Computer Lab Lessons

 Ethos/Pathos/Logos

 in Web Sites

 

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Background Information

As you may well be aware by now, the World Wide Web really is world-wide. In almost every country on earth one can access the web, and, coincidentally, publish to it. You don’t have to have a lot of money, or special connections in the publishing industry, and you don’t have to have advance degrees in whatever subjects you care to write about, or really any qualifications at all.

On one hand this seems like a terrific equalizer, a democratization of media access. However, because many traditional methods of filtering and often validating content (for good or ill) are absent, this democratization also creates an explosion in the volume of material that exists out in the cybersphere. How does one establish credibility on the WWW? How does one determine the difference between a website created with good intentions against created to obfuscate, distort, or mislead? How does one differentiate between a crackpot’s site and an authoritative source? How does one distinguish a site that represents a large entity and one that is just some hobby site put up by someone for kicks? How can hoaxes be detected? Is it possible for a site put up by a college freshman somewhere, despite its humble origins, to have more credibility than a corporate site of impressive design and depth?

Ethos, Pathos and Logos are the three key aspects of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, as defined by Aristotle. Although, naturally, the World Wide Web didn’t exist in Aristotle’s day, the concepts he described still apply to our apprehension of this latest form of mass media.


 

 

 

 

Ethos – the reputation and character of a speaker or writer in an argument.

A speaker or writer may argue from his or her own personal qualities as a sensible, moral person of good character

Moves an audience by proving credibility and trustworthiness – the audience trusts the speaker Ideally based on intelligence, virtue, and goodwill. Conveys a respect for subject and audience

However, a person can have enormous credibility about a subject despite what you think of him or her as a person

Domain experts of poor personal behavior

e.g. Dick Morris

Or, can have credibility in an area that that is not directly related to the source of their credibility

Often defies logic as in Michael Jordan’s endorsement for palm pilot (http://www.palminfocenter.com/view_story.asp?ID=1574)

How is ethos used in this site?

Logos the part of an argument consisting of evidence and the reasoning based directly on that evidence

May argue from the subject matter by using the inductive logic of examples and/or the deductive logic of enthymemes

Are the premises, or evidence, for the argument just and appropriate?

Does the proper conclusion follow from the assumptions of the premises and what would prevent the audience from accepting the conclusion?

http://www.nih.gov/science/models/xenopus/

How is logos employed in this site?

What other appeals can you find?

Pathos – the part of an argument which touches the emotions of the reader or listener.

Also called the pathetic or emotional appeals,

May appeal to the character or mental state of the audience

Seeks to change the attitudes and actions of the audience by playing on the feelings of the audience

http://www.savethechildren.org/americasforgotten.shtml

Where are the appeals to emotions in this site?

What other appeals can you find here?

Note that there is more at work here than just words. Because of the capabilities of the web, other elements of media control can have rhetorical effects. Pay close attention to these other, less obvious capabilities in this medium.

 

 

Visual Information Structure

How does the text appear on the screen?

What typefaces are used, and what textual effects?

How is the text structured?

How are headings, titles, and white space used?

Color

What colors are used, and to what effect?

How does contrast between colors affect perception?

Graphic images

What pictures are present? How are they used?

How are buttons, icons and other devices designed and employed?

How are non-textual resources used to support or contradict the text?

Structure

How is the site itself structured?

What navigation techniques are used?

How are links used?

What external references are used to establish credibility?

With this in mind, investigate each of the following websites and apply both rhetorical and visual analysis to them to see if you can discover things below the obvious surfaces presented. Answer the following questions for each site:

What is the primary appeal of the site in its visual presentation?

What is the primary appeal of the site in the textual content and language?

How do these interact to support or weaken the message of the site?

What examples of ethos, pathos, and logos can you find in either the text or the presentation of the site?

How does the site’s structure and navigation affect its effectiveness, if at all?

http://www.purwater.com/yourwater/concerns.shtml

http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0138/wish.php

http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/flash.htm

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