Ethos, Part Two: Good Sense


So we have a previous blog post that talks about ethos, particularly that simply calling it an appeal to “credibility” is an over-simplification, and that one of the aspects of ethos is demonstrating “good will” toward the audience (and how we could benefit from appealing to ethos in that way through our business writing). There’s another element of ethos to look at – actually, two. According to Aristotle, there are three elements of ethos; goodwill toward the audience, good sense, and good moral character.

For this post, let’s examine the idea of conveying “good sense” through your writing, and thus building your ethos in your audience’s eyes, and improving the likelihood you’ll achieve your purpose.

To convey “good sense” you can think about two things.
1) You want to show yourself to have common sense and logical thinking. This may mean that you consider explaining the “why” to some of the points you bring up in a message, and those explanations should be sensible to the average person.
2) You want to show that your decisions and ideas are well-informed. You want to show you understand the context around the topic you are discussing, that you are well-read or knowledgeable about the things you are discussing.

Here are a few simple ways you could take the more specific idea of “good sense” of the appeal to ethos and put it to work in your business communication:

  • When communicating to your team about something that needs to be done at work, take a moment to add the word “because” and include your reasoning. This shows your team members that you are the type of person who thinks through things logically and can communicate them, thus improving your ethos.

  • Make sure your reasoning demonstrates good logic in the eyes of your readers. For instance, if you are in a management position and you are writing to new employees, you might consider whether you are only communicating good reasons from a management perspective, or if they are good reasons from a new employee perspective, too. Considering this and making sure your reasons are sensible to your readers will impact whether they see you as having good sense. Remember that Aristotle’s appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos are also called “audience appeals,” so they are centered on attending to your readers.

  • When you do bring up reasons, consider whether you can indicate where you got your information. This doesn’t mean that you need to do extensive library research before sending an email at work, but if you did pick up some information from a recent meeting you had with an important client or from a business-focused podcast you listen to, it can make a difference in your credibility if you mention that when you bring up the information you learned. This can show that your knowledge is formed from many good sources, not just personal experience.

  • Show you understand the context. If you are addressing an issue at work, a task that needs to be completed, or looking ahead to something coming down the pike, frame your message as one that directly ties to and addresses that particular thing. If there have been problems or setbacks or new discoveries that have impacted the thing you are writing about, showing you understand those within your message can not only help you show your readers you are knowledgeable about the situation, but can also provide valuable framing so they know why you are writing and what you are trying to address.

Good luck writers, and go make good sense!