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14 Mar 2011

What Aristotle Taught Us About Web Content Development

Aristotle Content Development
In today’s world, the word “rhetoric” often has a negative implication.  For many, images of a shady politician giving a skilled political speech intended to draw an emotional response from suspect content are conjured up in their minds. This image is actually not representative of all kinds of rhetoric, though. Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing specifically designed to draw an emotional response from the listener or reader, and is used anytime a person tries to persuade another to their point of view.

There are several kinds of rhetorical devices that are invisible to the eyes and ears of the untrained. Whether or not you are aware of them, they do tend to pack an emotional punch and are likely influencing a number of your daily decisions including those that affect your buying habits.

According to Aristotle, rhetoric is “the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” So, how does one make an argument persuasive enough to change the beliefs of another? In classical Greek rhetoric, systemized primarily by Aristotle, there are three “rhetorical appeals” or “modes of persuasion” that can be used to make a convincing argument. They include these three items:

Logos

Aristotle also called this “reasoned discourse” or utilizing accepted theories of logic. There are two types of logical argument:

  1. Inductive Argument: Here the reader holds up a specific example, and then claims that what is true for it is also true for a general category. For instance, “I have just tasted this lemon. It is sour. Therefore, all lemons are probably sour.”
  2. Deductive Reasoning: This works in the exact opposite manner; it begins with a general or universal rule accepted by most people (“all lemons are sour”) and then applies that claim to any specific example. (“That is a lemon. Therefore, it too must be sour.”)

Pathos

The use of language, examples, diction, or images to create an emotional reaction in the reader. I’m sure that you are familiar with the most common uses of this which are anger at perhaps a social injustice for example, sympathy for another’s misfortune, or laughter at a humorous or illogical state of affairs.

Ethos

This is said to be the most difficult rhetorical approach to define, because it doesn’t translate well into the English language. It is ultimately whatever inspires trust in an audience and thereby means projecting a trustworthy, authoritative, or charismatic image. Basically, ethos involves exemplifying at least one of these three traits:

  1. Show themselves to be honest individuals of good moral character who sincerely believe their claims.
  2. Show themselves be competent, intelligent individuals who know the material or subject-matter they are talking or writing about.
  3. Show themselves to be open-minded individuals who write or speak, not merely out of personal interest, but because they are also concerned about the audience’s best interest.

Once you’ve decided upon which of these three main appeals is most fitting for the topic of your content piece and its intended purpose you’ll then want to think about the method that these rhetorical appeals can be achieved.

You’ll want to consider that information is gathered by your website visitor not only from reading the written word on your page, but they are also affected by a number of other page elements such as:

  • Visual Information Structure: this includes how the text looks on the screen. This is achieved through the appearance of page elements such as the titles, headings, subheadings and bolded or italicized text.
  • Color: this includes the color of the text, the background, and the graphics.
  • Graphics & Images: this includes the other information in the document aside from the text. This is achieved through such things as icons, buttons, infographics and photos.

Let these age-old rhetorical principles guide your web content development practices and assist you in selecting the right words for the page. And though writing engaging, compelling and effective content is a daunting task, it is necessary to be a successful online business. Take cues from rhetoric and psychology to choose everything that adorns your piece of content from the titles or subheadings to the images and color scheme. I urge you to add influential weight to your web content based on centuries of rhetorical wisdom and a growing body of scientific knowledge. Let Aristotle’s teachings on one of the three ancient arts of discourse help you assist your visitors by providing them content they need.

Have a great example of using rhetoric in web content development? Join the conversation in the comments below!