Department of Communication



The Nature of Persuasive Argument

Chapter 6

The rhetorical thought process is neither logical nor illogical, but rather psychological. It is rational, but human reasoning doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Outside or environmental factors affect our thought process. Pure logic is probably only found in mathematical formulas; not humans. The real test of a communicator’s reasoning is whether or not the audience accepts it. We hope to guide the audience to our conclusion. We hope our audience will accept our conclusions. And we use what is referred to as an argument as part of our message to gain audience acceptance of our conclusion.

The rhetorical critic needs to understand how people reason; how they arrive at the conclusions they do. Since this is a psychological process, we need to look at factors that influence an audience’s reasoning process:

In persuasion, everything is rational to the audience or individual at the time of the behavior. People always have “good reasons” for doing what they do even though such behavior might not meet the critic’s standard of what constitutes good behavior or solid reasoning. You might be mystified why someone would support a politician you detest or back a social issue you feel is wrong. What the critic must do is other people’s sense-making and do so fairly.

The logic of persuasion is always credibility-driven. Most people cannot separate the substance of the message from its author. This is particularly true for spoken persuasion in which the speaker’s attitude, voice, and personal appearance interact constantly with what the speaker says. It is easy to be swayed by a presence. For example, small children may still accept rides from strangers despite being told repeatedly not to. Why? Adults represent authority and we are told most are well-intentioned. So speakers with high-credibility have more influence over and audience. They can ramble and be less organized yet still maintain their appeal. The audience may “fill in the gaps” for them.

The logic of persuasion is always salience-driven. The listener will virtually always find the important and the immediate to be the most reasonable. When we need something now and we need it badly, it seems very reasonable to us. If the reverse is the case, it takes a much stronger argument to convince us. A good example of this is not to go grocery shopping when you are hungry. What will happen? You are much more likely to fill your cart with items you really don’t need, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

The logic of persuasion is audience-dependent. The standard of reasoning will vary from audience to audience. One audience will need very little evidence to be convinced while another may need considerable. One audience may interpret the reasoning one way, while a different audience may see the issue from a fundamentally different point of view.

The logic of persuasion is the logic of association. Solid reasoning needs a cause-and-effort to be fully supported, but we often settle for a less stringent rule of association in lieu of it. In short, often is guided by a weaken standard from an audience’s mind. In a criminal case, a person is considered innocent unless there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. But it is quite common for an audience to convict someone in their for merely being charged with a crime.

The logic of persuasion is often the logic of emotion. Most people agree that to contrast our “logical” and “emotional” tendencies is wrongheaded. When we react to appeals, we react in both ways—logically at times and emotionally at others. Appeals to an audience’s emotions are part of the critic’s job. But are those appeals authentic? Does the speaker have the right to be emotional, based on his or her background?

A Psychological Model of Argument—Jay Heinrich’s book

Not surprisingly, Aristotle crafted the first persuasive model. When it came to changing your audience’s mood, Cicero arrived at three goals to get action:

Stimulate your audience’s emotions. Make them receptive to your ideas; touch their emotions in some manner. Now days we see “scaring the audience” as one way of doing this. By changing their emotions, you make them more vulnerable to your argument. For example, “If you vote for my opponent, the terrorists are more likely to attack us again…something far worse then what happen on 9/11!”

Change your audience’s mind. Convince them that a change (or no change as the case may be) is what’s needed. We may present a number of options. Put the extreme ones on the ends—first and last—and then put the most logical or moderate choices in the middle. Oftentimes that leads to the audience deciding they like the middle options. For example, “Vote for me in the next election…I’ll keep us safe form a terrorist attack.”

Get the audience to act. This is the most difficult step as it requires a different, more personal level of emotion. Make it easy for them to act, and show them it’s a simple thing to do. For example, “We have buses that will drive you to the polling precinct on election day, and we’ll call you the night before to remind you to vote.”

Stephen Toulmin later provided a more practical model but is based on logical elements rather than psychological ones. Our text offers a hybrid…part Toulmin and part Aristotle. The three key elements are the claim, the warrant, and the data.

The Concept of the Claim—

The conclusion you want your audience to accept. The claim is what is asserted and remains to be proven. It might be a claim of fact, of value or concern about a problem. We ask the audience to accept a belief not previously accepted. For example: “The United States need to aggressively develop new sources of energy to drive our economy.”

The Concept of Warrant—

That part of the argument that justifies the “jump” in advancing from accepting data to accepting a controversial claim. In other words, we need some basis for accepting the claim. The function of the warrant is to show that the data do in fact support the claim as true or acceptable. It is vital that the warrant be believed by the receivers. One audience may accept the warrant and another may not. It varies from audience to audience. For example, we might say “Too much of the energy we need and import today comes from some of the most unstable parts of the planet.”

