Building Credibility

Imagine two politicians trying to convince an audience to vote for their new economic policy. One of the politicians explains that he has ten years of leadership experience and a degree in economics. The other candidate says that although he used to be an actor and has never worked in finance, he thinks he has good ideas for the economy. Who are you most likely to vote for?

Building Credibility Building Credibility

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    Most voters would likely support the first politician. This politician appears credible because he has many years of relevant experience. By mentioning these details in his argument, he builds the credibility of his argument. The other candidate does not come off as a credible source on economics because he says he does not have experience in the field. Speakers and writers need to build credibility in their work so that their audience trusts them.

    Building Credibility, Politicians, StudySmarterFig. 1 - It is essential that politicians build credibility in their arguments.

    Meaning of Building Credibility

    When people build credibility, they try to show that they are a reliable source of information. People build credibility in many sources, such as when writing speeches, essays, and non-fiction texts.

    To build credibility is to establish oneself as a trustworthy source.

    Importance of Building Credibility with Audience

    Speakers and writers must build credibility so their audience trusts what they have to say. Coming across as trustworthy helps writers demonstrate their knowledge. This helps engage audiences and contribute to new perspectives in a field.

    Credibility also helps convince an audience to agree with an argument. In persuasive writing and speaking, authors want to prove that their argument is based on fact. If they do not, the audience might think the argument is weak and be less inclined to agree with it. The Greek philosopher Aristotle called the rhetorical appeal to credibility ethos.

    Even writers who write in non-professional settings benefit from establishing credibility. For instance, building credibility in an essay for English class helps prove that the writer has studied the topic thoroughly, which can help earn a higher grade.

    Steps to Build Credibility With an Audience

    There are several steps that speakers and writers can take to establish credibility with an argument. They can use one of them, all of them, or combinations of a few.

    Mention Relevant Personal Experience

    One way to build credibility is to discuss or allude to relevant personal experiences. For instance, if a writer mentions that he has a degree in the subject at hand or years of professional experience, their audience is more likely to trust what they have to say on the topic.

    Not all personal experience builds credibility. Writers should make sure that the experience they discuss is relevant to the topic. Otherwise, they may confuse the audience. For example, imagine a politician is trying to get elected to higher office based on his view on gun policy and mentions that he has lots of experience hunting with his friends. While he does have personal experience with guns, this is not relevant experience because it does not tell the audience why he is a trustworthy person to write policies on the topic. Instead, discussing his experience with policy and leadership would be more relevant.

    Use Evidence

    Credible writing is based on reliable evidence. Writers who base their arguments solely on opinions are unlikely to convince their readers of their arguments. For example, consider the following two claims:

    According to a recent EPA study, meat production for human consumption contributes to 80% of harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

    I think it is really bad to eat meat. The production process is probably bad for the environment.

    The second example here is less credible because the author bases their claims on their own opinions rather than facts from a trustworthy source.

    Note how the first example mentions the EPA, a credible authority in the field. Explicitly naming a key source like this adds more credibility to an argument. For instance, "According to a recent EPA study" is more credible than "According to a recent study" because, in the second statement, there is no guarantee that the recent study is trustworthy.

    Write with Clarity, Confidence, and Consistency

    Writers need to write clearly to sound credible. Writing that is wordy, vague, or confusing might suggest that the writer is trying to feign intelligence about a topic. Instead, language should be simple and direct.

    For example, sometimes authors use unnecessary words called filler words that make it seem like they know what they are writing about when they really do not. An example is an unclear sentence like the following:

    A plethora of environmental scientists advocates for the ingestion of greens to further the development of a hospitable living environment.

    On the surface, this sentence might seem scientific and trustworthy. However, when readers break down each word, they realize that the author is not really making a claim here. Instead, if the author used clear language, their point would be more direct and believable. For instance, consider the following sentence:

    Studies show that eating a vegetarian diet can help protect the environment.

    Here, the writer uses clear language to make a straightforward point. Writing like this seems more credible because it is easy to understand.

    Similarly, writers and speakers who are not confident are often not convincing. If the person discussing a topic does not seem to know what they are talking about, their audience will find it hard to believe. Consistency is also important when presenting a credible argument. Speakers and writers need to ensure they maintain the same point of view throughout their argument to appear trustworthy.

