Using The Rogerian Method Of Argumentation
This lesson introduces and explains the Rogerian strategy for writing essays, one
which attempts to persuade while stressing understanding and common ground. We often
think of debates in terms of pros and cons or like a court trial that emphasizes the
competition of two sides in the presentation of their arguments. The classical and Toulmin
argumentation strategies typically seek to win a debate through the presentation of a
However, many issues do not have a clear right or wrong side to them. Even if they
do, persuading an audience on the other side is difficult if not impossible if their side is
presented as the wrong one. Imagine, for instance, two spouses debating where to go for a
vacation. There is no right or wrong choice, and depicting one side or the other as such will
not be a very effective way to persuade the other spouse.
In 1951, Carl Rogers, a psychologist, put forth the theory that the primary reason
people had difficulty in resolving disputes is that the people were constantly evaluating each
other. The more deeply-held or emotional a belief, the more a person would be seeking to
judge and discredit another person’s opposing statements, the result being a failure to truly
hear or understand those statements. Roger proposed as the solution first to try to
understand the other side and then to negotiate together to reach a consensus.
The Rogerian strategy of argumentation does not seek to win a debate but instead
seeks to find a win-win outcome. The purpose of Rogerian argumentation is to use common
ground to reach a consensus. Essentially, the Rogerian strategy is not arguing in support of
one side of an issue but acting as a mediator between two sides, seeking to negotiate to
find a common ground acceptable to both.
The Rogerian strategy is most effective for those issues that are highly emotional,
including many social and political problems, such as capital punishment, abortion, torture,
and many more. Such issues have few simple solutions to them, and asserting or implying
that the solution or answer is clear or obvious will actually make the argument seem biased
and less persuasive. Generally, people do not want to be told that a value or belief they hold
dear is just plain wrong.
The Rogerian strategy seeks to lessen the threatening aspect of the argument by
emphasizing the value of the opposition’s side and motivations. People tend to respond
similarly to how they are treated, so if an argument doesn’t seem to be attacking the other
side, the readers on the other side are less likely to be as critical in their attack on the
argument they are reading. The Rogerian strategy encourages the audience to be more open
to the argument being made because the writer has already demonstrated openness and
respect for the arguments on the other side of the issue.
The very idea that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion demonstrates the
need for Rogerian strategies of argumentation. The Rogerian strategy forces the writer to
consider the possibility that his or her side may not be absolutely right. In other words,
knowing that the argument is only the writer’s opinion, the writer asserts that this opinion is
a right one to have on the matter, if not the only right one, and seeks to persuade the
audience also to accept the possibility that the writer’s opinion is a right one, if not the only
right one. The following sections will help you better understand the process of creating a
The Rogerian strategy assumes that the audience will be highly critical if not outright
hostile to the argument being presented. Readers with differing opinions from what they are
reading tend to be contentious, immediately challenging each and every assertion that they
find objectionable. Of course, readers should be critical in this way, but they should also be
open to the possibility of changing their minds.
The Rogerian strategy seeks to lead the reader gently to the conclusion of the
argument. Thus, the thesis is typically not explicitly stated in the introduction paragraph
where the reader might see it and immediately become defensive while reading the
following paragraphs. Instead, the Rogerian strategy begins objectively by stating the
problem and then appeals to the audience further by showing the benefits of the opposing
side. Only then are the reasons in support of the argument described, but before the
audience can become defensive, the common ground and higher interest that benefit both
sides are emphasized.
The Rogerian strategy will typically follow this pattern:
1. Describe the problem
2. Show understanding and value of opposing views
3. Assert position
4. Demonstrate common ground or higher interest
For example, look at the table below. This illustrates a discussion between two spouses
deciding where to go on vacation. One spouse seeks to persuade the other that Galveston is
a better vacation destination than Denver. The Rogerian argument might be organized like
165 Effectiveness in Writing
Parts of Rogerian
Example of the Part Part Explained
Both trips cost roughly the
same, but we have enough
money in our savings for one.
You want to go hiking in the
mountains, which will require a
plane trip to Denver. I want to
visit family in Galveston, which
would be a ten-hour drive.
The problem has
only on the facts of
and Value of
The mountains are beautiful
this time of year, and we
haven’t been hiking in a long
time, so it would be great to get
that kind of exercise. It would
also be nice to be alone
together for the vacation.
the value of a trip
to Denver for its
and alone time.
Assert Position I haven’t seen my family in a
few years, and my father is
getting on in age, so I don’t
know how many more chances
we’ll have to see him. We
would have time to visit the
supporting a trip to
or Higher Interest
We could take some nice hikes
on the beach, so we could have
some great opportunities for
exercise. We could also do
some camping for a day or two
to get some alone time or take
a few day trips to Houston. I
don’t know if I’ll get another
chance to see my family either.
Common ground is
beauty of the
the option for alone
time (the same
reasons given for
the trip to Denver).
The higher interest
of valuing family is
noted as well.
Note, that the Rogerian strategy emphasizes “common ground”, which is distinct from
“middle ground” argumentation strategy, which emphasizes finding a compromise where
both sides have to give a little. For instance, a middle ground argument using this example
might be to suggest that the trip be split with one week in Denver and one week in
Galveston or to suggest that the trips be taken separately. (See the discussion of developing
a middle ground argument in Lesson 8.)
Describe the Problem
The introduction section of a Rogerian essay presents the problem in a fair and
objective way, often pointing out how everyone (the writer and reader) are affected by the
issue and should want to reach a resolution. Why is the issue significant? Why does it need
to be resolved? Such questions are answered in this section.
