When do people use red herrings?

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One of the numerous logical fallacies you may come across in essays, speeches, opinion pieces, and even casual conversations is the red herring fallacy, which is an effort to divert attention from the issue at hand and place it on something unrelated.

You've undoubtedly heard of red herrings being used in debates. You may have even used them yourself, consciously or unconsciously. Since they are so prevalent in human communication, logical fallacies can be simple to overlook. However, if you are aware of them, you can see them in your work and correct them before they weaken your arguments.

When do people use it?

People use red herrings in nearly every kind of communication. These include the following:

  • Persuasive essays
  • Argumentative essays
  • Debates
  • Speeches
  • Conversations
  • Storytelling
  • Emails
  • Blog posts

Sometimes, speakers and writers make red herring statements inadvertently, either because they genuinely think the statement they’re making is relevant to the discussion or because they aren’t thinking critically about the statements they’re making. 

A red herring can also be a literary device. If you’ve ever read a mystery novel where the clues seem to point to one culprit, only for the story’s true villain to be revealed later, you’ve read a story that uses a red herring as a literary device. Arthur Conan Doyle made use of red herrings in some of his Sherlock Holmes stories, like The Hound of the Baskervilles. 


The purpose of a red herring is to distract the reader or listener from the actual issue being discussed in a conversation or piece of writing. This isn’t always for nefarious purposes—sometimes, it’s a literary strategy used to keep readers in suspense. But for the purposes of this post, we’ll be focusing on the red herring fallacy as it’s used in rhetoric. You can also download our app from the playstore or visit our website.