Lecture 7:
Let's Try This a Different Way:
Toulmin and Rogerian Arguments

In Lecture 2, I gave you the classic structure for a persuasive essay. But there are two other structures of which you should be aware: the Toulmin and the Rogerian structures. Sometimes one of these will suit your needs better than the classic structure. Knowing these gives you more tools to work with.

Toulmin Argument

In 1958, philosopher Stephen Toulmin wrote, in The Uses of Argument, that the classic argument is sometimes inadequate for addressing issues that arise in everyday life. He proposed a new structure that has more flexibility. Here is his structure:

  1. Claim: The main point of your essay; your thesis; your argument
  2. Grounds: The concrete evidence supporting your claim: facts, observations, opinions of experts.
  3. Warrant: The inference that links the claim with the grounds. Ideally, an idea with which your readers will agree.
  4. Backing: Statements that support the warrant.
  5. Rebuttal: What are the objections to this argument? How can you answer them?

The Toulmin model also allows for qualifiers: statements that limit the claim. They can include words such as some, sometimes, occasionally, most, often, usually, etc. In other words, in real life we realize that there are few absolutes, and that qualified statements are often more accurate and believable.

Here's an example:

  1. Claim: The Ravens will most likely win the Super Bowl this year.
  2. Grounds: They have the best defense in the league.
  3. Warrant: The team with the best defense usually wins.
  4. Backing: The team with the best defense has won each of the last five years. Thus, the probability that the Ravens will win the Super Bowl is 80 percent.
  5. Rebuttal: Anything could happen. The Ravens defense might have a lot of injuries.

(adapted from University of Mary Washington, Toulmin Argument Model)

Click on this link to see an example of an essay using the Toulmin model. Source: The Online Writing Lab at Excelsior College:
Sample Toulmin Essay: "Every Little Girl Wants to Be a Princess, Right?"

Rogerian Argument

In most arguments, you are trying to "win"--that is, to make the people on the other side take the action or adopt the opinion you want. But in some circumstances, you need to focus more on solving a problem. Or perhaps your opponent is so deeply opposed to your position that s/he will not even listen to an argument. Sometimes, people feel threatened by their opponent's position, and thus are so fearful that they can't even listen to another point of view.

In that case, it is necessary to reduce the threat. Carl Rogers was a psychotherapist. He says that in cases like this, the participants need to become partners rather than opponents. A Rogerian aims at finding a middle ground between the author and the audience.

A Rogerian argument is nonconfrontational and friendly. It respects other views and allows for multiple truths. It admits the validity of the opposing argument and tries to achieve a degree of consent or a compromise.

Usually, a Rogerian argument is structured in the following way:

  1. State the problem
  2. Give the opponent's position
  3. Show what is valid about that position, in a respectful way.
  4. Show how the opponent's position can be improved if s/he accepts some or all of the writer's position.

Click on this link to see an example of an essay using the Rogerian model. Source: The Online Writing Lab at Excelsior College
Sample Rogerian Essay: "Safety and Structure First: The Debate about Homeschooling"

Which is Best?

Now you know three types of arguments: the classic (also called Aristotelian, since Aristotle created it); the Toulmin, and the Rogerian. Which is best?

That depends on the situation. Think about your goals, your audience, and the message you want to send. Think also about your own personality and which approach is most comfortable to you. Then choose which style you think will work best in the given situation.