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Traditional vs. Rogerian

Form of Arguments

The purpose of an argument is to convince an undecided audience, but there are different ways of doing this.

There are many different ways of arguing. As you might have learned from my website, in a traditional argument, students will make a claim/thesis, support the main points of the claim, provide evidence to back their support, refute the opposition, and then conclude. This is an aggressive way of arguing. But there are other forms of arguing; one of the most well-known alternative form of argument is the Rogerian argument.

The Rogerian Argument

In a circus, the ring master is typically in charge of working with and training lions. I once had a unique conversation with such a ring master. He told me that one of the key rules when working with lions is that you approach them in a non-threatening way. This idea might hold true with many animals, but when working with lions, this is particularly important; his life, he explained, depended on it.

The Rogerian method for arguing is similar to the situation of the ring master: Some issues are so highly charged that it is very difficult (and perhaps impossible) to persuade the audience. In a situation like this, the writer should approach the audience in a non-threatening way; the argument depends on it. The Rogerian method of arguing was named after the psychologist Carl Rogers, and he describes it as a kind of negotiation where both opposing parties compromise. If people are to agree with each other, then they need to be sensitive to each other's beliefs; this means that--to a certain extent--they need to be willing to change their position on the issue . Because so much of the Rogerian argument relies on a person's ability to be sympathetic to the opposing viewpoint, the development of the writer's ethos, or to their own credibility is critical in the essay.

  • Remember! If you choose a Rogerian argument, you need to we willing to somewhat shift your beliefs.

Rogerian Argument At-a-Glance

  • Avoiding a confrontational stance. Confrontation threatens the audience and increases their defensiveness. Threat hinders communication.
  • Presenting your character as someone who understands and can empathize with the opposition. Show that you understand by restating the opposing position accurately.
  • Establishing common ground with the opposition. Indicate the beliefs and values that you share.
  • Being willing to change your views. Show where your position is not reasonable and could be modified.
  • Directing your argument toward a compromise or workable solution.

Note: An argument does not have to be either entirely traditional or entirely Rogerian. You may use Rogerian techniques for the most sensitive points in an argument that is otherwise traditional and confrontational.

This excerpt--"Rogerian Argument At-a-Glance"--was taken from the Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers, a custom addition, by Stephen Reid.