The Ethos, Pathos & Logos of Travel Writing

Ethos, pathos and logos are the three modes of persuasion coined by Aristotle to classify a speaker’s appeal to their audience. First appearing in his work On Rhetoric, these devices still shape different disciplines such as marketing and advertising, and can be used to greatly assist your travel journals and stories.


Ethos is the grounding beliefs that characterise your writing. The word ethics derives from ethos, which refers to the credibility of the writer. Are you deemed by your readers as a reliable source for information? Do they act on your recommendations and suggestions? Do they avoid tourist traps and places not worth the visit? If so then you have this nailed down, but if not how do you convince readers that you are a reputable figure with whom they should have vested interest? This is where the other two parts of the triangle come in.


Pathos is the mode of persuasion through which you convey emotion, the word pathetic deriving from this Greek origin. Do your stories suck readers in and get them emotionally attached? Do they make them reminisce about the time they too spent at a particular destination? Or, do they make your reader what to drop everything and buy a one-way ticket so that they to can experience what you are describing? Ideally your travel writing should answer all of these questions affirmatively, but this can prove very difficult.

Don’t make your stories boring, factual accounts of what there is to do somewhere. Your blog should not read like a Wikipedia article. People read your stories for an alternative view on events – to be entertained and inspired – not to be informed about the population of Salta or the approximate topographical area of Brisbane. Facts like this pass into one ear and out of the other. Make your stories passionate whilst retaining the authority of ethos. Sway your audiences with exciting personal experiences, funny anecdotes, and descriptions of the characters you meet on the road. Positive reference experiences will take the fear out of prospective adventurers which in turn may finally convince them to take the plunge and make that journey they have always been dreaming about.


The final point of the persuasion triangle is logos; the logical appeal of your writing. Facts and figures can make you seem credible, but, as mentioned above, travel writing should be much more emotive than logical, more pathos based than logos. Logos should not focus on information that people can easily obtain through a Google search, but with small nuggets of gold that can genuinely assist a backpacker on a daily basis. What little known local restaurants prove a cheap and hearty meal? Which regional tour companies provide the best value? What are some must do’s that won’t appear in any travel manual?

Answers to these questions can only be given by someone who has been to that particular place and experienced things first hand. Yes guide books can be useful, but you are not going to venture far off the beaten track by taking all your recommendations from them. Guide books are not bibles, they are ‘guides’. Tell your readers about quirky little bars you visited and inviting places you have accidentally stumbled across. This will complete the triangle of persuasion and enhance your ethos in the process.

Root these three aspects within each of your travel stories and you will gain a much more loyal subscription base. They will get to know you on a deeper level, learn to trust you, and share the stories with others. Now, what are you waiting for! Go out there and write…


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