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4.2 The rhetoric of persuasion - Std, ES and EAL/D


Have you ever thought about how acts of communication happen? This is an important question that plays out in our lives every day.

According to the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who wrote The Art of Rhetoric, people are persuaded by:

  • the arguments made and logic used by the composer (logos)
  • the personal character and, therefore, credibility of the composer (ethos) 
  • how the composer affects the emotions of the audience (pathos).

Contemporary rhetoric also takes into account the purpose of the text, its discourse and the context of the composer and the responder.

We need to consider the interplay of all these elements when we compose texts and when we analyse, evaluate and reflect on the effectiveness of texts.

How do we make our way in the world?

Consider this scenario:

You have decided to go to the movies. You have chosen the movie from an online ticketing site that has a mix of words, numbers, invitations to ‘Like’ on Facebook, offers for comment on Twitter. There are ads on the website promoting other movies, foods, local cafes, promos and giveaways.

You travel to the movies in a car that has a name – Hyundai, Audi, Cherokee, Aurion, a number plate that signifies place, purchase, sometimes the identity of the driver. As you drive down the road there is political advertising and banners displayed by community groups. Someone walks down the footpath with a T-Shirt, bag and shoes carrying brand names.

In the cinema foyer there are people talking on phones in different languages, others are texting on their phones, reading magazines or books. You take a selfie with your friends. It is destined for Instagram.

This is the rhetoric of the everyday. Here, rhetoric refers to the whole range of ways human beings draw on resources in their worlds to influence how people see one another.
Working with a partner, make a list of all the ways people are making their way in the world by trying to influence others in this scenario.

Audience and purpose

Knowing the audience

While all texts influence to some degree, the most blatant form of persuasion in our society is advertising. It emerges from a perceived need which cannot be met without influencing others.

How do we effect change?

  • punishment
  • reminders
  • modelling
  • rewards
  • self interest
  • laws
  • emotional manipulation
  • repetition.

Changing audience behavior

Which method of persuasion do you think would work best on the majority of people?

  • Punishment
  • Reminders
  • Modelling
  • Rewards
  • Self-interest
  • Legislation
  • Which way is the most powerful?

Using student worksheet 4.2.1 Rhetoric: Audience behavior (Std, ES and EAL/D) list the different ways of changing behaviour from what you think may be the most effective to least effective.

Discuss with a partner:

  • Are there any other ways to alter human behaviour?
  • If so, how do they work?

Each of these approaches to bringing about change in behaviour works on our emotions or our understanding. Complete the Method of persuasion table on student worksheet 4.2.1 Rhetoric: Audience behavior (Std, ES and EAL/D). In the column next to each approach, write which emotion it appeals to or whether the approach appeals to our understanding.

Aligning purpose with audience
For Transport for NSW, the target audience/s of any campaign becomes evident through analysing crash or injury statistics.

With a partner, read this graph and, based on its information, consider:

  • who would be your target audience
  • what would be the content of your message
  • what would be the tone? (you may want to refer back to methods of persuasion).

Share your ideas with a bigger group.

When you have done this, read the following extract on consumer insights that were gained about audience behaviour through research.
In your groups discuss which of your suggestions for the content and tone of your message were most likely to address these driver attitudes to fatigue.

Extract: Understanding the audience - Consumer Insight
There are many reasons why people drive when tired, making the problem very broad. Below are some of the key reasons why drivers are driving when fatigued [Woolcott Research,2012].

Younger males

Older males

All drivers

Most risky attitudes and behaviours when it comes to fatigue

Generally hold safer attitudes in relation to fatigue


  • Drivers want to ‘push on’
  • Don’t want to stop
  • Challenge to get to their destination on time (GPS/Google maps)
  • Too proud and feel invincible
  • They will stop when it’s too late (microsleep, almost crash, toilet break)
  • Fatigue in the afternoon is common but dismissed
  • Afternoon is a peak time for experiencing fatigue.


  • Driving performance is unpredictable when fatigued
  • Causes temporary lapses in attention
  • Instable & unpredictable - impacts driving performance
  • Few drivers plan trips
  • Drivers don’t plan anytime for breaks
  • Planning is more focused on the car – petrol, oil, or kids – snacks (families)



  • Drivers are unable to assess their own fatigue
  • Can tell when getting drowsy, but can’t judge when they need to stop
  • Unsure how tired is too tired, and at a dangerous level
  • Ability to judge fatigue declines with fatigue
  • Any tired is too tired - Fatigue is more than just “tired”
  • Prior activities and sleep not considered
  • Drivers do not consider work, social activities and sleep/rest
  • Young males do not like to miss out on social events in order to get a good night’s sleep


  •  Nowhere to stop
  • No where safe and convenient to stop especially on the motorways – short trips there are no alternatives

Go back to your original partner.

