Essay Rogerian Argument

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What is a Rogerian Argument

Before you know how to write a Rogerian argument, you should first know what a Rogerian argument is. A Rogerian argument is also called the "common ground" argument because this method requires you to identify the ideas, beliefs and arguments you and your audience share in common. The assumption, therefore, is that you and your intended audience share common ideas, beliefs and arguments. Hence, the task is to identify these commonalities and use them to further argue.

Rogerian arguments are oftentimes used in essays such as position papers. One advantage of using Rogerian argumentation is that the writer or speaker gains the attention of the audience and prevents them from immediately arguing in opposition. The effect is that you'll be more likely to persuade your listeners or readers.

Here are some Rogerian argument ideas.


Rogerian Argument Outline

  1. Introduce the problem and show why you and your intended audience are affected by the problem.

  2. Lay down the common beliefs, ideas and arguments between you and your listeners (if you are speaking) or readers (if you are writing a position paper).

  3. Reveal the position that you are holding without saying that your position is better than the opposing belief.

  4. Show instances where and when your position is valid and how your position differs from the opposing belief.

  5. State your thesis.

Rogerian Argument Example/Sample (corresponding to the outline above using the topic cigarette smoking)

  1. Smoking cigarettes can cause lung problems. Both first-hand and second-hand smokers are affected by cigarette smoke.

  2. Scientific findings and researches show that the chemicals in cigarettes, apart from the smoke, can lead to health problems such as lung cancer.

  3. Smoking cigarettes should be banned in public places.

  4. In public places, more people, both young and old, can be exposed to the smoke from cigarettes. My position differs from those who might say that smoking altogether should not be banned. My position is that smoking in public places should be banned. It does not include smoking in private places like homes.

  5. Smoking in public places should be banned because it poses health risks to individuals who are non-smokers and who do not want to inhale the fumes from cigarettes. The risks are double to those who already have lung ailments.
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What is Rogerian Argument? (Kiefer)

Typically, we think of winners and losers of arguments. Our tradition of argument goes back to classical Greece when speakers tried to sway fellow voters in the early democratic debates over policy. Building on this tradition of pro and con, our judicial system goes even further to emphasize the adversarial nature of many arguments. But arguments don't always have to assume that readers make a yes/no, innocent/guilty, on/off decision. Many arguments build toward consensus. In our textbook, Aims of Argument, the authors devote a chapter to mediating/negotiating arguments that aim to reach consensus. Another approach our authors don't describe is called Rogerian argument.

Based on Carl Rogers' work in psychology, Rogerian argument begins by assuming that a willing writer can find middle or common ground with a willing reader. Instead of promoting the adversarial relationship that traditional or classical argument typically sets up between reader and writer, Rogerian argument assumes that if reader and writer can both find common ground about a problem, they are more likely to find a solution to that problem. Based on these assumptions, Rogerian argument develops along quite different lines than a traditional argument often does.

In the introduction to a Rogerian argument, the writer presents the problem, typically pointing out how both writer and reader are affected by the problem. Rather than presenting an issue that divides reader and writer, or a thesis that demands agreement (and in effect can be seen as an attack on a reader who holds an opposing view), the Rogerian argument does not begin with the writer's position at all.

Next, the writer describes as fairly as possible--typically in language as neutral as possible--the reader's perceived point of view on the problem. Only if the writer can represent the reader's perspective accurately will the reader begin to move toward compromise, and so this section of the argument is crucial to the writer's credibility. (Even though writers might be tempted to use this section of the Rogerian argument to manipulate readers, that strategy usually backfires when readers perceive the writer's insincerity. Good will is crucial to the success of a Rogerian argument.) Moreover, as part of the writer's commitment to expressing the reader's perspective on the problem, the writer acknowledges the circumstances and contexts in which the reader's position or perspective is valid.

In the next main chunk of the Rogerian argument, the writer then presents fairly and accurately his or her own perspective or position on the problem. This segment depends, again, on neutral but clear language so that the reader perceives the fair-mindedness of the writer's description. The segment is, however, a major factor in whether or not the writer is ultimately convincing, and so key evidence supports and develops this section of the argument. Like the description of the reader's perspective, this part of the argument also includes a description of the contexts or circumstances in which the writer's position is valid.

The Rogerian essay closes not by asking readers to give up their own positions on the problem but by showing how the reader would benefit from moving toward the writer's position. In other words, the final section of the Rogerian argument lays out possible ways to compromise or alternative solutions to the problem that would benefit both reader and writer under more circumstances than either perspective alone accounts for.

Rogerian approaches are particularly useful for emotionally charged, highly divisive issues. The Rogerian approach typically downplays the emotional in favor of the rational so that people of good will can find solutions to common problems. But no argument, Rogerian or otherwise, will succeed unless the writer understands the reader. Rogerian argument is especially dependent on audience analysis because the writer must present the reader's perspective clearly, accurately, and fairly.

If you want to read more about Rogerian argument, Kate Kiefer has additional explanations and sample texts available in 338 Eddy.

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