Department of Communication



Message Preparation: Disposition

Chapter 12

The invention process should create more material than can be used for the message. Now is the time to sort through your data and decide what should be used for the message. Disposition is the process of formulating the essence of your message. This process consists of selecting your arguments and supporting materials for the message; apportioning or determining how much time or emphasis should be allocated to each argument, and arranging the arguments and supporting material in such a manner as to produce the desired effect.


This is one of the most difficult yet most important steps. Carefully scrutinizing each argument in your claim and selecting the supporting evidence that will persuade your audience. It’s necessary to consider what the audience will likely need or expect and select that for the message.


The step in determining how much supporting material is needed. This step is guided by the principle of the stronger the argument, the more emphasis you should put on it. The stronger your argument, the more time you will usually want to spend on it. You also consider which arguments need to have reservations stated and refuted and which arguments will not need any such reservations. In short, here you determine the “weight” of each argument and how much material to devote to each point.


The step in which you decide the order or pattern of your arguments. There are a variety of patterns available for arrangements. The right pattern depends on the purpose of the speech along with the audience’s needs and expectations. Organizing your ideas is big challenge for inexperienced speakers. There are two major themes of organizations…chain and parallel organization but many patterns that fall within those two.

The Chain structure features arguments or supporting material that inherently linked with one another. In other words, one piece of evidence leads logically to the next one. The Motivated Sequence is one example of the chain pattern. . It is best used for persuasive messages as it is designed to lead an audience in a logical manner to a conclusion. It is geared around the way the human mind works; the way we ordinarily think.

The Parallel structure features arguments or supporting material that are not linked to or dependent upon each other. Speakers have to determine if their claim warrants arguments that must be linked via that chain structure or can stand independently of each other via the parallel structure. Persuasive message more commonly employ the chain structure but within the overall pattern their may be subsections that stand independently or in parallel fashion.

Specific Patterns of Organization—

The pattern you select should be dictated by your purpose and the material you have. Don’t select a pattern first; let it select you. The text lists 12 patterns that can be used…the following are the most likely ones a rhetorical message may employ. The first ones noted are better patterns for persuasion.

Problem-Solution or need-plan-advantages—a problem is presented and a solution is offered with emphasis on how the advantages of the new solution will benefit the recipients.

Reflective thought pattern—is quite similar to the above mentioned one but this is more subtle; and operates more under the guise on “information” than overt persuasion. As the source leads the audience through the message there is but one logical and superior solution to the problem that has emerged. Nothing unethical about this, but if you feel the audience will likely be against your proposal, this more subtle brand of persuasion may be more effective. This pattern uses the inductive method to gradually build toward a logical conclusion.

Motivated Sequence format—noted previously in brief. A more developed problem-solution format that is designed specifically for asking an audience to take action at the close. Consists of five distinct steps with the central focus on problem-solution-action.

The next options are better suited for more informative messages.

Chronological pattern—ideas move from past, present, and into the future (if applicable). When time relationships are important in the message, this pattern makes the most sense.

Spatial order pattern: the physical relationship of objects, areas, people, etc. is key here. Provides a logical division between points separated by physical divisions.

Topical or classification (categorical) patterns: the classic catchall category; arbitrary in which the communicator makes the decision based on personal preference that is sensible and understandable to the audience.

Organization of Single Arguments—(page 224)

Arguments are either constructive (getting the audience to accept a new idea) or to refute (cause rejection of a claim previously accepted by the audience. Once you know your goal, the patterns are relatively few to follow.

Constructive organization—typically done by stating your conclusion (buy a car from my dealership); support your argument (supply data regarding service, quality, pricing, etc.); restate your points in your argument (remind the listener of what a good deal they’ll get from you; and finally move on to the next point if there is one. Sometimes the initial conclusion is omitted at the start and the speaker eases an audience to conclusion; particularly if the speaker sense some resistance to the goal of message.

Refutatory organization—commonly done by either first stating the point to be refuted; state the alternate position; attack the point to be refuted and then defend the alternative position. And then move on the next point, if there is one. Or the speaker may not bother mentioning his alternative point; but rather attacks the point to be refuted and then suggest there more investigation needs to be done. This is subtler and less overt. Always a danger the audience won’t take the hint, so to speak. But must less “in your face” from an assertive perspective.

Invention and Disposition: The Siamese Twins—Ignore pages 224-226.

Research on Arrangement—

How you arrange your arguments is highly dependent upon your audience. Little research has been conducted in this area, but what has been done is noted below:

The general importance of arrangement—The Smith study (page 227) shows that minor flaws in our organization of ideas tends to have minimal impact on an audience. But when we make two or more major mistakes, the audience will notice and generally have very bad reactions to them. In short, when our poor organization confuses an audience we will pay dearly for it. And try to keep our mistakes to a minimum. Audiences will probably not mind much.

Organization and Comprehension—studies support the notion that clear organization along with clear transitions help us understand and remember messages longer. The more disorganized we are, the less likely the audience will remember or understand what we say. This is true for informative as well as persuasive messages.

Organization and Ethos—surprisingly, the Thompson study (page 227) found no real negative effect on speaker ethos when a message is poorly organized. The study supported earlier claims of poor understanding and poor perception of the quality of the message, but nothing significant toward the speaker’s ethos. The Sharp & McClung study (page 227-228) employed a more sophisticated way of measuring audience reaction of speaker ethos and found a big drop in ethos as a result of a poorly organized message. In general, poorly organized messages are quite likely to harm the source’s ethos. Hardly a surprising conclusion.

Support for Monroe’s Motivated Sequence—the Cohen study (page 228) supported the notion that when we first develop the need and then offer a solution, the audience is more likely to response as we hope. We need to heighten their interests before we can expect attitude or behavioral changes. If a solution is presented first or if not real problem is developed, audiences seldom (if ever) see any need to change. No sense of cognitive dissonance is created and no attitude change will occur.

Most desirable point first—when several ideas will be discussed and some of which will be in disagreement with the audience, then discuss the ones they will agree with first. In theory, if we hear something we like or agree with, we are more likely to keep listening and have better feelings about the source. When the disagreeable items come up later, we are more likely to keep an open mind and listen. Just the opposite is apt to occur if we hear disagreeable things first.

“Pro-con” in two-sided messages—which should be presented first? The pro or the con side? Multiple studies point to presenting your side first—the pro side; and then present the con side. The basic theory behind this is that if the audience receives the pro side first, they are already convinced (to some extent), and thus, on your side when you present the other side’s position. If you present the con side first, you may be reinforcing the values of the audience, particularly if it is hostile to your views. Riskier in most cases than going with a pro-con sequence.

Outlining the Message—

Outlining a message is normally a necessity for rhetorical communication. The one exception is the impromptu presentation, which by definition, does not allow for an outline. How many outlines a communicator develops is largely a personal issue, but traditionally there have been three:

Preliminary or very sketchy outline that captures the rough ideas

Preparation outline that evolves out of the first one and starts to include more depth and supporting data

Speech notes. How detailed these are made is a matter of personal style and comfort.

Typically they are developed into topics, key words or complete sentences. The complete sentence outline is often discouraged as it limits eye contact and frequently damaged effective delivery in all by the most seasoned speakers. The complete sentence outline is good for occasions when all ideas and details are critical and misspeaking or leaving out any matter may lead to a breakdown in the overall message. But in general, speakers are much better off to use a key-word or topic outline and avoid using complete sentences.