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Fact Value Policy Argument Essay

Norman Schultz

June 2003

The Basic Issue

"Factual disputes may be resolved by the analysis of data and so can be treated differently from values disputes which are impervious to the methods of science." -- A. Mazur, A.A. Marino, and R.O. Becker

Many conflicts involve disputes about facts and values. Despite important differences, facts and values are often confused -- a conflict of values may be thought to be a conflict of facts, or vice versa. Because of the nature of their differences, factual issues and value issues will contribute different kinds of problems to a conflict. Parties must be able to sort these out, handling each type appropriately, in order to be able to address a conflict constructively.

Objective Facts

The term "fact" refers to a truth about the world, a statement about some aspect of objective reality. For example, there is a fact that can be given as an answer to each of the following questions:

  • What is the average flow rate of the Colorado River?
  • When taken into custody, what was the suspect's blood-alcohol level?
  • Is the global warming trend natural or the result of pollution?

An accurate answer to any one of these questions is a matter of fact. A wrong answer, whether the result of a mistake or a lie, would not be a fact. A fact does not depend on who believes it or who presents it. A fact simply is.

The most useful kinds of facts are those that can be verified by others. By performing a scientific experiment or a thorough investigation, we can become convinced that a claim is an authentic fact. Other kinds of facts, though, may be more difficult to find, or may even be completely unknowable. For example, it might not be possible to know whether the global warming trend is part of a natural long-term cycle or is being caused by human activity. This doesn't mean there is no fact, it merely means we have no access to it. Facts exist at every point on the spectrum between what is knowable and what is unknowable, and this changes over time -- some things that we cannot know today may be within our grasp at some point in the future.

Subjective Values

Values, as opposed to facts, have a clearly subjective element. They vary from person to person and from situation to situation. For example, a value judgment is called upon to answer each of the following questions:

  • Who has a better foreign policy, Republicans or Democrats?
  • Should we have a moment of prayer in our school?
  • Is it appropriate to work on Saturdays?

The answers to these questions are both subjective, in that each of us likely has our own opinion, and relative, in that they may be answered in different ways in different contexts. Perhaps you or I like the Democrats' foreign policy in today's state of the world, but would favor the Republican approach at some other time. A moment of prayer may be quite appropriate in a Catholic school, but is probably inappropriate in a public school. Some value issues are relative to a social or religious group - I may work on a Saturday without giving the matter much thought, but an Orthodox Jew would view it as a violation of the Sabbath.

Questions that call for value judgments are not susceptible to matter-of-fact answers. We expect people to have different personal opinions on such matters. Though you and I may argue over a value judgment, we are likely at some point to accept whatever differences we may have. We also tend to accept the fact that people with differing cultural backgrounds and/or religious views will have different sets of values. Members of a cultural or religious group expect similar values of other members, but do not expect these values to be found in non-members. So, for example, if I have several Jewish co-workers they might expect each other to observe the Sabbath and avoid working on Saturday, but none of them will be offended if I, a non-Jew, work on Saturday.

Objective Values

The situation becomes more complicated for other kinds of value judgments -- specifically, moral ones. Offering a moral judgment can resemble offering a fact in that it is an attempt to describe objective reality instead of merely stating a preference or opinion. For example, consider the following statements:

  • Killing, except in self-defense, is wrong.
  • If you make a promise to someone, you should keep it.
  • It is important to be tolerant of others of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

These kinds of claims fall under the category of ethics and morality. Like a statement of preference, people may differ on these kinds of issues. But making a moral statement goes beyond offering an opinion. For example, if I say killing is wrong I don't mean that as my opinion, I mean that as if it were a fact. I also may not mean it to be relative to just me or my social group, instead meaning it is wrong for anyone, anywhere. In this way, ethical statements try to express something that is supposed to be objectively true. And unlike when someone disagrees with me about foreign policy or the celebration of a religious holiday, when someone disagrees with me on an ethical issue, I'm much more likely to be shocked or appalled instead of thinking they merely have a different point of view.

Just because moral claims are sometimes offered as fact doesn't mean that they really are. This matter has been fiercely debated for quite some time. After all, what kind of scientific experiment or investigation can be performed in order to find the basis for a value, such as the importance of being tolerant or the immorality of murder? This is known as the "is-ought barrier," reflecting that it is difficult or impossible to say with any certainty that because something is some way that it ought to be that way. Some feel that all values, including moral ones, are merely matters of opinion and preference, relative to the person and their culture. But this view has an unappealing consequence: if all value judgments are subjective, then it is possible to justify any action, including the worst one can imagine.

