• Unit 1: Credibility and Ethos

    The quality of information you use to support your ideas affects your credibility as a writer and thinker. For example, suppose you use material you find on a website or in a magazine article that includes a ranting blogger or author as evidence to support your claims. In that case, you bring your argument down to the author's level, especially if the material does not seem to have been peer-reviewed. However, using information vetted by scholars and professional organizations elevates your thinking and bolsters your ethos to your readers.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 1 hour.

    • 1.1: Ethos

      Ancient Greek philosophers used the word ethos to define how a speaker presents themselves to their audience. Ethos is more than just style or looks; it is about the respect, authority, and credibility you communicate to your audience through balanced reasoning, proficiency on a subject, and your dependability as a researcher and thinker. Ethos is more about your character than about your ideas.

      We derive the word ethic from ethos. Think about it: if you find someone ethical, you believe they are credible. Doesn't someone lose credibility if they make unethical decisions? Your career as a student and a professional relies primarily on your ethos. Those who study rhetorical and leadership studies often say that ethos is everything. Today, we consider ethos to be the kind of credibility you have with any stakeholder. Every decision you make within an organization – in an academic or professional field or in a relationship – will shape your ethos.

    • 1.2: Personal vs. Professional Ethos

      Your experiences related to a given issue or topic shape your personal ethos. For example, someone who has been the victim of a crime has credibility when speaking to public officials about criminal justice policy. This person may not have a college degree in criminal justice or work for a law enforcement agency, but they speak with some credibility, and their audience will likely respect them.

      Your education and career will also shape your professional ethos. For example, someone who has studied the social-emotional effects of crime victims can speak with authority to public officials about criminal justice policy. This person may not have ever been a victim, but their academic background shapes their credibility and will command respect from an audience.

    • 1.3: Why You Should Check Your Sources

      When you write or speak, there are two layers of ethos to consider: your ethos and the ethos of the sources you use to support your presentation. These layers combine to form your overall ethos for your audience. With this in mind, let's discuss why it is important to build your credibility by ensuring you are using credible and reputable sources that exhibit good ethos.

      Examining an author's ethos is not the only way to vet a source, but it is probably the most important. While an argument may be true or false, regardless of who is speaking or writing (facts are facts), we are more or less likely to pay attention or discredit an argument according to how we perceive the speaker's ethos. Many teachers and professionals follow the motto ethos is everything.

      You should check your sources to support the claims (arguments), interpretations, opinions, and perspectives you communicate. Your sources establish the context for the subject or topic. For example, historical or other background information can help set the stage for your readers. Checking your sources can provide rhetorical and academic context to explain what others have said or done on the topic. Contextual background information showcases what scholars and stakeholders are saying and doing about your subject.

      If you fail to check your sources, you open yourself up to quoting or citing inaccurate or just-plain-false information, which can damage your ethos or reputation. Remember, your audience has the ability to Google what you are saying and fact-check you as you speak or as they read, and they will.