The Classical Argument
Since teachers of rhetoric began teaching Greek farmers strategies for appealing their cases to Greek courts in the fifth century B.C., the classical argument has stood as a model for writers who believe their case can be argued logically and plausibly to an open-minded audience. In its simplest form, the classical argument has five main parts:
The introduction, which warms up the audience, establishes goodwill and rapport with the readers, and announces the general theme or thesis of the argument.
The narration - summarizes relevant background material, provides any information the audience needs to know about the environment and circumstances that produce the argument, and set up the stakes–what is at risk in this question.
The confirmation - lays out in a logical order (usually strongest to weakest or most obvious to most subtle) the claims that support the thesis, providing evidence for each claim.
The refutation and concession - looks at opposing viewpoints to the writer’s claims, anticipating objections from the audience, and allowing as much of the opposing viewpoints as possible without weakening the thesis.
The summation - provides a strong conclusion, amplifying the force of the argument, and showing the readers that this solution is the best at meeting the circumstances.
Each of these paragraphs represents a chunk of the paper, which might be one or more paragraphs; for instance, the introduction and narration sections might be combined into one chunk, while the confirmation and concession sections will probably be several paragraphs each.
Here are some suggestions and strategies for developing each section of the classical argument.
The introduction has three jobs: to capture the audience’s interest, establish their perception of the writer, and set out point of view for the argument. These multiple roles require careful planning. One might capture interest by using a focusing anecdote or quotation, a shocking statistic, or by restating a problem or controversy in a new way. One could also begin with an analogy or parallel case, a personal statement, or (if one genuinely believes the audience will agree) a bold statement of the thesis. The language choices one uses will convey a great deal about image to your audience; for instance, if writing about abortion, audiences will react differently to language about pro-lifers than they will to language about "people who oppose abortion" or pro-family supporters. This introduction usually funnels down into a solid, clear thesis statement; if one cannot find a sentence in this chunk that explicitly says the point one is supporting, and then keep refining the introduction.
In the narration, establish a context for the argument. This means that the writer needs to explain the situation to which the argument is responding, as well as any relevant background information, history, statistics, and so on that affect it. (For instance, the abortion argument might well mention Roe vs. Wade, more recent cases, legal precedents, and even public opinion polls.) By the end of this chunk, the readers should understand what is in this argument–the issues and alternatives the community faces–so that they can evaluate all claims fairly.
The confirmation section allows one to explain why the reader should believe in thesis. It takes up several supporting claims individually, to develop each one by bringing in facts, examples, testimony, definitions, and so on. It is important to explain why the evidence for each claim supports it and the larger thesis; this builds a chain of reasoning in support of the argument.
The refutation and concession is sometimes a hard section for writers to develop–who wants to think of the reasons why an argument will not work? However, this can often be the strongest part of an argument, for when one shows an audience an anticipated potential opposition and objections, and have an answer for them, the writer defuses the audience’s ability to oppose, but rather persuades them to accept the writers point of view. If there are places where there is agreement with the opposition, conceding their points creates goodwill and respect without weakening the thesis. For instance, if one is supporting parental notification for abortions, one might concede that there are times when girls cannot be expected to get their parents’ permission, such as in abuse or incest cases–but then suggest that a court-appointed counselor give permission instead so that the young girl gets an adult’s support in making this decision.
It is tempting in the conclusion just to restate the claims and thesis, but this does not give a sense of momentum or closure to the argument. Instead, try to refer back to the narration and the issues–remind the readers what is at stake here, and try to show why the thesis provides the best solution to the issue being faced. This gives an impression of the rightness and importance of the argument, and suggests its larger significance or long-range impact. More importantly, it gives the readers a psychological sense of closure–the argument winds up instead of breaking off.
More readings on classical argument:
Edward P. J. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (Oxford, 1971)
Walter H. Beale, Real Writing (Scott Foresman, 1986)