Possibilities for Persuasion: Two Methods of Constructing an Academic Argument

Anne Canavan


There are competitive and conversational methods of persuading an audience, and each one has its own benefits.

While every argumentfrom an informal discussion about whether Jurassic Park is the best movie of all time, to a high-stakes negotiation to purchase a home or car—the way these arguments are structured in college writing can look a little different from what you might be used to. Here, we are going to discuss two potential methods to reach your audience—Aristotelian (or classical), and Rogerian approaches. These two approaches are based in western, English-speaking argumentative traditions. There are also different traditions of argument, such as Kishou-Tenketsu within Japanese cultures, Native American practices of group circle dispute-resolution, or Arabic strategies that involve questioning and seeking knowledge from the audience.


Let’s start with the Aristotelian argument, as that is likely the one that is most familiar to western, English-speaking audiences when they think of persuasion because it is the one most commonly taught in school. An Aristotelian argument will involve:

  • presenting your central claim (what you want the reader to think or do),
  • explaining why your ideas are correct/important, and
  • addressing (arguing against) some of the major points of the opposition.

When you compose an Aristotelian argument, everything in the essay works to support one central thesis statement (a claim) and conveys some of the main reasons for the claim that is being articulated. This kind of argument tends to be competitive, and it may fit in with what people think of as a debate-style approach to persuasion, where there are clear winners and losers.

This approach to persuasion has some advantages: it’s comfortable for a lot of western audiences and the organization can help writers plug in their ideas to see what they still need. However, it might alienate your audience if they perceive that you think of them as the opposition, or, worse yet, the enemy. If you are not careful in your research, you might also produce some simplistic arguments that ignore the fact that most issues have more than two sides. 

Within Aristotelian arguments, you may encounter the Toulmin model when you are being asked to craft a persuasive message. The three central parts of the Toulmin model are the claim (the main argument you are making), the grounds (which are the evidence and reasoning that supports your claim), and the warrant (which is the logical connection between the claim and the grounds). For instance, I might claim that velociraptors are the best pets, and my grounds might be that they are intelligent. The warrant connecting those two ideas is that intelligence is desirable in a pet. The Toulmin method is a useful tool for reading and writing Aristotelian arguments. If your warrant isn’t inherently understood by your audience—because they don’t share the same cultural norms or values with you—you need to explicitly share it with them; otherwise, your claims and evidence will not make logical sense.


The second major form of persuasion you might encounter in your college career is Rogerian argument, named for psychotherapist Carl Rogers. As might be expected in a form of persuasion named for a therapist, the core of Rogerian argument is understanding. If Aristotelian argument is primarily concerned with winning, Rogerian argument is in search of compromise with others.

To compose a Rogerian argument, you would:

  • seek to convey to your reader that you understand and respect their position,
  • discuss the areas where you find value and consensus between their point of view and your own,
  • show the reader that you are also a reasonable person with views that have at least some similarities to their own, and that a compromise could be found between your positions.

Rogerian argument is centered on the idea that everyone participating in the conversation is a person of good-will and that they want the best outcome, not simply to win. This style of argument also has advantages: it leads to more complex understandings of issues and how they are inter-related; it encourages respectful and empathetic communication; and it mirrors the kind of problem-solving we do on a regular basis with our loved ones. On the other hand, the Rogerian argument is less well-known, and instructors in college might automatically expect the Aristotelian approach from you.

Organization and Outlines

Now that we have a general understanding of these two different approaches to persuasion, let’s take a look at what an outline for each style might look like. Once you are comfortable with your structure, you can add to and complicate these outlines to suit your own purposes. 


A. Introduction and thesis, where you state your central, arguable idea – Velociraptors = best pets

B. Your first reason for your point of view – Guard pets

a. Raptors would be great guard animals because they are large and good at killing other creatures.

b. They are also fast―no one gets away!

c. Counterargument where you address reason(s) people might disagree with your point – Probably not good to have dead people around, even if they tried to break in.

i. Maybe self-defense works for raptors too? NOTE: Check Utah laws

ii. Smith’s article says that raptors are very neat and clean up after themselves when they kill something/someone.

C. Main point 2 – Intelligent

a. Raptors can open doors, so you don’t have to worry about accidents in the house!

b. Counterargument: Raptors can open doors so they can escape and destroy the neighborhood.

i. Can raptors open locked doors?

D. Main point 3 (continue with this structure until you have made your central claims) – Hypo-allergenic

a. Raptors are much cleaner to have around the house than dogs/cats.

b. Less need for bathing, etc., so better for a dry climate like Utah.

E. Conclusion

a. Briefly restate B, C, D.

b. Touch on how much B, C, D outweigh counterarguments.

c. Tell the reader where they might get a raptor of their own.



A. Introduction – Define what raptors are, general information about pet ownership in the US, and a general statement of purpose.

B. Presentation and validation of perspectives other than your own – Address as many points as possible.

a. Some people are scared of raptors, which is reasonable since they are predators.

b. Some people might not have space for raptors to run and burn off their energy, which could be an especially big problem in apartments.

i. Note to self: Can raptors be leash trained? 

c. Feeding raptors can be very expensive since they are large animals who eat a lot of meat.

i. This makes a lot of sense, especially with inflation.

C. Presentation of own perspective

a. Guard pets (see Aristotelian outline sections B, C, D for details)

D. Analysis of commonalities amongst various perspectives

a. First commonality – We all agree that pets are great.

b. Second commonality – It is good to have a pet that fulfill a number of roles in the household.

c. Repeat for other commonalities.   

E. Conclusion that presents negotiation or outcome that may benefit all perspectives

a. While raptors might not be right for everyone, more people might benefit from adopting a lizard or snake.

b. Consider the virtues of less traditional pets when deciding to add one to your home.


Aristotelian Rogerian
Primary goal
  • “Winning” an argument by persuading your audience that your point of view is best
  • Advancing your own point of view, with sections that highlight and answer opposing argument
  • Seeking understanding and compromise with your audience
  • Emphasizing common ground with your reader and proposing a solution / understanding that meets the needs of both groups
Paper structure
  • Lay out your main ideas with supporting evidence
  • Address counterarguments
  • Acknowledge and validate other positions
  • Demonstrate your own perspective
  • Find and highlight commonalities between positions
  • Restate your central argument
  • Offer options to take action / learn more
  • Offer suggestions for negotiation and compromise between all perspectives


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Open English @ SLCC Copyright © 2016 by Anne Canavan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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