By now, you've probably amassed many notes and ideas for your argument, but you may be wondering how to sort and organize this material into an essay. The following pattern, which gives the traditional Latin names for each section, may help. Like the thesis/support pattern, it offers a basic structural framework that can be modified for various writing contexts. The essential parts include the Introduction, Statement of the Case, Proposition, Refutation, Confirmation, and Conclusion.


(Exordium)--Draw your reader into the argument. Build common ground. Establish your tone and style. Establish your credentials. Clarify why the issue is important. Build ethos. See also the suggestions for Introductions and Conclusions in Thesis/Support Essays.

Statement of the Case

(Narratio)--Tell the story behind the argument. Give any necessary background information. Illuminate the situational context. Clarify the issue. Characterize and define the issue in terms that are favorable to your point of view.

Proposition Statement

(Propositio)--State your central proposition. Present it carefully, much as you would the Thesis in a Thesis/Support Essay. You may also want to set up your readers' expectations by forecasting important sub points (Divisio) that will be considered.


(Refutatio)--Examine and refute opposition arguments. Wherever possible expose faulty reasoning. The following questions will help you spot some frequent ways in which people violate the basic principles of clear thinking.

1. Does the evidence truly warrant the general conclusions that the opposition has drawn?
2. Has all the evidence been considered or only evidence that favors the opposition's position?
3. Has the opposition considered all the alternatives or oversimplified and reduced them to two or three?
5. Are conclusions ever drawn from questionable generalizations?
6. Are words always used clearly, accurately, and honestly?
7. Does the argument depend on emotionally charged language?
8. Does the argument ever suggest that ideas or policies are good or bad simply because they are associated with certain individuals or groups?
9. Does the opposition ever argue by comparing one thing to another? If so, is the comparison fair and reasonable?
10. Does the opposition try to sweet-talk and flatter the reader?
11. Does the argument suggest that an idea or course of action is good just because everyone else believes or is doing it?

If you apply these questions to the opposition's case, you'll get a good idea of where the reasoning is vulnerable. In refuting, first show that you understand the opposing argument by summarizing or paraphrasing it in neutral language, then show how the argument is weak.

If necessary, make concessions, but try to offer counter-arguments:

True, no direct correlation has been shown between higher school funding and increased scores on standardized achievement tests, but these tests are only one measure of educational progress. Moreover, they are not designed to measure the achievement of school systems, but of individual students.


(Confirmatio)--Develop and support your own case, much in the manner of a traditional Thesis/Support Essay. Use examples, facts, and statistics to back up your claims. Avoid logical fallacies. Argue from authority, definition, analogy, cause/effect, value, and purpose. Base your appeal primarily on logos.

Once you have a clear vision of the confirmation's main points and supporting details, you can consider a strategy of disclosure. Which point should come first? Which next? Which last? One effective way of ordering the supporting points is to rank them in order of importance and then arrange them as follows:

1. Second most important point
2. Point of lesser importance
3. Point of lesser importance
4. Most important point

Such an arrangement offers two advantages. It places your strongest points in positions of emphasis at the beginning and end of your confirmation. Also, your strongest point coming last, tends to anchor your argument, almost like the anchor person in a tug of war. If you were to lead off with your best point and then run through the rest, you might give the impression of weakness. The reader might feel you were gradually running out of ideas, becoming more and more desperate. However, if your readers are familiar with the subject, they'll see that you have something in reserve, that you've been scoring points steadily and consistently without even going to your real strength. Coming in the last position, that major point will have great emphasis--like the knock-out punch in a boxing match or the ace of trump in a game of bridge.


(Digressio)--If you choose, this is a good time to appear to stray briefly from the main issue into a touching or entertaining anecdote designed to appeal to ethos or pathos.


(Peroration)--Whatever you do, end strongly. Finish with conviction. After all, if you aren't convinced, why should your reader be? You might end with an amplification (ringing conclusion), a review of your main points, a reference to something in your introduction, or a plea for action. You might also invite and facilitate defections from the opposition. Review the suggestions for Introductions and Conclusions in Thesis/Support Essays.

Adapting the Argumentative Pattern

Except for the fact that an introduction by definition demands the first spot and a conclusion the last, other sections can be moved around in a variety of effective ways. If the traditional order--introduction, statement of case, refutation, confirmation, conclusion--doesn't suit your needs, try an alternative.

1. Open with the introduction.
2. Refute the strongest opposition point.
3. State the case.
4. Confirm your proposition.
5. Refute the weaker opposition points.
6. End with the conclusion.
1. Open with the introduction.
2. Offer your proposition as an open question.
3. State the case.
4. Examine and refute the opposition.
5. Examine and confirm your proposition.
6. Conclude that your proposition should be accepted.
1. Open with the introduction.
2. Offer a rival proposition.
3. Offer your own proposition.
4. Confirm your proposition.
5. Refute the opposition.
6. End with the conclusion.


8.10 Write a short paragraph telling how you might use the above ideas to structure the essay you are working on. Share and discuss your paragraph with a partner or in a small group.