When most of us think of argument, we think about winners of arguments and losers of arguments. Arguments, even sometimes academic arguments, can be strong and forceful. An Aristotelian or classical argument is a strong, “this is my assertion and here’s why I am right” kind of argument. But that kind of argument isn’t going to work in all situations. When your audience is a really difficult one in the sense that you know your audience isn’t going to completely agree with your side of the issue, it can be a good idea to try to find a middle ground. The Rogerian argument finds that middle ground.
Based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers(pictured on the right), a Rogerian argument focuses on finding a middle ground between the author and the audience. This type of argument can be extremely persuasive and can help you, as a writer, understand your own biases and how you might work to find common ground with others.
Here is a summary of the basic strategy for a Rogerian argument, and the infographic on the following page should be helpful as well.
- In your essay, first, introduce the problem.
- Acknowledge the other side before you present your side of the issue. This may take several paragraphs.
- Next, you should carefully present your side of the issue in a way that does not dismiss the other side. This may also take several paragraphs.
- You should then work to bring the two sides together. Help your audience see the benefits of the middle ground. Make your proposal for the middle ground here, and be sure to use an even, respectful tone. This should be a key focus of your essay and may take several paragraphs.
- Finally, in your conclusion, remind your audience of the balanced perspective you have presented and make it clear how both sides benefit when they meet in the middle.
For a visual representation of this type of argument, check out the Rogerian infographic on the next page.
You’re sitting in class, and let’s face it, your mind is wandering a little bit. But then your instructor says that your next assignment is to write a Rogerian essay.
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Confusion strikes. You immediately sit up in your seat, hoping for some sort of elaboration on how to write a Rogerian essay, or at least an explanation of what it is. Unfortunately, your instructor is moving on without clarification.
You wonder if you should raise your hand and ask, “wait, what is a Rogerian essay?” But you don’t, thinking maybe you’re the only one who doesn’t know what to do. You don’t want to look stupid.
Don’t worry. You’re not stupid.
The term “Rogerian essay” can throw off a lot of people. It turns out it’s really pretty simple once you know the basics. Ready to jump in?
So… What Is a Rogerian Essay?
By now, you have probably written a lot of different types of essays, and you may have even written a Rogerian essay without even realizing it.
The Rogerian essay is named for the type of argument it makes–the Rogerian argument named after psychologist Carl Rogers. He believed that the key to effective communication lies in each side’s ability to negotiate differences in order to better understand each other.
Basically, a Rogerian essay is the diplomatic version of an argumentative essay. I’m sure you’ve had real-life arguments where you can’t just change your opposition’s point of view, right? In those cases, you look for common ground from both arguments so that each side can reach some sort of consensus.
You’re not looking for total domination, but instead for some kind of benefit to both sides.
How to Write a Rogerian Essay
In the spirit of the Rogerian essay, I’m going to use my favorite Roger as an example–Roger Rabbit, of course.
Photo by theNerdPatrol via flickr
For the purposes of this example, I’ll be exploring one of the main topics of Who Framed Roger Rabbit–integrating cartoon characters with the general population–to give a basic framework for your Rogerian essay.
The introduction to your Rogerian essay requires four main parts–a hook, the problem, some background information about the problem, and your thesis statement.
Your hook is a sentence or two that draws the reader in and makes them interested in reading the rest of your essay. This can be a quote, surprising fact, rhetorical question, or any other attention grabber. The problem is the issue that two sides disagree over, followed by the background information about that problem. The thesis statementwill let the reader know your proposed solution.
My introduction might go something like this:
Do cartoons deserve the same rights as humans?Some people don’t think so, and they argue against the integration of toons and humans.While opponents may think that cartoon characters belong on the screen, other people want them to be able to roam freely within our own world.While segregating toons and humans is wrong, there should be certain enforced rules for behavior when the two groups are together.
Now that we have our introduction taken care of, it’s time to get into the meat of the essay–the body. As opposed to the traditional 5-paragraph essay, which has three main points as the body paragraphs, the Rogerian essay focuses on trying to work out the main arguments of each side.
The first body paragraph should focus on one side of the argument, and the second paragraph should focus on the other side. It doesn’t matter which side you write about first, but I like to focus on the opposition’s side first and then my own views.
For our example, my first body paragraph would read:
The opposition to the integration of toons and people has several points of concern, but many of these concerns boil down to a sense of fairness and public safety. For example, toons can unfairly manipulate their bodies and surroundings to slip out of handcuffs. Since the cartoons are more resilient, they are less able to grasp the concept of human mortality, and thus, they are more prone to dropping pianos or anvils on passers-by without a second thought.
My second paragraph would discuss how it would be unfair to eternally separate toons and humans, and would touch on the fact that cartoon characters deserve some kinds of basic rights–access to the free world being one of them.
The third body paragraph should link the two opposing arguments together, trying to build on some common ground.
My third paragraph would look like this:
While those opposed to the integration of toons and humans site safety as their main concern, those in favor are equally worried about public safety. However, just because something is unsafe does not mean it has to be completely banned from society. The benefits of integrating cartoons into the rest of society, such as the opportunity to learn about different cultures and the elimination of grudges toons have about being separated, would far outweigh the potential risks. This is especially true if certain laws were created to monitor the behavior of both toons and people.
The conclusion explains your proposed solution. This should transition smoothly from your final body paragraph. Your conclusion should also end with a closing statement about why you think this solution benefits both sides, giving your Rogerian essay a sense of closure.
Here’s how my conclusion would look:
Stricter enforcement of behavioral laws for both cartoons and humans would be the best solution. These laws would set up a committee of both classes that would decide the best and most fair rules for all citizens. Toons-only districts could still be set up for cartoons who wanted to let loose, but when interacting with people, they would have to tone it down. Humans, too, would have to follow certain rules, mainly pertaining to harassment of cartoons. These laws would be enforced by both cartoon and human police officers. This new set of rules would calm the fears of integration opposers while ensuring more rights and more harmonious living among cartoons and humans.
How to Write a Rogerian Essay: Quick Tips to Keep in Mind
Don’t Be Combative
When you’re thinking about how to write a Rogerian essay, don’t fall into the trap of being too one-sided. You want to be more of a neutral mediator instead of a writer on the attack.
Think Like the Devil’s Advocate
In order to be neutral, you first have to get into the head of your opposition. Even if you feel very strongly about something and that your view is the right one, the other side probably has some good points, too.
Don’t Forget about Common Ground
Forgetting about the common ground is a mistake that will turn your Rogerian essay into a straight-up argumentative essay. Even if the views are radically different, think about the underlying sentiments of those views. You can usually find something in common between two sides of an argument, but you might have to get a little creative in the process.
Additional Sources for How to Write a Rogerian Essay
If you’re still looking for help with your Rogerian essay, there are several places you can turn to. Writing Commons has a wealth of resources for almost any kind of writing you can imagine. College and university websites such as Oklahoma City Community College and the University of Calgary have several writing resources available to anyone who can navigate the internet.
And, of course, the Kibin editors can help sort through your Rogerian essay draft, making sure that everything flows well.
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