Photograph of a gray and white cat staring intensely

Source: Pleading Eyes Series, Taekwonweirdo, Flickr

An emotional appeal, or pathos, appeals to the reader’s emotions. You might say these arguments speak to the heart.

The ASPCA commercial from the introduction is a good example. The ASPCA could use facts and statistics to make a logical appeal that their organization is worthy of our donations. Instead, they use photos and video of abused animals accompanied by the song “Angel” to touch the audience’s hearts and motivate them to donate. Everything about the commercial elicits feelings of sadness and concern for vulnerable animals. An appeal to emotions helps the author connect with the audience on an emotional level so that the audience will feel what the author feels.

Photograph of a black dog looking up at the camera with painfully sincere hope

Source: I can has cake too?, Krypto, Flickr

A photograph of a dog kissing booth at an animal shelter fund-raiser; there are two dogs in the booth window.

Source: Kissing Booth Dog Day 2007 NOLA,
Ashleigh Nushawg, Wikimedia

Descriptions and anecdotes work well when you want to influence your audience emotionally. In the example of the class fund-raiser, we determined that classmates objected to selling discount cards mainly because the car wash is a fun, bonding activity. This is an emotional objection that could be countered with an emotional appeal.

You might not be able to convince the class that selling discount cards is more fun than a car wash, but you could write a description of a cherished natural area that is suffering from pollution or an anecdote about visiting a local waterway that is endangered. The goal of an emotional appeal is not to manipulate your audience’s emotions but to simply make them identify with you, the author. Let’s look at an example.

A photograph of a beach umbrella in the sand near the edge of the waterline on a Galveston Island beach.

Source: GALVESTON.COM: Galveston Island
Beaches,, Flickr

Going to the beach for the first time is a feast for the senses. Feeling the sand between your toes, hearing the crashing of the waves, and smelling the salty sea air are experiences you will remember forever. Unfortunately, this memorable experience has become dangerous for some Texans. The City of Galveston advised the public to avoid the beach for almost 90 days last year because contaminants in the water might make beachgoers sick. That’s almost three months of beach days that were ruined by pollution. It is our duty as citizens of Texas to raise as much money as possible for Environment Texas so that all Texans can have the opportunity to sink their toes in the sand. The local discount card sale can raise far more money than a charity car wash, and we will be able to keep our beaches safe for years to come. A beach trip shouldn’t be followed by a trip to the doctor’s office.

The paragraph above describes the beach in a way that connects the reader with fond memories of beach trips and appeals to the hopes of readers who haven’t been to the beach yet. This paragraph also appeals to the audience’s sense of duty by reminding them that raising as much money as possible for a worthy cause is the primary goal of a fund-raising activity.

As you revise your persuasive essays, determine ways you can connect with your audience emotionally. You don’t want to create false emotions in your readers, however, like trying to scare them. This is not an appropriate appeal. Also, don’t try to make them believe anything that isn’t true. For example, it isn’t right to make claims like “You are the only hope to ward off the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse!” or “Flying monkeys are the greatest threat to our safety and must be stopped!”

take notes icon Now, it’s your turn. Revise the paragraph below to make an emotional appeal or connect with the reader emotionally. Copy and paste the paragraph into your notes to begin. When you are finished, check your understanding to see a possible response.

A photograph of a girl sunbathing in a park with her feet in a pond

Source: {4 of 365}, tori wright, Flickr

Schools should not change to year-round classes. Having summers off is an important way for students to recharge and enjoy being young. There will be time enough for year-round activity when they have entered the workforce.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

When I was young, I spent most of my summers with my grandmother in the small town where my father was raised. As a city kid, I was able to experience a different way of life. Grandma and I walked to the grocery store almost every day. On the way, we picked berries from patches on the side of the road, and she told me stories about her youth in an even smaller country town. If I had been required to go to school all year, I would have missed out on important bonding time with my grandmother. A person has only one childhood. Schools should not change to year-round classes.