    While it is important for speakers and non-fiction writers to establish credibility, sometimes authors of fiction novels establish credibility too. For instance, Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick (1851), opens his novel with a list of sources about whales, a key part of the following story. This list helps to build trust with the readers. He knows his stuff!

    Importance of Style, Tone, and Voice in Building Credibility

    Tone, style, and voice are essential elements writers can use to build their credibility.


    A writer's style reflects their level of professionalism, which impacts their credibility.

    Style is how a writer writes, including how they form and arrange sentences, use figurative language, and use diction, tone, and voice.

    For instance, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Mark Twain tells a fictional story about a Southern-American boy. Throughout the story, Twain uses colloquial language, which makes the writing style an authentic representation of the life of someone from the American South in this period.


    Writers' tone can make or break the credibility of their argument. The tone is similar to the mood of a text.

    Tone is the use of pitch, volume, and tempo to create meaning.

    If a writer's tone is too informal, sarcastic, or judgmental, writers risk reducing their credibility. For instance, imagine a writer is trying to convince readers to eat a vegetarian diet, and they say:

    Everyone should eat a vegetarian diet because it's great. People who don't are stupid, and they should be better.

    This writer's use of words like "great" and "better" makes the writing vague and informal. Words like "stupid" also make the tone sound judgmental. Speaking in such a casual, harsh tone could dissuade the audience from continuing to engage with this argument. It is also likely to make the audience distrust what this writer says.

    In contrast, if the writer used a formal, respectful tone, the audience is more likely to trust what they have to say and engage with the argument. For instance, imagine the writer says:

    Everyone should eat a vegetarian diet because government studies have shown that it reduces the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

    Here the writer uses evidence-based, academic language and an objective point of view to ensure their tone is formal and their writing is credible.

    Building Credibility, Microphone, StudySmarterFig. 2 - All writers have a distinctive voice that impacts their credibility.


    Voice, a defining characteristic of an author's style, can also impact credibility. Voice is comparable to the personality of a writer's writing.

    In writing, voice is an author's distinctive attitude.

    Many elements define an author's voice, including the types of words used and how they use them. These choices also impact the writer's credibility. For example, the American author Ernest Hemingway is famous for using short declarative sentences to construct a distinctive voice. This was useful in books like Death in the Afternoon (1932), where he comes across as a credible source of information on Spanish bullfighting.

    Building Credibility Examples

    There are many examples of building credibility in famous speeches and writing. For example, James Baldwin built credibility into his 1963 speech entitled "A Talk to Teachers."

    Early in the speech, Baldwin says:

    Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. -Baldwin (1963)

    Here, Baldwin expresses self-awareness that he does not have personal experience with the audience's profession. Acknowledging shortcomings is honest and helps establish trust with the audience. Baldwin goes on to discuss his experience growing up in New York City and his experiences with injustice. This helps him appear to be a credible source on civil rights and race topics.

    Another example of how to build credibility is evident in Michelle Obama's speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention:

    You know that I tell you exactly what I'm feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children. So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don't make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it. -Obama (2020)

    Here, Obama builds credibility by referencing her past and her passions. Drawing on the audience's experiences with her throughout history helps her strengthen her argument about supporting Biden.

    Building Credibility - Key Takeaways

    • Building credibility means establishing trust with an audience.
    • Building credibility is important for crafting a strong argument.
    • Writers and speakers build credibility by discussing personal experiences and using evidence.
    • Writing with clarity, confidence, and consistency helps build credibility.
    • Tone, style, and voice help writers build credibility.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Building Credibility

    What does it mean to build credibility?

    To build credibility is to establish oneself as a trustworthy source.

    What kind of evidence will enhance credibility of a writer?

    Evidence from a trustworthy source. 

    Why is credibility important in argument and research?

    Credibility is important in argument and research because it establishes trust with the reader. It also demonstrates the author's knowledge and helps establish their reputation. 

    How do you establish credibility in rhetorical analysis?

    To establish credibility, speakers should mention relevant personal experiences, use trustworthy evidence, and speak with clarity, consistency, and confidence. 

    What are 3 factors that enhance the credibility of a speaker?

    3 factors that enhance the credibility of a speaker are consistency, clarity, and confidence. 

    What are some ways to build credibility through language

    People can build credibility through language by using tone, style, and voice in such a way that they come across as trustworthy.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the Greek word for an appeal to credibility?

    Which Greek philosopher discussed building credibility in persuasive arguments?

    True or False. Writers should not discuss personal experiences to establish credibility. 


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