Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Rhetorical Argument

An introduction to the types of rhetorical arguments and related concepts.

Introduction

We tend to think of arguments as being black and white: either I'm right and you're wrong, or you're right and I'm wrong. 

Sometimes, however, arguments can be about finding the middle ground. The Rogerian method of argumentation is exactly that. Rather than proving one side is right and the other is wrong, it looks at both sides to see the common ground and reach agreement. A Rogerian argument sounds like a bit of a misnomer - think of it like a negotiation. Sometimes you have to give a little in order to get a little. 

Identifying the common ground between opposing sides can sometimes require a lot of analysis into each side. You cannot make a Rogerian argument without thoroughly understanding both sides of the debate. 

Rogerian arguments also have a very particular format that is followed. 

These types of arguments are useful in situations where both sides of the debate are extremely divisive or hostile to each other.

A Rogerian argument is a type of argument in which the author identifies the goals and issues of different sides of a topic, then attempts to identify commonalities which can be used to help both sides reach an agreement. 

The format of a Rogerian argument is also very particular, following these steps:

  1. The writer presents a problem. At this point, the writer should not put their own opinion into the equation.
  2. The writer talks about the opposing group's point of view regarding the problem. It is important to note here that the writer is not attempting to prove this side wrong; instead, the writer is making an earnest and sincere effort to understand where the other side is coming from.
  3. Then the writer talks about their position on the problem. Again, this is not an attempt to prove the other side wrong, or rebut the other side's arguments, but simply showing where they're coming from.
  4. Finally, the fourth step is the closing. The writer here can provide alternative solutions, compromises, or even showing the middle ground and looking for a way to go forward without animosity. 

Argument papers tend to want to prove or disprove a point, but Rogerian arguments are a bit different. Instead of proving the other side wrong, there is a sincere effort to understand where both sides are coming from and attempt to see how they can work together to find a good solution for both.

It is critical in a Rogerian argument to use neutral language and respect the other side's position and portray it accurately (See also, Logical Fallacies: Strawman). 

Writing a Rogerian argument requires careful analysis, critique, and evaluation of two sides of a debate in order to thoroughly understand the goals and issues of each side. If you are writing a Rogerian argument that is intended to bring two sides together, with you as a sort of neutral party, you must be able to treat both sides with respect and attempt to find commonalities between them.

You can also use a Rogerian argument between yourself (the author of a paper) and your reader. You can assume that your reader believes that cats are better than dogs, and you personally believe that dogs are better than cats. Rather than starting off an argument paper with, "You're wrong, and here's why" - which will likely alienate your reader! - you can start off with the common ground: "We both like animals! It's just a matter of personality. Dogs are better for some people because...". 

Starting with what you have in common, rather than why the other side is wrong, can help you to persuade your reader to accept your side of the argument.

Finding the common ground isn't always easy; some issues seem very much diametrically opposed to one another. 

Let's take homeschooling. 

SIDE A: Homeschooling is better because it allows parents more control over their children's education and allows for more creativity and individualized learning. 

SIDE B: Traditional schooling is better because it provides a chance for socialization with other children, has stricter standards for evaluation, and provides more structure for learning.

On the surface, these two things are totally opposed to one another. One side thinks that creativity is better and the other thinks structure is better, so how do we find a common ground?

Sometimes it takes thinking outside of the box. In this case, you may argue that both sides value education and want what's best for their children, they just have different ways of doing that. 

 

The full format of an argument may be:

1. Protecting the environment is important to making sure that we all have adequate resources in the future. If the environment is harmed irrevocably, it puts future generations in danger. (State the problem and how it affects both sides)

2. It is understandable that many people believe that environmental protections may cause them to lose their jobs or harm their way of living. (Acknowledge the other side)

3. Others believe that environmental protections are more important and should be strictly legislated. (State the position of your side)

4. By instituting higher standards for fuel emissions, people can still enjoy their way of living while employing some environmental protections (Find the common ground/Alternate solution)