The Concept of Data—

Data (which is plural for the word datum) are individual beliefs held by the receiver. Any piece of datum—fact, opinion, example, statistics can be data as long as it is believed by the audience. It’s not good enough for just the source to believe it; you need to be certain the audience will accept it as well. The source has to consider whether the information will be useful and whether its use is ethical. Warrants and Data are often confused; and understandably so. In our examples, data might be “The New York Times reports that The price of oil has escalated from less than $50 per barrel to well over $65 in the last year or so.” The implied warrant from that datum might be “the cost is simply too high for the US to sustain over the long haul.” Which could lead us to accept the claim that we need to find more energy sources.

The Concept of Reservations—

These are exceptions to the argument; or an awareness that under some circumstances or situations the claim might not always be true or correct. These are not necessary in every argument and may or may not be present. In our examples, “Unless we can find a better way to explore for more oil or develop renewable energy we’ll have to try to keep the Middle East stable.” In other words, if we can regain a sense of stability in the Middle East we might not need new energy sources and therefore our claim is not to be supported.

The Types of Claims—

Ignore this section (p. 113-114)

Three Types of Warrants—

Motivational warrants focus on emotions, values, or desires to satisfy our needs. Many times these are implied than overly stated. For example, if the claim asks you to sponsor a starving child, the evidence might be “for the price of one soft drink you can feed one child for one week.” And the warrant would be unspoken but evident… “You don’t want any child to starve or go without proper medical care.” This type of warrant is intended to motivate the audience by arousing their sympathy for those who lack basic human necessities. In recent years we have been motivated by the fear warrant. Overt suggestions or direct charges of danger in the shadows can be a powerful motivator! While motivating one out of fear is a powerful factor, it is one that must be measured with great care. Overuse it and you likely will create cynicism and weaken your own credibility.

Authoritative warrants are based on the assumptions concerning the credibility of the source of the data. Credibility of either the source (speaker or writer) or an outside source is okay. If credibility is brought to doubt, it is unlikely the claim will be accepted. For example, in terms of sponsoring a hungry child, the speaker might make the claim that we should contribute financially to an agency that feeds hungry children. The evidence given is that any amount we give, however small, will go far in meeting the agency’s objectives. As a warrant, you might note that a certain celebrity or famous person is supporting the agency; or perhaps this famous person is even delivering the message. The success or failure hinges on how highly the audience regards the authority figure. If the speaker or writer happens to be highly experienced and knowledgeable on the subject of a claim, he or she can make reference to themselves in this situation.

Substantive warrants are based on the assumption that there is a logical connection to the external world with the argument being made. These warrants operate on the basis of the audience’s beliefs about the reliability of factual evidence. There are several type of substantive warrants which show ways of linking evidence with the claim: The most important ones are Cause, Sign, and Analogy.

Causation—this means that one thing causes another to occur. For example: “more money saved now means a better retirement later.” This assumes a relationship exists between saving more and having a better retirement.

Sign—a “first cousin” to causation; assumes that two or more things are coexistent. For example, “a tornado moving through town is a sign that now is not a good time for an picnic in the park.” There may also be a cause factor here too (like the above one) but doesn’t have to be. Signs are a correlation in that two things may occur at the same time but not be related by one thing causing the other. Signs based on causation are often grounded in fallacy and should not be used by a communicator. For example, a black cat runs in front of you, but does that act cause you to have bad luck? You might have had an accident as the cat ran in front of you, but it is probably due to the distraction rather than the cat being black and considered bad luck.

Literal and Figurative Analogy—this is where an acceptance of a conclusion is based on the idea of comparison. If two or more things are alike in one or more respects, then they are probably alike in still other respects. Literal analogies compare items that are of the same class or same basic nature. Figurative analogies compare items that are essentially very dissimilar. Comparing a new Ford pickup’s acceleration with a NASCAR vehicle would be a literal analogy. Comparing that same pickup truck’s acceleration with the speed of a videotape rewinding would be a figurative analogy. The logical aspect of the figurative analogy is questionable, at best. But it is the psychological impact that is more relevant, more persuasive, and consequently more applicable to rhetorical communication. Use figurative analogies on that basis; not their logical one. The literal analogy is awarded a higher status since two items of the same class are being compared. It is more logical but not always more effective than figurative analogies. Both analogies can be used by the rhetorician with respect to getting an audience to accept a claim, neither is guaranteed to work. The only real test of whether to use them or not is the likelihood that your audience will accept them as true.