These consumer insights were collected from a survey. Think about the kinds of questions and multiple choice that may have led to these answers, then write the survey that enabled the Centre for Road Safety to arrive at the conclusions in the above table. An example of a useful format is the one below developed by the Ipsos Social Research Institute. You will need to write your own questions to gather the information given in the Consumer Insight table.

If you were feeling tired right before starting a short drive, how likely is it that you would think about whether you might be too tired to drive?

Very likely


Quite likely


Neither likely nor unlikely


Quite unlikely


Very unlikely


Don’t know


Not applicable


If you were feeling you might be too tired to drive right before an essential short drive, how likely would you be to drive anyway?

Very likely


Quite likely


Neither likely nor unlikely


Quite unlikely


Very unlikely


Don’t know


Not applicable


If you were feeling you might be too tired to drive right before a less essential short drive, how likely would you be to drive anyway?

Very likely


Quite likely


Neither likely nor unlikely


Quite unlikely


Very unlikely


Don’t know


Not applicable


Q32     Before driving on a short drive, do you assess how tired you are?

Yes, before every short drive


Yes, before most short drives


Yes, before some short drives




No, never


Don’t know


Not applicable


Q33     When driving on a short drive, do you regularly assess how tired you are?

Yes, during every short drive


Yes, during most short drives


Yes, during some short drives




No, never


Don’t know


Not applicable


Language support – English Studies and EAL/D students

Everybody is different so we can never make generalisations about all human behaviour that will be completely correct for every one of us. So we express these statements using terms of comparison (more/ less) or adverbs of degree.

Complete this cloze test in student worksheet 4.2.2 Language support cloze (English Studies and EAL/D). You will need to check the statistics to be able to make the correct choice. The first few adverbs have been provided as examples. 

Audience, context and medium

To ensure that their message gets noticed, advertisers need to consider how their audience is segmented and what they read and view. To maximise exposure to the target audience, advertisements do not usually appear in one form but as part of a campaign. A good campaign will increase its reach by using a variety of modes and media and adapting the message to suit it.

Using student worksheet 4.2.3 Target audience (Std, ES and EAL/D) look at the range of possibilities for advertising to target different audiences.

Identifying purpose and audience

Have a look at the following advertisements and work out what the purpose and audience might be. Refer to the ways of influencing human behaviour to add information to the Advertisement table in the student worksheet 4.2.3 Target audience (Std, ES and EAL/D)

Get your hand off it:

Speeding. How sorry will you be?

Saving lives on country roads - vox pop

Selling the message

What’s the purpose

Advertising is always purposeful. It involves money and resources and therefore has to have very clearly defined goals and outcomes. It emerges from a perceived need which cannot be solved without influencing others. In commercial situations, the goal is sales; in the situation of government authorities the goal is often to change ways of doing things.
The advertisements by the Centre for Road Safety are about fixing a specific problem such as drink driving but overall, like all advertising, they are about altering human behaviour.
The problem defined in this media agency brief by Transport for NSW is driver fatigue. Highlighting this problem and the risks associated with driving tired is clearly important.
Read the media agency brief below and highlight the key aspects of the problem.
Find four reasons that Transport for NSW wants to develop a campaign to make drivers more aware of their level of tiredness.

       Media Agency Brief by Transport for NSW

Background to issue
Fatigue continues to be one of the major behavioural road safety issues that contributes to crashes on our roads…
Fatigue is an issue people face in their everyday lives, not just on the roads.  The issue is compounded on the road because drivers do not consider the cumulative and dangerous impact of how they feel before, during and after driving. 
A communications led approach to addressing this issue is required to change attitudes and behaviours about driving when fatigued.

Fatigue is the third largest behavioural issue that causes death and injury on NSW roads.  In 2011, fatigue was a factor in 20% of all fatalities and 8% of injuries. Fatigue related crashes are twice as likely to be fatal compared to all crashes.  
In addition to the crash data which highlights the extent of the fatigue problem, research has also highlighted a greater problem in regard to community attitudes in relation to fatigue. While the perceived seriousness of driving fatigued has increased over recent years, it is still not seen to equate with other road safety issues such as drink driving and speeding, and many are likely to dismiss the early warning signs of fatigue.
Fatigue is an issue particularly for male drivers with almost two-thirds of fatigue casualty crashes (fatal and injury) involving a male driver. 
Driver fatigue is a unique road safety problem because there are no objective measures of fatigue and there is currently no direct legislation for light vehicles, making it a truly societal problem. As a result, public education about the risks and dangers associated with fatigue is a crucial component within an integrated approach to address this issue.