For issues that seem to be continually debated, like capital punishment or abortion,
this section is a good place to explain why the best we can hope for in such debates is to
reach some type of a consensus or agreement on one aspect of the matter if not the entire
matter. For example, if writing about the abortion debate, the first section might note that it
is impossible to know with any certainty exactly when life begins, but that we still can reach
agreement on the legal rights of parents in the decision making of a pregnant teenager.
It is advisable to present the issue as a problem to be solved together rather than as
a debate. Framing the issue as a question or as a problem to be solved invites the audience
to engage in the essay as an act of seeking a solution together rather than as a “debate”.
People against torture insist it violates human rights, but people supporting torture
insists it’s a necessary tool to ensure people’s safety.
When it comes to the issue of torture, can we protect people’s rights while also
ensuring their safety?
Both examples are objective and don’t yet reveal the writer’s side on the issue, but the
second example demonstrates that a shared larger goal between both sides is to protect
people’s rights and ensure their safety, if doing both is possible. Here, and throughout the
essay, the writer should demonstrate as much respect as possible for the other side’s goals
It’s acceptable to reserve an outright statement of the thesis until later in the paper
since the purpose of this first section is only to describe the problem. Stating the thesis
outright might make the audience too defensive and not open to change. Writers who are
new to the Rogerian approach, however, should put the thesis statement in the introduction
paragraph so that the writers, and readers, are clear about the main idea. When using the
Rogerian approach, it can easily become a report about the beliefs of both sides, so a writer
developing experience with the Rogerian strategy should put the thesis in the introduction to
clarify that the essay will take a position on the issue.
Show Understanding and Value of Opposing Views
Next, present as fairly and objectively as possible the views of the other side. Doing
so demonstrates that the issue has been fully considered without prejudice. It builds
goodwill with the audience. Readers are more likely to trust writers who show respect for
others’ views, even when disagreeing with those views.
Explain which parts of the opposing views are strong and why. What are the
underlying good values that support these views? For example:
Many argue torture violates the rights of those terrorists who are tortured.
Of course we must respect the rights of all people, including terrorists.
The weak example here objectively states the value embraced by the other side. However,
the strong example embraces that value. The audience will be more likely to believe this
writer’s argument because the writer has demonstrated a shared value, a shared respect for
the rights of all people.
After the audience sees that the writer understands and respects their opposing
views, they will be more willing to listen to the writer’s side and similarly attempt to
understand and respect the argument being presented. This section presents the writer’s
side of the issue.
Be careful not to “come out swinging” in this section though! Remember the goal is
not to “beat” the audience and win the debate; the goal is still to work with the audience to
negotiate to a consensus together. Show the validity of the argument but continue to use
respectful, neutral language. For example:
Torture absolutely must be allowed as the only way to protect innocent lives.
Torture can be justifiable in situations where innocent lives are directly at stake.
The weak version uses language that might make the audience defensive, such as
“absolutely” and “only”. The strong version continues the strategy of negotiating together to
reach a consensus by suggesting only that torture “can be” allowed when lives are “directly”
169 Effectiveness in Writing
threatened. Followed with good reasons showing situations when lives really have been
directly threatened and only suggesting that torture is one possible way to protect those
lives, the audience will be more likely to accept that torture just might be a good solution, if
not the only solution, to protect those lives.
This section might note limitations to the argument, further demonstrating that the
writer has considered the issue as fairly as possible. For example:
We can trust our law enforcement to use torture only when it is necessary.
There may be some members in law enforcement who might use torture
unnecessarily, but safeguards can be put in place to ensure that it is used only when
all other options have failed and only when lives are in immediate danger.
The weak example opens the door for an immediate objection not just to the idea of using
torture but to how torture would be used. The strong example acknowledges the possible
problem of using torture when it is not warranted and offers a solution. The audience may
still be convinced that torture can be a justified in some situations if these safeguards exist
to prevent its abuse.
Remember, the Rogerian strategy does not attempt to persuade the audience to
accept the argument absolutely but to accept that the argument is a valid one at least under
Demonstrate Common Ground or Higher Interest
Finally, close with a focus on finding a common ground or calling for a higher interest
or goal. Use this section not to ask the readers to give up their side, but to ask the readers to
come together on the common ground.
Identify the goals and values that the opposition has in support of their side and
show how those goals and values might be accomplished on your side as well. What shared
values are found on the common ground? How might those values be respected by both
sides in some way? For example:
An innocent person’s life is much more important than the rights of a terrorist.
If a choice must be made between an innocent person’s life and the rights of a
terrorist, then torture may be our only option.
The weak example asks the reader to give up the value of human rights for the terrorist,
while the strong example respects the value of those rights, but asserts that they may have
to be violated in some extreme circumstances to protect the lives of other people. The
strong example emphasizes the higher interest of protecting life and the common ground of
respect for human rights and people’s lives.
This section might also be used to describe situations where the solution would work
while acknowledging that there may be other situations when the solution might not be the
best. Thus, the audience is persuaded to accept that the solution is a good one, at least in
some contexts. For example:
The terrorists’ choice to threaten others has caused them to give up their rights, so it
is perfectly justifiable to violate their rights to protect others.
Very few situations exist when lives are directly threatened, and only in those
situations can torture be justified as a way to protect innocent lives.
The weak example asserts a belief that the audience might find objectionable and debate,
but the strong example asserts that the argument in support of torture exists primarily for
the extreme situations when lives are directly threatened, a proposition the audience may be
much more willing to accept as true.