For example, some of the most notorious and brutal criminals have attempted to justify their actions, suggesting that they actually did "the right thing."[1] If values really are relative, who's to say they were wrong? This allows any act to be morally justified. Uncomfortable with such moral relativism for this very reason, many ethicists have channeled considerable effort into finding a foundation for morality. The task has proved daunting. In the meantime, ethics lie somewhere between values and facts -- we expect some variation but won't tolerate it when it is too serious or adversely affects us.

Facts vs. Values in Conflicts

Issues of facts and value can be important in nearly any kind of conflict.[2] When this is the case, parties must address the following kinds of potential complications:

Separation: Before a mediator can get a clear picture of the conflict issues, which is needed to diagnose the problems, one has to separate factual issues from value issues. Determining whether a conflict is a debate over facts, values, or a combination of the two can be difficult. This difficulty is made worse by conflict rhetoric -- sometimes a fact is stated as if it is clearly undesirable or immoral, or a value statement is offered as if it were a fact.[3] This can be done unintentionally as well as deceitfully. Separating the relevant facts from the parties' values is, therefore, an important starting point for diagnosing a conflict.

Focus: Contending parties may debate factual issues when the conflict is actually reducible to an essential value conflict, or vice-versa.[4] Mediation resources are finite. If a conflict is, at its core, a debate over one kind of issue and not the other, resources devoted to the wrong kind of issue will be largely wasted. Such a mistaken focus can lead to a missed opportunity for resolution, and may even prolong the conflict by stimulating unnecessary debate.

Resolution strategy: A fact-based conflict will likely reach resolution in a very different way than a value-based conflict. Reasonable people, when faced with overwhelming evidence for a particular fact, come under tremendous pressure to accept that fact. Of course, no one likes to openly admit that they are wrong, but a well-supported fact is a powerful thing. So, in a fact-based conflict, the strategy will be to get to the relevant facts and eliminate speculation and bias. While this isn't always easy, once it is done, the power of facts will likely do most of the work toward resolution. In contrast, people do not usually "give in" to someone else's value choices. Values are much closer to the core of a person or group, a central part of what makes them unique and gives them identity. One's values are among one's most cherished beliefs. Given these attachments and the fact that it is hard to find concrete evidence that one value is better than another, values are seldom subject to external change. They can even become stronger in the face of a challenge. In this way, one side conceding to the other's point of view almost never resolves value conflicts. Rather, they demand different confrontation strategies (for example, advocacy, activism, or constructive confrontation.)

Experts and Resources: Factual debates and value conflicts demand the use of a different set of experts and different kinds of resources. A person or group that is qualified to judge one may not be qualified to judge the other. For example, a dispute over some scientific fact will demand that experts in the appropriate fields be employed, tests and experiments may be required, and data must be analyzed. Specific resources may be needed, such as testing and laboratory equipment. An inquiry into legal facts will require lawyers and legal support staff. Values conflicts may benefit from mediators or facilitators who are experienced with constructive dialogue. Access to the right experts and the right resources at the right time is crucial.

Bias: Value and ethical judgments are invariably biased -- the value judgments are the points of bias. On the other hand, facts are supposed to be unbiased. Unfortunately, this is often not true: factual claims are often biased in subtle ways by disputants engaging in "adversary science" which distorts, misinterprets, or misrepresents facts to conform to a particular point of view.[5] So while bias is to be expected when the issue is a difference in values or ethics, it needs to be uncovered and eliminated in factual disputes.

Resolution Strategies

Determining which aspects of a conflict are value-based and which are fact-based, and communicating that distinction to all involved, is the key to successful conflict management or resolution. Enrolling an outsider as a mediator is often helpful, since the parties in a conflict may be too close to the issues to provide the objectivity needed. Once the issues are made distinct, decisions can be made regarding what to do and where to focus resources.

If a factual debate is part of the core conflict, a fact-finding technique will likely be needed. Each technique has its own advantages and disadvantages, and different kinds of facts will allow for different kinds of results. What is appropriate in one kind of factual dispute may be totally inappropriate in another.

