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SAT Essay Glossary

SAT Essay Glossary

The SAT Essay will ask you how an author uses evidence, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements to craft an argument. How can you quickly determine which of these elements the writer is using, and exactly what they are? This glossary will help you get started!


Back in the day, Aristotle identified three primary forms of persuasion: Appeals to Ethics (Ethos), Appeals to Emotion (Pathos), and Appeals to Logic (Logos).
Appeals to Ethos are intended to establish a person's professional credibility or qualifications to make a particular argument. Through a claim to knowledge and relevant experience, this method of persuasion emphasizes the ethical or moral character and stature of the person who is providing information. If the speaker or writer wants to provide extra credibility, they can bring in a trusted source to bolster their argument.
Examples of Ethos:
  • Now, since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • I’ve lived in this apartment community for over 20 years and have loved my time here. I’ve never once made a complaint . . . until now.
  • With two terms as Governor of Missouri under his belt and a decades-long senate career, Mr. Gonzalez is eminently qualified to become President.
  • As a whale watcher, I see firsthand on a daily basis just how important our local ecosystems are to the survival of marine life.
  • According to Bartelby Higginbotham, the world’s foremost authority on Daylight Saving Time, ‘springing forward’ results in 147 extra hours of productivity per year.
Appeals to Logos are intended to speak directly to the audience’s sense of reason or logic. These arguments “just make sense.”
Examples of Logos:
  • In the 100 people we surveyed in the blind taste test, 95 participants preferred Joy Soda over Fizzy Pop. Since they are priced the same, we should obviously serve Joy in our restaurants.
  • In the last 25 years, the city of Mainville has not had a single reported crime, making it the safest city in the world.
  • With a dismally low audience size, this spinoff TV show is nowhere near as good as the original.
  • The right to free speech is not only included in the First Amendment, but is a basic human right. Those protesters should have no problem rallying on the courthouse steps.
  • We all need water to survive. In light of this fact and the recent drought, shouldn’t more local governments be taking clear action to reduce water waste?
Appeals to Pathos are intended to evoke an emotional response in the audience, such as fear, anger, or nostalgia/sentimentality.
Examples of Pathos:
  • How can we trust him to uphold our interests in Congress? He was born into a wealthy family and never had to work for a living. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to be the little guy!
  • Speeding cars are a huge danger to our children, our pets, and our community in general. That’s why I’m proposing we install 10 speed bumps on five of our major streets.
  • The CEO does not care about your pay rate or benefits, much less your quality of life. If we want to see changes made, we’re going to have to fight for them ourselves.
  • It fills me with so much joy and pride to see the small businesses in our town succeed. As Mayor, I will work hard to ensure that small business owners can continue to thrive.
  • You’re a kind, conscientious person. If you go with your gut, I have no doubt that you’ll make the right decision.


Diction refers to the word choice the author uses. Typically in formal writing or speeches, authors will use formal diction (no contractions, elevated speech style). If they use more casual diction, ask yourself why the author made that choice. Are they trying to connect with an audience or show that they have human side? Or, if the diction is more formal, is this part of the author’s ethos to establish credibility and knowledge on the subject discussed? Consider what the purpose of the passage might be to determine why authors use the diction they use.
For example, consider the difference between
  • We are working together to accomplish our goals
  • Let’s do this! We’re all in this together!
The first sounds like a formal report, while the second could be a political call-to-arms where a candidate is trying to unite spectators in a common cause.
Some more examples of diction in sentences with varying degrees of formality/informality:
  • "It’s crazy that we haven’t seen each other in 5 years!"
  • "A fundamental grasp of physics is key to a successful engineering career."
  • "Where’d the TV remote disappear to?"
  • "This chamomile tea tastes funny."
  • "I love the Grand Canyon; it’s a breathtaking natural wonder of the world."
  • "Let’s go get some dinner".
  • "It is vital to understand the text one reads."
  • "Computers are a pain in the neck."
  • "The Mona Lisa looks weird from up close."
  • "Pickett’s charge at the Battle of Gettysburg was surely an awe-inspiring sight."

Imagery and other sensory details

Imagery is vivid language the author uses to immerse readers in a particular place, and usually related to visual detail. Other sensory details can include taste, smell, touch, and sound. If an author is using imagery in a persuasive piece, they probably want to put the reader into a specific situation so the reader can empathize more readily with the argument being made.
Here's an example of an author's use of imagery and sensory details to help persuade an audience:
"On the corner of Brookstone and Marshall streets sits the Mainville Library, a three-story building sparkling white with bright green shutters. While the outside is light and new-looking -- marigolds and poppies that Librarian Paul planted spilling over the stone steps to the entrance -- the inside is darker, with a quiet calm. As you walk through the antechamber, your feet echo slightly on the wood floors and the scent of old books and wooden bookshelves envelops you. Spend the afternoon nestled in a leather chair by the fireplace or roaming the mazes of shelves upstairs. In the late afternoon, you might hear some laughter as kids enjoy storytime and arts and crafts with Librarian Brenda. Unfortunately, this experience may soon be a memory rather than a reality. Mainville is in talks with an outside developer to raze this beloved site and replace it with a mixed-use condo facility. While we can agree we need more housing here, we can’t sacrifice our beautiful local library, a touchstone of our community."