Generalization and Classification—Generalization assumes that what is true of a sample from a group or class is also true of other members of that class (inductive reasoning) As we examine individual pieces of evidence we begin to build to a conclusion. Generalization is a very common warrant and based on our limited amount of examples, we ask the audience to accept our claim. Political polls do this routinely. National predictions are made based on a sampling of just a few hundred voters from around the country. As individuals we seldom have the ability to gain samples of several hundred to make our generalizations. As a result, generalizations are often subject to doubts as to their ability to generalize to the public at large. Classification assumes that what is true of a class or large group is also true of its individual members within that group (deductive reasoning). For example, “Natalie is a student….all students are dedicated to learning; therefore Natalie is dedicated to learning.” In real life very few things are “all” like this assumes. It is more accurate to say, “Natalie is a student…most students are dedicated to learning; therefore Natalie is probably dedicated to learning.” Key concern here is that the group of class in question is much alike or homogeneous with respect to certain characteristics. Like most are, in fact, dedicated to learning. If we over generalize about a class’s characteristics where none really exist, we are apt to fall victim to stereotyping.

Verification of Warrants—page 123 (Ignore)

The Three Types of Data—

First-Order Data: receiver belief—The highest order because it is the only type on which a meaningful argument can be developed. The receiver’s opinion. If I know what you believe, I can use your belief as datum and you will agree with me. Also is receiver knowledge. Whatever the receiver knows to be true; not just has an opinion of, can be used as datum for an argument. The distinction might be blurred between receiver belief and receiver knowledge; what is knowledge to one person might be an opinion to another. In short, if the receiver doesn’t know or believe something, you can not effectively use it in an argument. For example, don’t try to persuade me to stop eating popcorn because it causes cancer if I have never heard of claim before…or if I have, I don’t believe it.

Second-Order Data: source assertion—information/opinion asserted by the source (not the receiver). Key factor here is credibility of the source. If the source has high ethos in the audience’s mind, they are more likely to accept the data as being the truth. A high-ethos source given opinion this time, might actually create first-order data in the future once the audience adopts the information as their own and comes to believe it as truth. The source is lower in credibility or ethos; the persuasive impact of the opinions will be weak, at best. Key to recall is that high ethos sources can make second-order data become first-order data in the future.

Third-order data: evidence—What we typically consider “evidence.” Opinions and facts from third parties that are funneled through the source to us, the receivers. We (the source) attest to facts and opinions from others and we attempt to get the receivers to accept them as valid. It is necessary to cite and qualify the sources; establishing the credibility of the source we are using. Speakers with low ethos are in big trouble here. No matter what they say, their attempt at persuasion is unlikely to occur because we might reject the evidence due to the person presenting it. While this is the weakest or least potent of the three types of data, it is also most likely what we must rely upon to persuade an audience. We often have no other options available to us. But if our audience thinks poorly of us; we have low ethos….we are not likely to affect any change. In short, such people are probably not the ones you want delivering a persuasive appeal.

Options Regarding Reservations—(page 128-130)


We can think of them as a source’s “escape hatch” or “safety valve” that set forth specific instances in which the warrant on the claim will be reduced or nullified. As you build an argument, ask yourself, “but aren’t there times when the warrant doesn’t hold true?” There may be times that a claim can be proven without a reservation or the speaker may not wish to voice it directly or explicitly. But noting reservations allows communicators to check the strength of their own claims. Persuasive arguments usually focus on probability rather than certainty. Therefore, we need to be prepared to explain or offer our reservations (when the claim may not be accurate under certain circumstances). How well we handle this, is a large indicator of how successful our overall effort will be.

What to do with the reservations:

Should you include it or not? Make reference to it or ignore it? If the audience is likely to know it or think about it, it is a good idea to mention it in your message. If you don’t say anything, the audience may think you the fool or practicing deception. But if the receiver (audience) isn’t likely to consider it or even know about it, then you can probably leave it out of the message.

Can you acknowledge the reservation without losing your fight (the claim)? If it is a serious problem and you just briefly mention it, you are trouble of losing the claim. If it’s relatively minor, you can mention it briefly and probably suffer little drawback in overall effectiveness.

Can you refute the reservations? If you can refute the reservation, you can create a sense of immunization or inoculation of the receiver against future reservations. In short, being able to introduce reservations and then refute them can lead to increased persuasive impact in terms of long-term retention of persuasion.

If the source has had an attitude change during the persuasive process, then a refuted reservation would be very wise to help ensure against counter-persuasion at a later time. If you only care about immediate or short-term behavior change, then this is not so important to do. Additionally, well-educated audiences and those initially against the source’s message should be inoculated against counter persuasion. Poorly informed audiences and those already agreeing with the source are less in need of such inoculation techniques.

If you can’t concede a reservation and you cannot refute a reservation, you are in very big trouble! You may need to alter your claim or change your argument to avoid these reservations that you cannot resolve or lessen. And be very wary of not mentioning a reservation that your audience will surely think of just because you don’t have a way to concede or refute it. You will likely lose credibility with the audience if that happens. Bottom line: use as strong of evidence that you can find to refute reservations.

