Ethics

No matter how solid your reasoning, readers may not accept your argument unless they're also convinced that you're a person of wisdom, honesty, and good will. If you misrepresent the evidence, misunderstand the implications of your own value structure, or seek to hurt some individual or group, you can expect to alienate your readers.

The appeal to character is often subtle, affecting readers almost unconsciously, yet often decisively.

If you misrepresent the evidence, misunderstand the implications of your own value structure, or seek to hurt some individual or group, you can expect to alienate your readers.

"Ah, I see. This writer pretends to be a friend of Mexican-Americans, but her word choice shows that she understands almost nothing of our culture. And her proposal would undermine our whole way of life. Of course, she'd get to build her apartments, and it's obvious that's all she really cares about."

If you realize that readers are likely to analyze your character and intentions this way, you'll see that the best way to put ethical appeal in your writing is to build a strong, healthy relationship with your readers. Convince them that they can trust you to be fair, honest, well-informed, and wellintentioned. Then, having established that trust, don't betray it.

Activity

8.8 Letting 10 represent the highest and 1 the lowest, rate the following public figures for their appeal to character. Of course, you'll be considering more than just writing, but the activity should still give you some insight into what ethos is and how it affects credibility. When you've finished, compare your ratings with those of a partner. Discuss the reasons for your scoring.

a. Abraham Lincoln

b. Adolf Hitler

c. Oprah Winfrey

d. Mel Gibson

e. William J. Clinton

f. Bill Gates

g. Andy Rooney

h. Jay Leno

i. Brittney Spears

j. George W. Bush