Department of Communication



Message Preparation: Invention

Chapter 11

Invention Defined—

Investigating, analyzing, and grasping subject matter all occur before the process of invention. Invention, then, is the process by which “communicators adapt to the audience what they have determined to be fact, or truth, in order to accomplish a predetermined purpose.” In short, it is the deciding what material we will need to include in our presentation. The discovery of what particular ideas will be most helpful to us (the speaker) as we attempt to achieve our intended purpose with the audience.

The Basic Plan—

Deciding on the problem of selective exposure—will those you want to influence be in the audience? Will they oppose your ideas or do you merely need to reinforce their beliefs?

Consider developing a message on the concept of balance—think about the change in the audience as your message unfolds. How can I create dissonance resolve that feeling in my message. (Covered at length back in Chapter 4).

Consider how the audience will react later; after hearing the message. You may need to inoculate the audience against persuasion contrary to your message. In short, consider what points you will make that will require audience inoculation for later exposure.

The Generation of the Argument—

The argument will be either to form an attitude, to strengthen an attitude, or to change an attitude in your audience. To do this, you have to determine what arguments are needed and then creating them.

Determination of Needed Arguments—

Start with your mission; your claim. For example, President Spaniolo might say, “we should expand the physical size of the UTA campus.” If our authority or expertise is high, we might not need any additional data to convince our audience. But if the source doesn’t think his ethos, alone, is high enough to convince an audience, he may appeal to the audience’s self-interest in some way. (Remember, an argument is a part of a message that is designed to gain audience acceptance of a particular conclusion.). In this example, President Spaniolo might need to develop several lines of argument (facts, figures, examples, testimony) that support his claim of UTA expansion in order for the Board of Regents to agree with him. It is human nature to stop developing our argument too quickly. We are already convinced and sometimes we fail to see that others have not as “on board” with our thinking as we are. Resist this urge to conclude the invention process too early.

Audience Analysis—

We need to predict how our audience may react to the particular item of support we plan to put in our message. Think about your audience’s attitudes, motivations, etc. They are ever changing; what an audience feels today might be very different a week from now or at some time later. Sometimes we have a hard time finding information on our audience; hard to measure their attitudes and beliefs. So the less we know about our audience, the more arguments we need. In other words, we have to come armed “to the teeth” with good, solid, credible information to positively impact an audience we might not know a lot about. The better we know them, the more effectively we can decide what to include and what to leave out. Good audience analysis amounts to thinking about where the audience is now and where you would like them to be after your message is delivered. And also being able to adapt to them during your delivery.

Inoculation and Reservations—

(Remember: reservations are exceptions to your argument; reasons why what your claim may be accepted or agreed with)

With every argument you make you should consider such reservations to it. Consider them and also consider how the audience might feel about them. Would they even be aware of them? If so, how damaging might they be to your case? When possible, you should note the reservation to your and then inoculate them—tell them why such fears or apprehensions are not warranted. This tends to strengthen your overall effort and increases chances of success when the audience is later exposed to the other side’s persuasion. If you have an argument to present but there are many reservations to it and not enough time to refute them all, then it is best to avoid the argument altogether. This is something that needs to be thought of early by the speaker so that a defense can be crafted.

Topoi and the Generation of Argument—

The only way to be certain you have the best arguments for a claim is to have all the arguments for it. But this is seldom realistic. Aristotle referred to the lines of argument that a speaker selects to make his case on a topic as being topoi.

The Aristotelian Topoi of Good and Evil—

The list of “goods” is on page XXX in your text In order to argue what is “good” a speaker must know what the audience believes to be good. If we are arguing that something is good, then we may employ any number of these 15 items developed by Aristotle. Time often limits all of the items from being argued, but the source can choose those which would be most effective given the particular audience.

Topoi of Policy Argument: Stock Issues

(lines of argument to be followed for certain standard issues)

Need—before we accept anything new, we have to be convinced that a change is needed; that something new is in order; that something is wrong with the way things are now.

Inherency—You must show there is something inherently wrong with the present system that can’t be solved with minor changes.

Policy—a specific plan you propose in order to overcome an inherent need.

Practicality—the reasonableness of believing that the proposed plan can be put into operation and it will work.

Advantages—you must show that your proposed plan has more advantages than disadvantages.

Counterplan—the possibility that there is another policy that can be employed that will have more advantages and fewer disadvantages than the proposed new policy.

Theory says that if you advocate a change in any policy you need to take into account all six of these lines of argument. In reality that is unlikely to be necessary. Any of these done well potentially can affect change.

