Rogerian argument (based on American psychologist Carl Rogers’s studies in psychotherapy) is a bit different—its goal is to develop consensus among readers rather than establish an adversarial relationship. The idea is that a successful argument is a winning situation for everyone. Avoiding all emotionally sensitive language, the writer phrases statements in as neutral a way as possible to avoid alienating readers by minimizing threat and establishing trust. The analysis of the opposition’s point of view is carefully and objectively worded, demonstrating that the writer understands the position and reasons for believing it. In preparation for the conclusion, the writer points out the common characteristics, goals, and values of the arguments and persons involved. Finally, the writer proposes a resolution that recognizes the interests of all interested parties.
There are basically two types of argument: Aristotelian, or adversarial, and Rogerian, or consensus-building. Aristotelian argument (based on the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle) is made to confirm a position or hypothesis or to refute an existing argument. Using the techniques at hand, the writer attempts to persuade the reader to a particular point of view. The writer uses logic, appeals to the rational in the audience, and provides empirical and commonsense evidence to persuade the audience members to change their beliefs, attitudes, and actions.
Writers tend to read over their own papers pretty quickly, with the knowledge of what they are trying to argue already in their minds. Reading in this way can cause you to skip over gaps in your written argument because the gap-filler is in your head. A problem occurs when your reader falls into these gaps. Your reader wants you to make the necessary connections from one thought or sentence to the next. When you don’t, the reader can become confused or frustrated. Think about when you read something and you struggle to find the most important points or what the writer is trying to say. Isn’t that annoying? Doesn’t it make you want to quit reading and surf the web or call a friend?
Thinking about your audience differently can improve your writing, especially in terms of how clearly you express your argument. The clearer your points are, the more likely you are to have a strong essay. Your instructor will say, “He really understands communism—he’s able to explain it simply and clearly!” By treating your instructor as an intelligent but uninformed audience, you end up addressing her more effectively.
When you’re in the process of writing a paper, it’s easy to forget that you are actually writing to someone. Whether you’ve thought about it consciously or not, you always write to an audience: sometimes your audience is a very generalized group of readers, sometimes you know the individuals who compose the audience, and sometimes you write for yourself. Keeping your audience in mind while you write can help you make good decisions about what material to include, how to organize your ideas, and how best to support your argument.
Because people don’t always agree on what is right or reasonable, appropriately constructed argument helps us arrive at what is fair or true. It is used to settle disputes and discover truth. Instructors assign argumentative writing so students can learn to examine their own and other’s ideas in a careful, methodical way. Argument teaches us how to evaluate conflicting claims and judge evidence and methods of investigation. Argument helps us learn to clarify our thoughts and articulate them honestly and accurately and to consider the ideas of others in a respectful and critical manner.