?

An example of an ethical appeal.

I got this idea from Dr. Clark. I saw him give a presentation at PCA over the idea. So, you should go to conferences and take notes. They are very useful.

I can’t find the clip I was really interested in for either movie, but I think this clip shows that the character does not have the ability to make an ethical appeal. He doesn’t have a strong ethos.

Here’s a clip of all the abuse he ends up dealing with as a result of his limited ethical appeal.

An appeal to pathos

An example of an appeal to authority.

(Are those [ethos and authority] different? Definitely, but they are related. How do I differentiate between them?)

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