The Towne Public Policy Topoi—

Ignore—on page 201

The Topoi of Fear and Pleasure—

Focus is on the potential rewards and or punishments that can arrive due to changes we propose. Both fear-arousing and pleasure-arousing appeals appear to increase attitude change in some circumstances.

The Topoi of American Values—

Motivational warrants that an audience will likely accept as valid. Common threads that bond most Americans are those of theoretic values, economical values, aesthetic values, social values, political values, and religious values. (p. 203-204.

Using Topoi in Invention—

Must be done carefully, systematically. But how so? With your claim in mind, ask yourself what you need to generate your arguments? For example, if President Spaniolo’s claim is to “expand UTA physical size,” what lines of argument will he need to convince the Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature that we should be given the money to do so? In short, ask yourself, “what can I say about my topic to convince this audience to accept my claim?” There is a tendency for us to stop too quickly; to develop a few lines of argument and then quit. Rule of thumb: think of as many lines of argument as you can and then add one more.

Securing Data for Argument—

The obvious and critical question remains of where to find your data to support your argument and ultimately your claim. We talked about first, second, and third-order data in Chapter 6. First-order is pretty rare and thus, second and third-order data are more likely what you’ll use. Research tells us that third-order data will enhance a source’s credibility, even though it may not make a significant contribution to attitude change.

The more you draw upon your ethos, the less powerful it becomes as a persuasive instrument, and the lower your ethos eventually becomes. In short, if you use something too often, it loses its effect and is eventually weakened. Therefore, it is usually necessary to include some third-order supporting material to complete your second-order (your expertise) in any rhetorical message. The last paragraph on page 207 is very important.

Sources of evidence are classified as being:

Unbiased—the source has no particular involvement in the issue. This is obviously a trusted source when attempting to prove a claim.

(b) Reluctant—the source (people or groups) have a stake in the question at issue, but provide supportive information contrary to their own interests. Studies show that is source is much more trusted than the biased source to be discussed next.

(c) Biased—the source has a state in the question at issue and providence evidence that supports the source’s best or own interests. This is the least desirable source if you are attempting to persuade an audience.

Yet it is a fact of life that sometimes we have only biased sources available; no other option exists when it comes to gathering data. Therefore, we must show the audience that the supporting data from the biased source is, in fact, true. Regardless of the bias.

Tests of Evidence—

The primary test of evidence is to determine the motivation of the source (unbiased, reluctant, or biased). But there is more to do than just measure motivation of the source. Other questions to ask or consider:

Is the source of the evidence competent? This person is somewhat of an expert on the subject matter and it is not good enough to be merely reluctant or unbiased. Those elements are certainly important, but not sufficient. Sometimes audiences can be unduly influenced by incompetent sources who appear to be competent. But for most cases, the competent source is vital. In fact, if the source is poorly qualified and the evidence not directly related to the question at issue, the speaker or persuader’s credibility can be severely damaged. The audience is likely to feel as though their time is being wasted by such behavior. There are instances when non-experts can be used as evidence. This so-called peer or lay testimony can be used when these people have had experience with the question at issue, but are not experts in the classic sense of the word.

Is the evidence relevant to the point at issue? If the audience feels like your evidence is not relevant or not logically linked to the point you are arguing you will fail. The “so what?” question will be the end of your argument.

Is there enough evidence? How much is enough is not easy to assess. But seldom is one piece of evidence enough to persuade any audience.

Is the evidence consistent with other known evidence? Evidence that supports or reinforced common knowledge is more persuasive than evidence that does not. If your evidence is inconsistent with other known evidence, you must explain the inconsistency and show how it is relevant to your argument.

Is the evidence recent? Usually the strongest evidence is the most recent evidence.

You are always better off to assume that your audience will be listening with a critical ear; looking for flaws in your arguments. Therefore, it is vital you select your evidence with these questions in mind. If your audience, however, is made up of slaw-jawed yokels, it is unlikely they will recognize a flawed argument. Nonetheless, it is better to be prepared and not need it, than to be ill-prepared and unable to respond to an audience that expects high quality evidence.

How to Obtain Evidence—(Where to Look)

Interviews with other people—ideally face-to-face, but sometimes we can get personal interview via telephone or other correspondence.

Reading—the most common means of finding evidence. The library provides a wealth of data available from such sources as encyclopedias, statistical sources, biographical sources, periodicals, government documents, the Internet (watch for likelihood of bias and accuracy from such a source).