One of the fact-finding techniques often used is joint fact-finding. In joint fact-finding, the parties work together to develop common scientific viewpoints. While it is natural for parties with differing viewpoints to try to find information that supports their view, when the fact-finding efforts are combined it is hoped that the net effect of both party's inquiries will balance each other out such that the truth will emerge. In addition to this equalizing effect, joint fact-finding provides both parties the opportunity to show their inclination toward compromise as an act of good faith. Therefore, agreeing to pursue the facts together tends to make both sides more consensus-oriented.

Also important to factual conflicts are the ways in which the parties involved view facts. Beyond finding the actual facts needed, it cannot be assumed that different parties will accept the facts in the same way. How facts will be accepted depends on the party's fact frames. It also may be important to foresee reactions to emerging facts. If a fact-finding endeavor reveals that one side is wrong, these facts may be opposed or simply ignored. Parties may harden their position on non-factual issues when they feel "backed into a corner" by facts that conflict with their claims. One possible way to diffuse this reaction is to provide the party a way to save face, to soften the blow by leaving them a dignified "out." When one considers both the complexity of finding facts and the issues of how facts will be received, it becomes obvious that fact-finding in general can be quite complicated. Despite these complications, though, the end result of a well-executed fact-finding endeavor is very often a robust conclusion, one that can be quite compelling.

Value conflicts are much harder to resolve, which is why these conflicts tend to be intractable. However, there are many ways to address value conflicts constructively in the hope that, even if the conflict cannot be resolved, the costs in resources and human lives can be lowered. One of the most appealing resolution strategies for value conflicts is one that seeks a state of coexistence or tolerance. In liberal societies, it is common for groups with vastly different values to coexist in a relatively peaceful way. It is the hope of the mediator that parties in violent conflicts over value issues eventually see the benefit for both sides of peaceful coexistence, where energies are spent pursuing one's own way of life instead of being spent opposing others. (See also Principles of Justice and Fairness, Intolerable Moral Differences, Justice Conflicts, Rights, and Dialogue).

[1] For example Al Capone, the famous gangster, is quoted as saying "I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man." (Carnegie, Dale. How To Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books, 1964.) Also, in February 2002, Slobodan Molosevic repeatedly denied all guilt with regard to his orchestration of genocide in the Balkans. (At Tribunal, Milosevic Blames NATO: Yugoslav Ex-Leader Opens Defense, Mostly Ignores Charges. Washington Post. February 15, 2002 .)

[2] The most obvious conflicts where facts and values commingle are environmental and bioethical conflicts. Contemporary methods of caring for the environment and for human life involve extensive use of science and technology, but are also the application of a core set of values.

[3] For example, during the public phase of deliberation over possible cleanup of the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado (a U.S. plant that manufactured weapons-grade plutonium) a common sentiment was that making nuclear weapons is automatically evil, and this sentiment was an undercurrent in the public's general attitudes toward the facility.

[4] For example, pro-life and pro-choice advocates have had extended debates over when a baby is "viable," a problematic factual issue, when the core issues of abortion can arguably be seen as moral issues. In contrast, opponents to genetically modified foods, by arguing that geneticists are "playing god," make an ethical issue of genetic modification, when the core issue is really a factual one of answering whether or not genetically modified foods are harmful.

[5] For an example of obvious adversary science, the Public Health Association of Australia writes: "The Tobacco Institute of Australia, a joint industry body formerly representing the three tobacco companies active in Australia, has been found guilty of 'misleading and deceptive conduct' under the Trade Practices Act in regard to its public statement that "there is little evidence and nothing which proves scientifically that cigarette smoke causes disease in non-smokers." (NHMRC Research Funding and Researchers Who Accept Money From The Tobacco Industry or Parties Acting on its Behalf. Public Health Association of Australia. Policy Index, 1988. http://www.phaa.net.au/policy/NHMRC.htm ).

Use the following to cite this article:
Schultz, Norman. "Distinguishing Facts from Values." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: June 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/facts-values>.

Additional Resources

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain how claims, evidence, and warrants function to create an argument.
  2. Identify strategies for choosing a persuasive speech topic.
  3. Identify strategies for adapting a persuasive speech based on an audience’s orientation to the proposition.
  4. Distinguish among propositions of fact, value, and policy.
  5. Choose an organizational pattern that is fitting for a persuasive speech topic.

We produce and receive persuasive messages daily, but we don’t often stop to think about how we make the arguments we do or the quality of the arguments that we receive. In this section, we’ll learn the components of an argument, how to choose a good persuasive speech topic, and how to adapt and organize a persuasive message.

