Rhetorical Approaches

Rhetorical Approaches

There are numerous approaches that writers can adopt in attempting to convince an audience that an argument is sound. These formal approaches date back to as early as 400 B.C.E., when Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle began developing theories on how best to mediate important public issues.

In this course, the term “argument” can refer to a variety of persuasive texts that attempt to sway audiences toward taking action on matters of public controversy. Throughout the term, you will be asked to evaluate numerous arguments, take up your own positions on important contemporary subjects, and advance your own lengthy (ten-page) set of proofs on a subject that is important to you.

Argument need not be agonistic in nature, and the term “rhetoric” has developed negative connotations in recent years as a tool meant to confuse or obfuscate meaning in important collective issues. Rhetorical studies and argumentative discussions—from the recent Presidential debates to the kinds of colloquial conversations that we engage in at backyard cookouts—form the foundation for creating awareness, developing civility, and productively deliberating the issues that influence us as members of society. Fortunately, we live in an egalitarian society in which many of these issues are settled through the democratic process; therefore, we can disagree with each other on these important issues and still move forward as a healthy and productive nation. Always remember that it is the mark of an agile mind to be able to entertain viewpoints that you might oppose with civility and grace. (1)

Aristotelian Rhetoric

Aristotle correctly perceived a potential for abuse when the few unilaterally make decisions for the many. Such a circumstance might be productively mediated through including an element of discourse—or the ability to advance arguments from multiple perspectives in public settings—to help identify the best plans of action on collective issues.

While Aristotle’s Rhetoric is certainly complex, its core tents of ethos, pathos, and logos retain a sense of elegance in their simplicity. Aristotle defined rhetoric as the best means of persuasion for a given situation, which meant that rhetoricians must make a careful assessment of the communication act and keep these rhetorical qualities in mind in advancing their cases. (1)


Ethos was Aristotle’s term for establishing the speaker’s credibility, and he considered this the most critical element in the communication act. Ethos is comprised of “intelligence, character, and goodwill” (Rottenberg and Winchell 7). These qualities take various forms in various contexts, of course. Intelligence flows from circumstance, our lived experiences, and our formal educations. Character takes the form of truthful and just intentions and arguments based on dependable and ethical information. Goodwill flows from argumentative intent and a careful understanding of the needs of others. If a communicator can establish that he or she is worth listening to, has credible things to say, and is speaking from a place of ethical intent, then he or she has a much better chance of making a persuasive case.


Pathos refers to the capacity to appeal to the emotional needs of the audience. Satisfying the pathetic burdens of an argument is often a product of understanding the communication purpose ( exigence ) and the target audience. Developing a feel for the audience’s needs often comes down to asking a few simple questions: What am I trying to prove? Who is my audience, and what are their expectations surrounding this communication activity? Developing an understanding of such demographic components as age, race, gender, income level, and educational attainment can also shape our appeals to diverse audiences.

An instructive fictional example of this concept surfaces early in Gus Van Sant’s powerful 2012 film Promised Land . Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is a corporate salesman hoping to secure the leasing rights to drill for natural gas on a number of family farms in rural Pennsylvania. His first act upon arrival is to stop at a local general store to purchase blue jeans, work boots, and a couple of flannel shirts. His task compels him to enter the living rooms of potential lessees that are far removed from corporate America, and his understanding of his audience’s needs requires that he adjust his appearance to make the best possible case for his company’s interests.


Logos refers to the logical components of an argument. These components include evidence, facts and figures, expert testimony, and the grounds for argumentation itself (induction and deduction will be explored at greater length later in the term). Providing compelling support to your audience serves a number of important purposes. Opening your argument with a compelling case study, for instance, can serve to explain the heart of the argument. If that case study includes a human element, it can aid in personifying your argument. Providing a human face to such abstract concepts as child abuse or environmental degradation, for instance, can make these complicated subjects easier to grasp for your audience. As noted in the introduction to this learning module, locating and advancing credible, relevant proof is becoming increasingly difficult in the digital era. Ideally, at the conclusion of this course, you will have developed a variety of habits and identified some productive resources in your own approach to advancing logical proofs.

Aristotle’s theories seem simple enough. One should illustrate credibility early in the argumentative process. One should carefully examine the intended audience and the purpose of the communication act prior to developing an argument. And one should find credible, relevant resources upon which to base an argument.

It is important to note that Aristotle’s rhetorical approach is neutral. He notes that these principles of sound argumentation can be used by both virtuous and depraved individuals, and that persuasive rhetoric can yield both positive and negative outcomes for a given society (Rapp). Developing a stronger understanding of basic logic, the logical fallacies, and the intentions of the communicator helps us identify flawed arguments so that we can attempt to refute them, ignore them, or expose them to greater culture. (1)

Rogerian Argument

The Rogerian argument, inspired by the influential psychologist Carl Rogers, aims to find compromise on a controversial issue.

