Emotional Arguments in Essays

Every audience or potential reader is different. Because people have many different perspectives, specific approaches are sometimes required in order to persuade them of something. Not everyone would be persuaded, for example, that meat farming practices are inhumane by statistics or facts alone, but many would be emotionally moved to reconsider their stance after hearing details of the conditions under which animals are processed. This is called an emotional appeal or an emotional argument.

Emotional Arguments in Essays Emotional Arguments in Essays

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Table of contents

    What Is an Emotional Argument?

    An emotional argument is an argument that appeals to the audience or reader's emotions in an attempt to persuade them of something. Human emotions are extremely influential; using the reader's emotions to convince them that your claim or stance is the right one is an effective argumentative strategy and a useful tool in your argumentative essays.

    There are two types of emotions that can influence a person:

    • Positive emotions, such as happiness, hope, courage, compassion, affection, trust, and gratitude.
    • Negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, resentment, hate, fear, shame, jealousy, and pity.

    Emotional Arguments in Essays Range of Emotions on Eggs StudySmarterFig. 1 - Humans have a wide range of emotions.

    Use of positive emotion in arguments:

    Instead of saying, "Distance makes the heart grow fonder," you could describe in detail a soldier returning to her family after being deployed for a long period of time.

    Use of negative emotion in arguments:

    Instead of saying, "It's important to consider gun safety in your home," you could share a statistic of how many preventable child deaths occurred in the previous years due to a lack of gun safety at home.

    Both of the above examples pull the reader into the discussion via their emotional response to the subject.

    Abuse of Emotional Arguments

    Because an emotional argument uses the reader's emotions, instead of, say, their intellect, to influence their understanding of something, it is often the least respected argumentative strategy to use in essays and other academic writing.

    That is not to say, however, that it shouldn't be used in persuasive or argumentative essays (or other instances of presenting arguments in academic writing). Emotional arguments are an extremely effective tool in an argumentative context and simply need to be used with wisdom.

    Humans are emotional beings, and research shows that emotions can even alter one's ability to think critically and make decisions. Because of this, emotional arguments can easily be misused.

    Emotional thinking can be less-than-rational at best and dangerously single-minded at worst. When an argument becomes too emotionally charged, it can be difficult for anyone to see anything but their own perspective. What's more, if someone is only engaged in emotional thinking, they can be drastically misled.

    If you want your argument or argumentative essay to be taken seriously academically, you must use emotional arguments in combination with other modes of argument that will also appeal to the higher thinking of your reader.

    Three Modes Of Persuasion

    The Greek philosopher Aristotle understood the power of rhetoric and the different ways to successfully express an idea. He explained that there are three modes of persuasion that may be used together or separately in writing to form an argument:

    • Pathos (focus on emotions).
    • Ethos (focus on the credibility of the writer).
    • Logos (focus on logic).

    Whether people realize it or not, everyone uses a form of one or all of these methods of persuasion when they're presenting an argument. A thorough understanding of each can be helpful in recognizing the best approach to take to convince your reader.


    To use pathos, you must be prepared to use the reader's emotions to make your point. A person's emotions could be stirred by beauty, frustration, or any other number of things. It's up to you to decide what strategy will work best for the audience you are addressing.

    Pathos is effective because it puts a "face" on an issue or subject and makes it relatable to the reader on a personal level. In this argumentative strategy, your focus should be on the reader and how they might feel about the topic.

    To use pathos to your advantage, you can try using strong language, specific stories, and vivid imagery as a way to work emotional appeals into argumentative essays.


    To use ethos, you as the writer must establish your credibility. Why? Because this gives your reader confidence that you are a trustworthy source in the discussion at hand.

    Once your reader decides they trust your perspective, they are much more likely to accept your claim as true. On the other hand, if you do not do a good job of making yourself seem reliable, then your audience is likely to disregard anything you say. An ethos argument puts the focus on the writer and his or her authority on the subject.

    Use ethos by alluding to your credentials (where applicable), only using reputable sources, and considering all sides of an argument rather than being overly focused on your own side.


    The last of Aristotle's strategies is logos, which centers on the argument itself. The phrase, "The facts speak for themselves," is perhaps the best way of summing up this method of persuasion. Using logos, the writer should make connections between the facts and ideas involved, bringing the audience to see the logic of the argument in their writing.

    Include statistics and evidence from experts, and remember to walk your audience through the logic of your argument, so they will understand how you came to your conclusion.

    Emotional Arguments in Essays Aristotle StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 - The Greek philosopher Aristotle understood the power of


    Cognition and Emotion Arguments: Is There a Difference?

    The difference between an appeal to pathos and an appeal to either logos or ethos is marked by whether the audience is reacting with their emotions or their cognitive faculties (intellect).

    An argument that uses ethos and/or logos requires the audience to consider the topic using their intellect or one of their four cognitive faculties, which are:

    • Memory.
    • Sense.
    • Imagination.
    • Understanding.

    On the other hand, an emotional argument causes the reader to respond with emotions that may be in opposition to their intellect. As previously discussed, emotions can be responsible for altering the way people's brains operate in relation to reasoning and problem-solving. Consider the task of taking an intense exam, say, your driver's license exam, mere moments after a heated argument with a parent or loved one. Your emotions would be elevated, and it's likely you'd perform at a lower level than if you hadn't been in an argument.

    Using Emotional Arguments

    Consider the best (and worst) scenarios to use an emotional argument.

