Drafting an Argument

Rogerian Method

Most of the time we think of arguments as adversarial, taking place between people who fundamentally disagree. One will be right and the other wrong; one wins and the other loses. This works in legal systems as well as in the context of many other situations. But often-especially in academic arguing-no single position regarding a controversy is completely right.

When you're working on an issue or problem about which more than one viewpoint may be valid, you may want to try drafting an argument that is oriented more toward mediation. Unlike adversarial arguments, which typically begin with a firm claim, an argument that mediates will postpone stating a position until much later in the presentation, often the middle or the end.

There are a number of ways to do this; one of the best being based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers. A Rogerian argument presumes that if author and audience find common ground regarding an issue or problem, they will be more likely to find, or agree upon, a common solution. It succeeds only when the author understands the audience. He or she must present the audience's perspective clearly, accurately, and fairly before asking them to consider an alternative position or solution.

This method downplays emotional appeals in favor of the rational and is particularly useful in dealing with emotionally charged, highly divisive issues and allows for people of good will on different sides of an issue to find, or agree upon, solutions together.

Parts of a Rogerian Argument

The introduction typically points out how both the author and the audience are similarly affected. Rather than presenting a thesis demanding agreement, which is often seen as an attack on whomever holds an opposing view; this presentation emphasizes unity, putting the audience first.

The audience perspective comes next. Described as clearly and accurately as possible-typically in neutral language-the author acknowledges their point of view and the circumstances and contexts in which their perspective or position is valid. Done well, the author builds good will and credibility with the audience, a crucial step leading toward potential compromise. Honest, heartfelt sincerity is the key here: if the audience perceives an attempt at manipulation, the Rogerian argument strategy generally backfires.

The author's perspective comes in the next chunk of the argument. For the audience to give it a listen it must be presented in as fair-minded a way as was theirs, in language as equally neutral and clear. To be convincing, besides describing the circumstances or contexts in which the position is valid, it must contain the evidence that supports the claim.

The closing of a Rogerian argument doesn't ask the audience to give up their position, but shows how they would benefit from moving closer toward that of the author's. In other words, it ends by laying out the ways a compromise or alternative solution benefits both audience and author under a wider variety of circumstances than either can account for alone.

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