Parts of an Argument

Emotional Appeals

Emotional appeals are generally frowned upon in academic circles for the simple reason that they tend to get in the way of logic and reason, the prerequisites of an academic argument. However, under the right circumstances, they can be quite effective. Drawing on our most basic instincts and feelings an emotional appeal can illustrate a truth or depict the reality of a fact in an emotive way far more compelling than a logical or ethical appeal. For example:

Studies show that women earn 80 cents to every dollar earned by a man. What these statistics don't illustrate well is the effect this lesser earning potential has on women's lives. Take Irma as an example. Irma works as a nurse in a major hospital, yet takes home only $250 a week. On this money, she must support her four children whose father abandoned them when the youngest was six months old. With rent at $700 a week, she has only $300 left over for food, clothing, and her own needs. As she describes it, "it's heartbreaking to have to tell my daughter that she has to wear hand-me-downs one more year to begin school or to tell my son that he can't join the baseball league because we can't afford the fee for the uniform. It's even worse when I watch them eat pasta day after day without complaint because our budget doesn't allow for much meat." It's even more frustrating, she explains, when she realizes not all nurses doing the same job are earning the same pay. "Last month, I heard one of the male nurses got a raise because he was supporting a family of four. What makes them think women aren't in the same situation?"

Be cautious using emotional appeals. They have no place in an academic argument if their purpose-as often seen in advertising and politics-is to deceive or distort. When appropriate, use them to introduce an argument that proceeds logically and is supported with acceptable forms of evidence (e.g., statistics, research studies) or, to follow, as a graphic or human illustration of what the evidence suggests.

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Introduction