Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric-Arrangement

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Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. Last time we discussed invention, which is essentially brainstorming and planning your speech or writing. In this installment, we’ll be exploring the canon of arrangement. Let’s get started.

What Is Arrangement?

Arrangement is simply the organization of a speech or text to ensure maximum persuasion. Classical rhetoricians divided a speech into six different parts. They are:

1. Introduction (exordium) 2. Statement of Facts (narratio) 3. Division (partitio) 4. Proof (confirmatio) 5. Refutation (refutatio) 6. Conclusion (peroratio)

If you’ve taken debate or philosophy classes, you’ve probably seen this format for organizing a speech or paper.

1. Introduction

There are two aspects of an effective introduction: 1) introducing your topic and 2) establishing credibility.

Introducing your topic. In your introduction, your main goal is to announce your subject or the purpose of your speech – to persuade, to teach, to praise, etc. Simple, huh? Well, not really.

Your introduction is crucial for the success of your speech or essay. In the first few seconds, your audience will determine whether your speech is worth listening to. If you can’t grab their attention right off the bat, you’ve lost them for the remainder of the speech.

So how can you announce your subject in a way that grabs your audience’s attention? You have the old stand-bys: start off with a quote, ask a rhetorical question, or state some shocking fact relating to your topic. Those are decent ways to introduce your topic, but they’re overdone. Some men also try to open with a joke, but most of the time it falls flat, the credibility of the speaker takes a nose dive, and the audience begins tuning the speaker out.

In my experience, the best way to start a speech is to tell a captivating story that draws readers in and engages them emotionally. Journalists do this all the time. They always try to find a human angle to any story no matter how tangential the connection. For tips on crafting compelling and sticky stories, check out a book I recommended last time, Made to Stick.

Establishing credibility. Quintilian taught that it was during the introduction that a rhetorician should use the persuasive appeal of ethos. Ethos, if you remember from our class on the three means of persuasion, is an appeal to your character or reputation to persuade your audience. It doesn’t matter how logical your argument is, if people doesn’t think you’re trustworthy or a credible source, you’ll have no sway with them.

2. Statement of Facts (narratio)

The statement of facts is the background information needed to get your audience up to speed on the history of your issue. The goal is to provide enough information for your audience to understand the context of your argument. If your rhetoric is seeking to persuade people to adopt a certain course of action, you must first convince the audience that there really is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Don’t just dryly list off a bunch of facts. Make them interesting to read or listen to. Create a story. Narrate.

While the statement of facts is primarily used to inform your audience, with some subtle tweaking, you can use your facts to persuade as well. Now, I don’t mean you should make up facts out of thin air; only a scalawag would do that. But you can emphasize and deemphasize facts that support or hurt your argument

Attorneys do this all the time. They’ll use certain language and emphasize or deemphasize certain facts to help their case and their client. Let’s use a murder trial as an example.

Both sides have to recognize the fact that someone is dead, but each will do it differently to further their case.

The prosecutor might say, u201CThe defendant, Mr. Killzalots, shot the victim John Smith, a beloved community philanthropist, twenty times at point blank range in front of the victim's children.u201D

The defendant's attorney might convey the same fact thusly: u201CJohn Smith was shot.u201D

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