Writing A Rogerian Argument
______________All writing requires careful audience analysis to be effective, but the nature of the
Rogerian strategy as negotiation between two sides makes such audience analysis even
more important. What do the readers likely already know about the topic? What are their
likely fears or objections? Why would they likely feel one side is right or wrong? What values
or goals are shared with the audience?
When preparing a Rogerian argument, it might help to write a paragraph, outline, or a
brief draft of an essay from the opposing side of the issue. Pretend, for a moment, that you
are your opponent. How would you write the essay in support of the other side? Then, review
what you’ve written from this opposing side. Where are there shared values or goals
expressed? What points do you agree with? Try using these points to show understanding
and appreciation of the other side while negotiating a common ground. (In fact, such
opposition papers are often written in government organizations for the same reason of
identifying mutual values and goals to later be used in policy papers or speeches that
support the other side.)
Remember, be respectful and compassionate with word choice throughout the essay.
Avoid absolutes like none, never, all, or always, leaving room for exceptions. Avoid words like
clearly or obviously if the idea might actually be debatable to those who disagree with you.
Be especially wary of rhetorical questions since they can sound sarcastic to others who do
not agree with your answer to the question. For example:
How could we not use torture if a million lives were at stake?
Could torture make a difference if a million lives were at stake?
The audience could answer the weak question with many possible options other than torture
that might be tried. The question sounds sarcastic to those who oppose the use of torture. In
contrast, the strong question is open-ended; both proponents and opponents of torture
might ask such a question. Seeking the answer together is the goal of the Rogerian strategy.
This completes lesson six. Hopefully, after reading this lesson, you have a better idea
of how to approach a Rogerian essay. When writing an essay using the Rogerian strategy,
Has the introduction fairly and objectively presented the problem?
Are the opponents’ views accurately and considerately explained?
Are the values shared with my opponents identified?
Is my tone compassionate and respectful?
Is the common ground provided truly a win-win for both sides?
The checklist above should help you write an effective Rogerian argument.
Questions to consider
1. How is the Rogerian argumentative style different than the Toulmin method?
2. Why is the Rogerian method effective for those issues that are highly emotional?
3. How important is explaining the counterargument in the Rogerian method of
Chapter 7: Using The Rogerian Method Continued
In lesson six, you learned about the Rogerian argumentative style of writing. Lesson
seven will review this style of writing again through the examination of two famous examples
of this argumentative style: President Obama’s DNC speech given in 2008 and President
Reagan’s RNC speech given in 1980.
Rogerian Argument Review
Remember that the Rogerian strategy of argumentation does not seek to win a
debate but instead seeks to prove a claim through an understanding of the other side and a
discussion of shared values. In other words, with the Rogerian style of argumentation, a
writer must first make a claim about an issue. Then, in order to prove this claim, that writer
needs to demonstrate a clear understanding of the other side of this issue and find the
common ground between both sides. This common ground is used to prove the writer’s
claim. This strategy encourages the audience to be more open to the argument being made
because the writer has demonstrated respect for other arguments about an issue.
Rogerian Sample Argument – President Obama’s DNC Acceptance Speech, 2008
Our first stop in this week’s lesson is to review a Rogerian sample argument,
President Obama’s DNC Acceptance Speech in 2008. Please click on the following link to
listen to the Acceptance Speech: The American Promise. You may also read the acceptance
speech given by President Obama below at the end of this lesson. This discussion will not
focus on the topics that Obama presents in his speech, but the way in which Obama
organizes his speech. When you listen to or read this speech, note that there is an
argument that President Obama makes – he wants to prove to the audience that he is the
best candidate. However, to do this, he needs to ensure that the other side, made up of
Republican voters, is not alienated by his discussion. Therefore, his acceptance speech
cannot be confrontational. Instead, he must attempt to prove his side by considering the
views of Republicans and Independents and showing the common ground.
Let’s take a look at the speech in further detail. First, the purpose of Obama’s
speech is not only to accept the democratic nomination for president, but also to convince
voters to vote for him. However, President Obama not only wants to convince Democrats to
vote for him, he also seeks Republican votes. Therefore, when he opens his speech, he
does not ‘attack’ the views of the Republicans. Instead, he opens with a dream that holds
true for all Americans: “It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that
through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come
together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their
dreams as well.” Then, instead of insulting the Republican candidate, John McCain, he
praises him: “Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn
the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our
gratitude and respect.” In this way, Obama keeps the views of his audience in mind.
Remember from lesson six that the Rogerian strategy appeals to the audience by showing
the benefits of the opposing side. The audience would not be swayed to vote for Obama if
he insults their beliefs or their candidate.
In the body of the speech, Obama begins to give the meat to his side, the reasons in
support of his argument. He first lists some of the issues that American faced in 2008.
175 Effectiveness in Writing
Then, he explains how his policies differ from McCain’s. In this section, he carefully avoids
insulting McCain. Instead, Obama shows how McCain is mistaken. However, he does so in
a manner that unifies all Americans, no matter what their political affiliation is: “Tonight, I
say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this
great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century,
the American promise alive.” As illustrated in Obama’s speech, in a Rogerian essay, it is
important to keep the audience in mind throughout the argument, even when presenting
your particular argument.
Lesson six mentioned that at the end of a Rogerian essay, the common ground and
higher interest benefiting both sides should be emphasized. President Obama does this at
the closing of his speech:
[L]et us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you,
and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be
Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and
bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not
served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of
We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the
number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may
be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in
Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping
AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex
marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters
deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of
discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits
when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American
wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of
a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in
In this section, Obama attempts to bridge the gap and establish the common ground
between Republicans and Democrats. He shows that all Americans want the best for the
United States, and he also attempts to show the common ground between a number of
ethical issues. This section of the speech illustrates what is meant by common ground.