If you are using the Rogerian approach, your introduction to the argument should accomplish the following tasks. Your introduction should:

Introduce the author and the work

Usually, you will introduce the author and the work early in your analysis, as in this example:

In Dwight Okita’s “In Response to Executive Order 9066,” the narrator addresses an inevitable byproduct of war—racism. The first time that you refer to the author, refer to him or her by his or her full name. After that, refer to the author by last name only. Never refer to an author by his or her first name only.

>Provide the audience with a short, concise summary of the source material

Remember, your audience has already read the work you are responding to. Therefore, you do not need to provide a lengthy summary. Focus on the main points of the work to which you are responding and use direct quotations sparingly. Direct quotations work best when they are powerful and compelling.

State the main issue addressed in the work

Your thesis, or claim, will come after you summarize the two sides of the issue.

The Introduction

The following is an example of how the introduction of a Rogerian argument can be written. The topic is racial profiling.

In Dwight Okita’s “In Response to Executive Order 9066,” the narrator—a young Japanese-American—writes a letter to the government, who has ordered her family into a relocation camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the letter, the narrator details the people in her life, from her father to her best friend at school. Since the narrator is of Japanese descent, her best friend accuses her of “trying to start a war” (18). The narrator is seemingly too naïve to realize the ignorance of this statement, and tells the government that she asked this friend to plant tomato seeds in her honor. Though Okita’s poem deals specifically with World War II, the issue of race relations during wartime is still relevant. Recently, with the outbreaks of terrorism in the United States, Spain, and England, many are calling for racial profiling to stifle terrorism. The issue has sparked debate, with one side calling it racism and the other calling it common sense.

Once you have written your introduction, you must now show the two sides to the debate you are addressing. Though there are always more than two sides to a debate, Rogerian arguments put two viewpoints in stark opposition with one another. Summarize each side, then provide a middle path. Your summary of the two sides will be your first two body paragraphs. Use quotations from outside sources to effectively illustrate the position of each side. (2)

The Claim

Since the goal of Rogerian argument is to find a common ground between two opposing positions, you must identify the shared beliefs or assumptions of each side. In the example above, both sides of the racial profiling issue want to ensure the safety of the American public. A solid Rogerian argument acknowledges the desires of each side, and tries to accommodate both. Again, using the racial profiling example above, both sides desire a safer society, and perhaps a better solution would focus on more objective measures than race; an effective start would be to use more screening technology on public transportation. Once you have a claim that disarms the central dispute, you should support the claim with evidence and quotations when appropriate. (2)

Quoting Effectively

Remember, you should quote to illustrate a point you are making. You should not, however, quote to simply take up space. Make sure all quotations are compelling and intriguing: Consider the following example. In “The Danger of Political Correctness,” author Richard Stein asserts that, “the desire to not offend has now become more important than protecting national security” (52). This statement sums up the beliefs of those in favor of profiling in public places. (2)

The Conclusion

Your conclusion should:

  • Bring the essay back to what is discussed in the introduction
  • Tie up loose ends
  • End on a thought-provoking note

The following is a sample conclusion:

Though the debate over racial profiling is sure to continue, each side desires to make the United States a safer place. With that goal in mind, our society deserves better security measures than merely searching a person who might have a darker complexion. We cannot waste time with such subjective matters, especially when we have technology that could more effectively locate potential terrorists. Sure, installing metal detectors and cameras on public transportation is costly, but feeling safe in public is priceless. (2)

The Toulmin Approach to Rhetoric

Stephen Edelston Toulmin (born March 25, 1922) is a British philosopher, author, and educator. Influenced by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Toulmin devoted his works to the analysis of moral reasoning. Throughout his writings, he seeks to develop practical arguments which can be used effectively in evaluating the ethics behind moral issues. The Toulmin Model of Argumentation, a diagram containing six interrelated components used for analyzing arguments, was considered his most influential work, particularly in the field of rhetoric and communication, and in computer science.