Slogans as cues

Once the message has been defined, it needs to be continually reinforced. Most advertisements become identified with a slogan, a tagline or catchphrases that are intended to call to mind the complete message.
Different attitudes towards behaviour are implied through different slogans – some are direct orders (using the imperative verb), some are about consequences, some are playful, some evoke a sense of responsibility etc.
Look at the words in the Centre for Road Safety slogans on the student worksheet 4.2.4 Slogans (Std, ES and EAL/D) and decide what behaviour is to be changed and which emotion each is trying to tap into (fear of punishment/ sense of responsibility/ sense of fun/ consideration for others/ warning/ self control, etc.) You might feel that more than one emotion or behaviour is being encouraged through the slogan. If so, which words tell you this?

Language of slogans

Answer the following questions on paper or using a word processor.

Ride to Live

  1. Often slogans rely on imperatives (orders). Why do you think this is so? Which of the slogans include imperatives? 
  2. Which slogans empower the person and which slogans threaten? How do they achieve this effect? 
  3. Pronouns are important in establishing relationships. In these slogans we see the constant use of pronouns. Locate these and identify who is being addressed or referred to. What relationship is the use of pronouns in each slogan inviting?
  4. Which slogans rely on the negative? Is it possible to express these negatives as a positive? Is there a problem with expressing negatives in advertising?
  5. What register is used each of the slogans? Why do you think these choices were made?
  6. Slogans often rely on a play on words. Explain the language play in the slogans.
  7. Some slogans also have taglines (added on at the end): for example the Plan B slogan has a tagline: If you’re drinking, don’t drive. The tagline is catchy and is more direct than the slogan. It appears smaller. Why?
  8. Choose two advertisements and comment on their stylistic devices. Create alternative slogans for them and then explain the effect of the stylistic devices you have used.


Get your hand off it

Don’t Rush

RBT means you need a Plan B

Double demerits, think twice

Don’t trust your tired self

They’re counting on you

You’re in our sights

Slow down and give us space

Clip every trip

Multimodal messages

Another way of reinforcing the message of a campaign is through posters which summarise the full thrust of the campaign in a way that is instantly noticed. Using only the poster, complete the table on student worksheet 4.2.5 Audience appeal (Std, ES and EAL/D) to identify the problem behaviour, the audience and how it is designed to appeal to its target.

Use the points below to analyse how the poster conveys its message (i.e. explain the effect of each point) through its verbal and visual language. You may want to complete the activity below this first to revise some terms you learned earlier.

Visual design:

  • What are the main colours used in the poster? Why do you think these were chosen?
  • What is the salient image in the poster?
  • Explain the effect of the gaze of participants.
  • Describe the way your eyes move around the poster (vectors and reading path)
  • What symbols if any are there in the poster? Is the symbol clear (easy to interpret), memorable or dramatic? Explain why and how.
  • Describe the composition of the poster (consider rule of thirds, framing perspective).

Verbal components:

  • Is the message in the poster primarily visual, verbal or both?
  • What is the tagline in the poster and what is its effect?

Visual language revision

Using the table on pages 2 and 3 of student worksheet 4.2.5 Audience appeal (Std, ES and EAL/D) match the explanations to their corresponding terms.

Consider the messages conveyed within the context of these campaigns:

Does knowing the context change your understanding of the overall message?
If so, how? If not, why not?

Multimodal Prompts
When an advertisement has had sufficient exposure so that its message has reached a wide audience and is well known, often all that is needed for people to recall the need to change behaviour is a simple reminder, a visual prompt. These are not expensive to produce and may be placed in a wide range of contexts.
Conduct a Google search to locate the visual prompts for the slogans:

  • Get your hand off it
  • RBT means you need a Plan B
  • Clip evert trip

Record what you find in the Multimodal prompts table on page 4 of the student worksheet 4.2.5 Audience appeal (Std, ES and EAL/D). In the analysis column write an explanation of the way the visual reinforces the slogan.

Choose one of the advertisements that does not have a visual ‘logo’ and design one for it. Make sure you convey the core message and try to do so in a clever way. Keep your design simple so it can remain memorable and may be used across different media.

The language of advertising

Hidden in this wordfind are 11 words related to developing an advertising campaign.

In pairs, find them and then discuss why each is an important consideration for successful advertising.



EAL/D students only

Hidden in this Wordfind are 11 words related to developing an advertising campaign.