-------------------------Elaboration Likelihood Model----------------------------

Petty and Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) emphasizes self-persuasion, the likelihood that audience members will be stimulated to participate in creating a message—to process it, to interpret it, to develop, clarify, or embellish or consider its implications. This can be effective when the audience feels like the message matters to them and they feel part of, makes their own. This personal relevance or saliency is vital. If you feel the message is pertinent to your needs and addresses concerns of importance to you, you will pay attention and may well act on the communicator’s message. For example, when we hear messages on fighting terrorism and keeping ourselves and country safe from it, we often pay close attention. The ELM theory recognizes that persuasion does not occur solely on the basis of the quality of the evidence and the argument. We may take a short cut, per se, or go a peripheral route and rely on a trusted source and accept its position as fact.

The ELM has two routes—central processing and peripheral process:

Central Process route: This is the thought process we give an argument; we look for reasoning, evidence and logical structure to the argument. We put careful thought into our position and consequently, we are likely to stand firm with this as time passes. We will process information via this central route provided we see an issue as highly important to us—salient—“and” that we have the cognitive ability to think and grasp complex, or abstract ideas. So in short, if you are motivated by an issue that impacts you personally and you have the cognitive ability to understand and process the arguments, you are apt to form a view that will hold some extended period of time and are more resistant to counter-argument to get them to change. This route is referred to as high elaboration.

Peripheral Process route: This is the process of focusing on cues not directly linked to the argument, itself. For example, some people are swayed by a person’s physical attractiveness, a catchy slogan that rhymes, the sheer volume of material presented, etc. This person is apt to get on board with an issue because their friends are doing it, because it’s trendy, or they just like the person making the argument regardless if they have a well-supported argument or not. Not surprisingly, those who travel this peripheral route are more likely to change their minds again later. So if a person does not see an issue as particularly vital to their interests but it seems to be popular to others, they may endorse the claim for those reasons. Or if the person sees the issue as personally important or salient but lacks the cognitive ability to truly grasp and understand the subtle nuances or in-depth analysis of the argument, they will follow the peripheral path. This is referred to as low elaboration

If a speaker encounters an audience that does not perceive an issue as vital to their self-interests and/or does not have the education or cognitive complexity to really understand the issue in detail, then it would be foolish to expect anything more than short-term persuasion from this group.



Claim: (your ultimate goal; what you are trying to prove) The United States should become an international peacekeeper using military intervention and other assistance in world crises.

Data (evidence; its goal is to make the claim more acceptable or believable to the audience): Past crises have escalated into full-scale warfare and resulting loss of life and property (Vietnam, the Balkans, Somalia).

Warrant: (shows how evidence links to claim) The US is the only remaining superpower capable of establishing and maintaining world stability that would otherwise lapse into total war, suffering, death, disease, etc.

Reservation(s): (exceptions or rebuttals that diminish the force of the claim) Unless the US is not the only remaining world superpower capable of establishing and maintaining world stability. Unless the US is currently stretched so thin in its military that any other commitment would be left unfulfilled.

Claim: Cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health.

Data (evidence): A study found that twice as many smokers as nonsmokers develop lung cancer.

Warrant: This study was carefully controlled and conducted by experienced professionals.

Reservation: Unless the people in the study had heredity factors that would make them more susceptible to such cancers.

Claim: UTA students should be given antibiotics to ward off the West Nile virus.

Data: Several faculty members have been bitten by some infected mosquitoes while on campus. The numbers are up this year compared to the last two years.

Warrant: There is a risk that the virus could incapacitate faculty members and make it hard to cover the classes scheduled for the next semester.

Reservation: Unless, it is all just a faculty ruse to garner support from the Administration for pay raises.

Warrants: More examples.

Example #1 (Data) From 1960 to 1970 the federal government spent 57 billion dollars more than it collected in taxes. (Warrant which links the data with the claim) When government expenditures exceed government tax revenue the cost of living tends to rise. (Claim) Therefore, the cost of living went up 25% in this country.

Example #2 (Data) The Soviet Union once placed intermediate range missiles in Cuba. (Warrant) Such missiles were fully capable of reaching the United States and increased the danger of attack on major cities. (Claim) Therefore, the Soviets deliberately intended to produce a provocative change in the military status quo in the western hemisphere.

Example #3 (Data) There exists many sad facts and statistics of corporate greed that have lead to bankruptcies and loss of retirement money. (Warrant) The buildup of unethical, if not illegal, behavior serves to undermine the confidence of people in the country as a whole. (Claim) Therefore, the continued existence of unethical CEOs in organizations must be eliminated to maintain peace and stability in our economic system.

Example #4 (Data) There has been a steady increase in the wholesale price of textile cotton for each of the last five years. (Warrant) The consumer price of casual wear correlates with the market price of textile cotton. (Claim) Therefore, the cost of casual wear will increase steadily over next year or two.