Convince Your Parents To Get You That Puppy: How To Use Rhetoric To Your Advantage

Rhet·o·ric /ˈredərik/ (noun) is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, and successful use of it can allow you to persuade whoever you like.

Pradyoth Velagapudi, Managing Editor

You’ve tried everything. Constant nagging, big promises, bribery, even a Powerpoint presentation; but you still can’t get your parents to let you get a puppy. But there’s one secret method of persuasion you may not have tried yet; an art perfected by the ancients and used by big time businessmen, politicians, and celebrities to this day. This speaking technique is called rhetoric (REH- tuh-rik), and it is built upon three main concepts: logos, ethos, and pathos.

The first step of rhetoric is logos. Logos is facts, reasoning, and logical arguments. The two main types of reasoning that make up logos are inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning means that you draw facts and conclusions from similar past situations. For example, you could tell your parents that many of your neighbors’ families have reported a decrease in stress and lower blood pressure after getting a puppy, so the same effects could benefit your family as well. This argument uses specific past situations and applies them to your argument to back up your claim.

The next part of logos is deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning uses a generalization sufficiently backed by evidence, and applies it to a specific case. For example, you could argue that across the United States, puppies have been making people happier, healthier, and more responsible and that there is no reason your family can’t benefit, too. This argument starts with the generalization that puppies make people’s lives better (which is backed up by enough evidence to prove it) and applies it to the case of your family.

Logos should make up the bulk of your argument, but it can sometimes be tricky to use; there are many potholes you have to watch out for that will take away from your argument. For example, there is the so-called “slippery slope,” where you state an assumption that if A happens, then through a series of events, B, C, D, E, then eventually Z will happen. Basically, you are linking A and Z when they might not be directly related. For example, saying that if your family gets a puppy, then you will learn more responsibility, and you will do better in school; as a result, you will graduate college early and get a high-paying job to support your family, all because your family got a puppy, is not an effective argument. You are assuming most of the events, and there is no evidence to back anything up.

Another possible flaw in your logos is the “red herring.” This means that you are avoiding opposing arguments and not focusing on key issues. For example, saying that it is true that having a puppy is a big responsibility, but if you don’t get a puppy, it won’t be able to find a home, is not a very good argument. The responsibility of having a puppy has nothing to do with puppies finding homes, and you are clearly just trying to dodge your parents’ questions about whether or not you can properly care for a puppy. Instead, prepare beforehand for any questions your parents might ask, so you can answer them confidently when needed.

The next step of rhetoric is ethos. Ethos is building your credibility, making yourself look like someone who can be trusted. Well-formed, logical arguments are a big part of this; if you have bad evidence, or if you fall into one of the logos potholes, your credibility will be damaged and your audience won’t want to believe you. A good way to boost your credibility is to cite your sources for your evidence, and make sure they are reliable sources, such as .edu websites. You could also collect some evidence on your own by taking surveys or using primary sources. Speaking loudly and answering questions confidently also goes a long way. Confidently stating that you are prepared to care for a puppy because you have volunteered at the animal shelter since elementary school is much more powerful than whining, “I can do it! Please?”

The last step of rhetoric is pathos. Pathos is the emotional appeal, or using your audience’s sentiments, values, or needs. This should only be a small part of your argument, just enough to make your audience see that there is more to your argument than cold facts and statistics. However, this is where many people trip up, because this doesn’t mean that you should use pathos in place of logos. For example, saying that a puppy will instantly brighten up the household and delight the entire family is good, but you need evidence to back it up. Don’t just make assumptions, or you’ll undermine your ethos.

So there you have it; all of the techniques you need to convince your parents to finally let you get a puppy. However, rhetoric has many other applications and uses as well. Do your research, and you can use rhetoric to convince almost anyone to do almost anything! Being able to effectively use rhetoric is a great skill to have to use to your advantage, and to realize when the same techniques are being used on you.