What is a Rogerian argument?
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 left), 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 great explanation of the differences in structure between a Rogerian and a “regular” academic argument (If you click on the video to open it in YouTube, you will see options for CC and to view the transcript.):
Writing a Rogerian Argument
Here is a summary of the basic strategy for a Rogerian argument:
- 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.
Present the Problem
In the introduction to a Rogerian argument, the goal is to clearly explain the problem. This is NOT where you explain the two sides. Instead, you want to grab the attention of the audience and show them that the problem exists and that it is serious.
If you are writing about homelessness, for example, this is a great place to put statistics about how many homeless veterans live in your state and perhaps to tell the story of one of them to garner your audience’s attention and willingness to try to solve the problem. At the end of this section, you can briefly introduce the two sides of the two sides of the issue. In this case, perhaps one side would like the government to step in and provide housing, while the other would like a non -profit organization to create a job training program with counseling. The goal here is to make sure you frame the two sides of the argument without showing bias either way. Remember–in a Rogerian argument, your thesis does not occur at the beginning of the paper!
Acknowledge the Other Side
One of the most important parts of a Rogerian argument is acknowledging the other side of the issue. You already know what you believe and why, so you have to take the time to find out–with an open mind–what the other side believes and why. That means focusing on supporting their argument, rather than trying to find holes in it.
When you write this part of a Rogerian argument, you need to make sure that you show your audience that you really do understand and appreciate their point of view. You do this by presenting their side with diplomacy and accurately representing their arguments with the most solid sources you can find. Be very careful not to use derogatory language when discussing this point of view! That is a quick way to turn an audience against you.
Present Your Side
Many students find this part of the paper easy. They already know their side of the issue and are eager to tell the audience why they are right. However, students often choose sources that are “preaching to the choir” because they do the best job of affirming their own position. Unfortunately, many of these kinds of sources can be so biased that their very tone can turn off opponents. Choose the most reputable, balanced, and well-supported sources that you can to support your side of the argument. Be careful to avoid loaded language that might be derogatory to the other side.
Bring the Two Sides Together
The body of a Rogerian argument should begin with a strong thesis that presents a compromise. Remember, the focus of Rogerian argument is bringing two sides together. Rather than simply arguing for your point of view, you want to come up with a compromise that has the potential to solve the problem in a way that both sides will appreciate.
Here’s a simple example from every day life. Suppose a family is deciding what to do for dinner. The mother had spent the day cleaning the house and does not want to create a mess in her spotless kitchen. Dad, on the other hand, thinks it is a waste of money to eat out when there is perfectly good food at home. A compromise might be that they eat something simple, like sandwiches, that doesn’t make a mess in the kitchen. Another potential compromise might be picking up a pizza from Little Ceasar’s. In either scenario, both parties “mostly” get what they want.
Of course, with more complex issues, it’s important to really focus on the motivations and the values of each side. You have to invest the time to get to know each side so that you can find a compromise that will work for both.
Remind Your Audience of the Balanced Perspective
Here is an infographic showing a visual representation of the Rogerian argument:
Please click HERE for the text for this infographic.