    When to Use an Emotional Argument

    Emotional appeals are best used in persuasive writing, such as an argumentative essay. In an argumentative essay, you'll be asked to convince your reader of your position on a topic, and while you'll want to use elements of logos and ethos in your argument, you might also consider an emotional appeal in order to make the subject feel personal to the reader.

    The best time to use an emotional appeal is when you want to make your reader understand why/ how the topic is relevant to them. You can use tons of logic and share endless statistics, but if your reader doesn't feel somewhat invested in the subject, then you're unlikely to get them to share your stance.

    When NOT to Use an Emotional Argument

    Just as important as knowing when to use an emotional appeal is knowing when not to use one. Building an argument around emotional appeal can certainly backfire if you use it in the wrong context.

    It is inappropriate to use an emotional argument in situations where the extremes of the conversation are polarized, as you are likely to offend about half of the audience. An example of this is writing about politics, as people tend to become closed-minded to opposing viewpoints due to their allegiance to their "side." Presenting an emotional argument from an opposing perspective is unlikely to succeed in this scenario because people can become too entrenched in their own camp to be open to other perspectives. Your emotional appeal would likely backfire in this emotionally charged conversation.

    Also, avoid emotional appeals in conversations where the audience might feel threatened or emotionally exhausted. An example of this might be writing about genocide or war in a country where these are ongoing issues.

    How to Avoid Emotional Arguments

    If you believe the topic of your argumentative essay is inappropriate for an emotional appeal, you can avoid it by staying focused on concrete evidence. Keep your language simple and descriptive. Try not to stray away on emotional tangents, and keep your discussion to the facts involved.

    Crafting Emotional Appeal in Argumentative Essays

    If, however, you believe an emotional appeal is right for your argumentative essay, consider these writing tips before you start writing your essay.

    • Understand commonly held emotions: You must be in tune with the emotions surrounding the subject of your argument, or you risk making an insensitive argument.
    • Use sound judgment: Use your judgment to know how your audience might feel about the topic of your argument and whether making an emotional appeal is appropriate.

    Emotional Appeal Techniques

    After taking the above precautions, you can begin to create your argument using some or all of these techniques:

    Shared experiences

    Shared experiences are things that nearly everyone – or at least everyone of a certain group can relate to, so you know your reader is likely to feel the emotion you're trying to access.

    The feelings of fear or uncertainty due to a global pandemic.

    Vivid details and imagery

    Find words and phrases that appeal to the five senses of your reader and help them picture your meaning in their mind.

    Arguing for more fire safety awareness with a vivid description of a smoking and smoldering landscape after a forest fire.


    Telling a story creates an emotional attachment between the reader and your writing, allowing them to feel invested in whatever it is you're discussing.

    Rather than saying there was much loss due to a flood, you could share a specific story of a family who lost their home in a flood.

    If you're not sure which technique to use, try some prewriting exercises to find where in your argument you might be able to insert an emotional appeal and how to go about it.

    Prewriting exercises are writing tips that can help you to think of an emotional appeal when you're writing an argumentative essay. One prewriting exercise is freewriting, which is simply putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and writing on your topic without pausing until you run out of words to say. Use the information that comes out while freewriting as a springboard for emotional content. You could also try brainstorming, where you map out your argument using word trees or word associations and look for ways that an emotional appeal could be incorporated into your writing.

    Emotional Arguments Examples

    Below are a few examples of some scenarios that could be exchanged for an emotional appeal in an argumentative essay, having more impact on the audience than a mere explanation.


    Don't: Say, "Single mothers work very hard."

    Do: Share a story of a single mother, outlining a hypothetical day and every task she is faced with.

    Vivid details

    Don't: Say, "High school graduations can be an emotional event."

    Do: Say, "High school graduations are a mixture of tears of joy, as students look excitedly to the future, and tears of sadness, as everyone reflects on the closing of a chapter in each of their young lives."

    Shared Experience

    Don't: Say, "Competition is a great motivator."

    Do: Give common examples of competition, such as sports, politics, or games, and ask the reader to reflect on their motivation for "winning" in this context.

    All of these examples show how an emotional appeal can get your reader invested in your topic just by engaging with the subject in a more relatable, personal way.

    Emotional Arguments In Essays - Key Takeaways

    • An emotional argument is an argument that appeals to the audience or reader's emotions in an attempt to persuade them of something.
    • Emotional arguments are powerful and can be misused if not applied with wisdom.
    • Aristotle outlined three modes of argument known as pathos, ethos, and logos. Pathos is the method of argument that uses emotional appeals.
    • Emotional arguments are an effective tool for writing persuasive or argumentative essays.
    • To successfully create an emotional argument, you can use vivid imagery, shared experience, or storytelling.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Emotional Arguments in Essays

    How do you write an emotional appeal essay?

    Write an emotional appeal essay by using shared experiences, vivid imagery, and storytelling to bring your audience into the discussion on a personal level.

    What is an emotional argument?

    An emotional argument is a means by which an audience might be persuaded of a particular argument by appealing to commonly held emotions.

    How do you avoid emotional arguments in an essay?

    Avoid emotional arguments by focusing on the evidence and concrete details of the argument.

    What is the difference between an emotional argument and a logical argument?

    The difference between an emotional argument and a logical argument is marked by whether the audience is reacting with their emotions or their cognitive faculties (intellect).

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which is an example of a negative emotion?

    Which of the following is most closely related to emotional arguments?

    True or false, it is possible to use a combination of ethos, logos and pathos in one single argument.

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