Stephen Toulmin is a British philosopher and educator who devoted to analyzing moral reasoning. Throughout his writings, he seeks to develop practical arguments which can be used effectively in evaluating the ethics behind moral issues. His most famous work was his Model of Argumentation (sometimes called “Toulmin’s Schema,” which is a method of analyzing an argument by breaking it down into six parts. Once an argument is broken down and examined, weaknesses in the argument can be found and addressed. (3)

Toulmin’s Schema

  1. Claim: conclusions whose merit must be established. For example, if a person tries to convince a listener that he is a British citizen, the claim would be “I am a British citizen.”
  2. Data: the facts appealed to as a foundation for the claim. For example, the person introduced in 1 can support his claim with the supporting data “I was born in Bermuda.”
  3. Warrant: the statement authorizing the movement from the data to the claim. In order to move from the data established in 2, “I was born in Bermuda,” to the claim in 1, “I am a British citizen,” the person must supply a warrant to bridge the gap between 1 & 2 with the statement “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British Citizen.” Toulmin stated that an argument is only as strong as its weakest warrant and if a warrant isn’t valid, then the whole argument collapses. Therefore, it is important to have strong, valid warrants.
  4. Backing: facts that give credibility to the statement expressed in the warrant; backing must be introduced when the warrant itself is not convincing enough to the readers or the listeners. For example, if the listener does not deem the warrant as credible, the speaker would supply legal documents as backing statement to show that it is true that “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British Citizen.”
  5. Backing: facts that give credibility to the statement expressed in the warrant; backing must be introduced when the warrant itself is not convincing enough to the readers or the listeners. For example, if the listener does not deem the warrant as credible, the speaker would supply legal documents as backing statement to show that it is true that “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British Citizen.”
  6. Rebuttal: statements recognizing the restrictions to which the claim may legitimately be applied. The rebuttal is exemplified as follows, “A man born in Bermuda will legally be a British citizen, unless he has betrayed Britain and become a spy of another country.”
  7. Qualifier: words or phrases expressing how certain the author/speaker is concerning the claim. Such words or phrases include “possible,” “probably,” “impossible,” “certainly,” “presumably,” “as far as the evidence goes,” or “necessarily.” The claim “I am definitely a British citizen” has a greater degree of force than the claim “I am a British citizen, presumably.”

The first three elements, or the “claim,” “data,” and “warrant,” are considered as the essential components of practical arguments, while the 4-6 “Qualifier,” “Backing,” and “Rebuttal” may not be needed in some arguments. When first proposed, this layout of argumentation is based on legal arguments and intended to be used to analyze arguments typically found in the courtroom; in fact, Toulmin did not realize that this layout would be applicable to the field of rhetoric and communication until later. (3)

Examples of Toulmin’s Schema

Suppose you see a one of those commercials for a product that promises to give you whiter teeth. Here are the basic parts of the argument behind the commercial:

  1. Claim: You should buy our tooth-whitening product.
  2. Data: Studies show that teeth are 50% whiter after using the product for a specified time.
  3. Warrant: People want whiter teeth.
  4. Backing: Celebrities want whiter teeth.
  5. Rebuttal: Commercial says “unless you don’t want to attract guys.”
  6. Qualifier: Fine print says “product must be used six weeks for results.”

Notice that those commercials don’t usually bother trying to convince you that you want whiter teeth; instead, they assume that you have bought into the value our culture places on whiter teeth. When an assumption—a warrant in Toulmin’s terms—is unstated, it’s called an implicit warrant. Sometimes, however, the warrant may need to be stated because it is a powerful part of the argument. When the warrant is stated, it’s called an explicit warrant. (3)

Additional Examples

Example 2:

  1. Claim: People should probably own a gun.
  2. Data: Studies show that people who own a gun are less likely to be mugged.
  3. Warrant: People want to be safe.
  4. Backing: May not be necessary. In this case, it is common sense that people want to be safe.
  5. Rebuttal: Not everyone should own a gun. Children and those will mental disorders/problems should not own a gun.
  6. Qualifier: The word “probably” in the claim.

Example 1:

  1. Claim: Flag burning should be unconstitutional in most cases.
  2. Data: A national poll says that 60% of Americans want flag burning unconstitutional
  3. Warrant: People want to respect the flag.
  4. Backing: Official government procedures for the disposal of flags.
  5. Rebuttal: Not everyone in the U.S. respects the flag.
  6. Qualifier: The phrase “in most cases”

Toulmin says that the weakest part of any argument is its weakest warrant. Remember that the warrant is the link between the data and the claim. If the warrant isn’t valid, the argument collapses. (3)


In many instances, you will use elements of these rhetorical approaches in combination with each other as you formulate your own arguments. Elements of the Rogerian method can be useful in persuading hostile audiences to move toward compromise. Aristotle’s teachings on three important tenets of the art of persuasion remain important to modern discourse, many centuries after he first recorded them in the Rhetoric . And Toulmin’s schema provides modern rhetoricians with a valuable model consisting of the claim, warrant, and support. While each of these approaches has considerable merit, we will be using the Toulmin framework most frequently in this section of ENC 1102. (1)