In pairs, find them and then discuss why each is an important consideration for successful advertising.

Credibility of the composer

When a government needs to persuade, it must ensure it gains and maintains the trust of citizens through the integrity of its message. To receive public funds for a campaign, a government agency must demonstrate the specific need being addressed by the advertisement, explain the rationale for the approach it has chosen and be accountable to the people. So it is important that all NSW Government advertisements be reliable, ethical and for the benefit of the people of NSW.
The following extract is from the NSW Government Advertising Handbook outlining the general principles for developing advertising campaigns.

The following standards and principles must be observed by NSW Government agencies when planning, developing and managing government advertising campaign activities:

  • compliance with the Act (Government Advertising Act 2011)
    and any other relevant state and federal privacy, electoral, broadcasting and media laws throughout every stage of the development, production and implementation of the government advertising campaign

  • accuracy in the presentation of all facts, statistics, comparisons and other arguments. All statements and claims included in government advertising campaigns must be able to be substantiated

  • advertising is to be presented in an objective, fair and accessible manner

  • advertisements that are part of a government advertising campaign are to be clearly distinguishable from party political messages and, where necessary, include authorisation tags in accordance with the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth)

  • sensitivity to cultural needs and issues when communicating with people from diverse ethnic or religious backgrounds

  • the maintenance of the highest standards of decency and good taste in the portrayal of gender and sexuality

  • awareness of the communication requirements for people with a disability

  • compliance with all relevant NSW Government procurement policies

  • government advertising campaigns are produced and disseminated by the most appropriate and environmentally responsible means taking into consideration the size and location of the target audience

  • the audience should have a convenient means of contacting the originating government agency so that complaints, questions, comments or requests for further information may be dealt with promptly.

Using the student worksheet 4.2.6 Credibility of the composer (Std, ES and EAL/D) highlight sections of the guidelines designed to show people that the government’s messages are trustworthy. Use speech balloons to note elements of style that contribute to the credibility of the composer.
Using these ideas, write a paragraph explaining how a speaker can make him or herself credible to an audience.
Choose one of the posters on the worksheet for close analysis to answer the question

How does the NSW government use visual and verbal language to represent itself as trustworthy to the people of NSW?

Rhetoric in action

1. Analysis
Choose one of the advertisements on the Centre for Road Safety website and, using the rhetoric diagram, explain how it achieves its effect for its audience.

2. Speech
Prepare and present a speaking exercise from the tasks below considering ethos, logos and pathos
When someone is persuasive it is often said they could ‘sell ice to the Eskimos’. It is not what you need but what you perceive you need that matters. A truly persuasive person can make a want into a need by the power of their speaking.

Choose a speech or a debate

(A) Speech
Persuasion can be achieved in different ways using words, images, tone and many other devices. Modern advertising manages to combine many of these elements to persuade us to buy or change our behaviour. But speeches relying on words and tone are just as effective. For this task, you need to work out a behaviour that needs changing and you need to deliver a speech that will convince your audience to change their behaviour.

You need to be clear on your purpose and your audience. How can you convince people to change their ways?  How are you going to:

  • appeal to their emotions (Pathos)
  • convince them to trust you (Ethos) and
  • give them a sensible account (Logos).

Prepare and present a two-minute speech to the class to convince your audience to change their behaviour. You may find these sites helpful.

(B) Debate

Debates are an important speaking skill requiring you to argue a case convincingly against an opponent. The debate is not won by who is right but by who convinces you they are right. Debates follow a formal pattern of speaking.  

For this task, you need to respond to one of the topics below but you need to give both sides, the affirmative and negative case. Speak for one minute on each case with equal fervour and resolve. You will be judged on your ability to see both sides equally.

The topics are:

  • That the rights of the group are always more important than the rights of the individual
  • That good citizenship means doing as you are told
  • That advertising is the most effective form of communication governments can use
  • That the best form of control comes from within.

3.  Design and present an advertisement with justification

There are many rules in your lives - at school, at home, on the street. Breaking the rules can have consequences.

Work in pairs to decide on an activity that breaks everyday or school rules and has consequences for individuals or the community.

You will need to follow these steps:

  • Identify the behaviour that needs changing
  • Develop a survey to understand why people behave in this way
  • Use the results of this survey to decide on an approach to an advertisement warning against breaking the rule
  • Develop an advertisement. You need to produce a storyboard, a poster and a slogan following the learning in the persuasion section 
  • Present these to the class
  • Justify your decisions:
    • using your research
    • how you have considered rhetoric in your decisions
    • explaining language and visual choices.

Last update: 24th September 2020