Sentence structure

Authors play with sentence structure in order to draw attention to different things in their argument/writing.
Parallel structure
  • Typically, when you use a series of verbs or nouns in a sentence, they will all maintain the same form.
Example:I like hiking, fishing, and skiing.” demonstrates proper parallel structure. It would be less conventional to say “I like hiking, fishing, and to ski.
  • However, if an author wants to draw particular attention to an element of a sentence, they might choose to break parallel structure.
Example:Bears are large, hairy, and not to be trifled with.” This last part of the sentence breaks parallel structure -- in the previous portion of the sentence, the author was using short adjectives to describe bears. To maintain parallel structure, the author might have said “dangerous.” But in this case, the author is deliberately breaking parallel structure to call the reader’s attention to the most important part of the sentence. Bears are not to be trifled with!
  • Another way an author might use parallel structure is to create sentences of a similar length or style for rhetorical effect. An author might start off a series of sentences with the same word or phrase to call attention to an idea.
Example:Today, I remember the sacrifices our troops made in fighting for our country. Today, I recognize that our work in achieving peace around the world is not finished. Today, I call on each and every one of you to find something you can do in your community -- be it small or large -- to help this important cause.” This example not only provides a rhythm to the speaker’s words, but also emphasizes the urgency of the speaker’s call to action (i.e., “today”).
Sentence length
  • Writers vary their sentence lengths to create different rhetorical effects. As with the example in parallel structure, short, simple sentences might be drawing the reader’s attention to something urgent or immediate. (“I want change here. Now. Today.”)
  • Long, complex sentences might be used if a writer wants to make a speech sound particularly beautiful and moving. Let’s look at a famous example: the final sentence Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which also has a little parallel structure thrown in at the end – can you spot it?:
Example:It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Tone vs Register vs Syntax - and how they work

Tone mainly concerns the attitude of the writer. How does the writer feel about the subject discussed? Is it made clear through a spirited, argumentative tone, or is it more subtle or removed?
Consider the difference between these two sentences:
  • It is absolutely outrageous that there isn’t more parking available in this shopping center.
  • Northgate Mall would perhaps have more satisfied customers who returned more frequently if they expanded their parking structure.
Tone could also be conversational, funny, sarcastic, personal, emotional, etc.
Syntax is the process of arranging words to make logical sentences. It involves elements like parallel structure, dangling modifiers, subject-verb agreement, fragments, run-ons, comma splices, and more.
Register is the level of formality or informality used in a piece of writing and can be determined by diction (word choice) and syntax (for example, ending a sentence with a preposition would indicate a less formal register). For more information, see “diction.”
Anecdotes are personal stories a writer might choose to tell, either about themselves or someone else, in order to make a more compelling point. Anecdotes often use pathos because people are able to empathize with a story that has a face attached to it. Politicians frequently use anecdotes since they speak to a lot of constituents.
Example:When I was in Ohio, I met Private Mark Smith. He had just returned from Afghanistan and was unable to find a job to support his family. We need to have better support for our nation’s heroes so that veterans like Private Smith can come home to a life they deserve.
Relevant data is a big component of crafting a convincing argument. Writers appeal to an audience’s sense of logos when they use data from studies, provide percentage points, or use other kinds of evidence. For example, politicians might claim credit for a drop in the crime rate during their time in office.

Metaphorical language

Metaphorical language involves moving beyond the literal meanings of words to make evocative comparisons, contrasts, or lend a heightened quality to an idea. Here are just a few examples:
Symbolism involves larger ideas standing in for a thing or person. For example, a dove and an olive branch are often symbols of peace. Writers might use symbolism to hint at a bigger idea that they want to convey through symbols that most people associate with that idea. Symbolism can make for compelling imagery.
Metaphors make comparisons between two things that might not be recognizably comparable at first glance. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun because that’s how powerful and blinding his love is for her. With this metaphor, Shakespeare makes sure the audience understands just how strong Romeo’s feelings for Juliet are.
Similes are similar to metaphors except they use connecting the connecting words “like” or “as.” Someone might say they “slept like a baby” or “ran like the wind.”
Analogies draw comparisons between similar situations or big ideas. A writer at a local newspaper might compare two adversaries in a pie-baking contest to prizefighters in the boxing ring. The two ideas are different, but they hold enough similarities (competition, possibly high stakes) that the analogy adds weight and drama to the actual proceedings.
Personification is the attribution of human qualities to animals or inanimate objects. A table might “groan” under the weight of a pile of papers and books. Of course, the table can’t actually groan, but this image gives the reader a clear idea of how heavy the items on the table are. It’s an additional literary device that can help set the scene and give readers more context.
Hyperbole is an over-exaggeration that helps draw attention to something, often one’s emotions. For example, “I’m so hungry I could eat a hundred tacos!” is hyperbole. The person speaking couldn’t actually eat a hundred tacos, but it helps underline how hungry they feel.
Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole. By deliberately belittling something, the writer can actually highlight it in a different way. For example, let’s say a writer is talking about an issue involving freedom of expression: protesters are staging a rally across the street from a major government building, and politicians are upset. In support of the protesters, the writer could say, “They’re just exercising a little thing called their First Amendment rights.” This understatement, which in this case is also sarcasm, draws attention to how crucial the protesters’ rights are.
Euphemisms are figures of speech often used to gloss over an unpleasant or taboo subject. For example, slavery was often referred to as the “peculiar institution.” Euphemism can give writers a way of making a tough issue more accessible to an audience.

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