Foundation of Persuasion

Persuasive speaking seeks to influence the beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviors of audience members. In order to persuade, a speaker has to construct arguments that appeal to audience members. Arguments form around three components: claim, evidence, and warrant. The claim is the statement that will be supported by evidence. Your thesis statement is the overarching claim for your speech, but you will make other claims within the speech to support the larger thesis. Evidence, also called grounds, supports the claim. The main points of your persuasive speech and the supporting material you include serve as evidence. For example, a speaker may make the following claim: “There should be a national law against texting while driving.” The speaker could then support the claim by providing the following evidence: “Research from the US Department of Transportation has found that texting while driving creates a crash risk that is twenty-three times worse than driving while not distracted.” The warrant is the underlying justification that connects the claim and the evidence. One warrant for the claim and evidence cited in this example is that the US Department of Transportation is an institution that funds research conducted by credible experts. An additional and more implicit warrant is that people shouldn’t do things they know are unsafe.

The quality of your evidence often impacts the strength of your warrant, and some warrants are stronger than others. A speaker could also provide evidence to support their claim advocating for a national ban on texting and driving by saying, “I have personally seen people almost wreck while trying to text.” While this type of evidence can also be persuasive, it provides a different type and strength of warrant since it is based on personal experience. In general, the anecdotal evidence from personal experience would be given a weaker warrant than the evidence from the national research report. The same process works in our legal system when a judge evaluates the connection between a claim and evidence. If someone steals my car, I could say to the police, “I’m pretty sure Mario did it because when I said hi to him on campus the other day, he didn’t say hi back, which proves he’s mad at me.” A judge faced with that evidence is unlikely to issue a warrant for Mario’s arrest. Fingerprint evidence from the steering wheel that has been matched with a suspect is much more likely to warrant arrest.

As you put together a persuasive argument, you act as the judge. You can evaluate arguments that you come across in your research by analyzing the connection (the warrant) between the claim and the evidence. If the warrant is strong, you may want to highlight that argument in your speech. You may also be able to point out a weak warrant in an argument that goes against your position, which you could then include in your speech. Every argument starts by putting together a claim and evidence, but arguments grow to include many interrelated units.

Figure 11.2 Components of an Argument

Choosing a Persuasive Speech Topic

As with any speech, topic selection is important and is influenced by many factors. Good persuasive speech topics are current, controversial, and have important implications for society. If your topic is currently being discussed on television, in newspapers, in the lounges in your dorm, or around your family’s dinner table, then it’s a current topic. A persuasive speech aimed at getting audience members to wear seat belts in cars wouldn’t have much current relevance, given that statistics consistently show that most people wear seat belts. Giving the same speech would have been much more timely in the 1970s when there was a huge movement to increase seat-belt use.

Many topics that are current are also controversial, which is what gets them attention by the media and citizens. Current and controversial topics will be more engaging for your audience. A persuasive speech to encourage audience members to donate blood or recycle wouldn’t be very controversial, since the benefits of both practices are widely agreed on. However, arguing that the restrictions on blood donation by men who have had sexual relations with men be lifted would be controversial. I must caution here that controversial is not the same as inflammatory. An inflammatory topic is one that evokes strong reactions from an audience for the sake of provoking a reaction. Being provocative for no good reason or choosing a topic that is extremist will damage your credibility and prevent you from achieving your speech goals.

You should also choose a topic that is important to you and to society as a whole. As we have already discussed in this book, our voices are powerful, as it is through communication that we participate and make change in society. Therefore we should take seriously opportunities to use our voices to speak publicly. Choosing a speech topic that has implications for society is probably a better application of your public speaking skills than choosing to persuade the audience that Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world or that Superman is a better hero than Spiderman. Although those topics may be very important to you, they don’t carry the same social weight as many other topics you could choose to discuss. Remember that speakers have ethical obligations to the audience and should take the opportunity to speak seriously.

You will also want to choose a topic that connects to your own interests and passions. If you are an education major, it might make more sense to do a persuasive speech about funding for public education than the death penalty. If there are hot-button issues for you that make you get fired up and veins bulge out in your neck, then it may be a good idea to avoid those when speaking in an academic or professional context.

Choosing such topics may interfere with your ability to deliver a speech in a competent and ethical manner. You want to care about your topic, but you also want to be able to approach it in a way that’s going to make people want to listen to you. Most people tune out speakers they perceive to be too ideologically entrenched and write them off as extremists or zealots.

You also want to ensure that your topic is actually persuasive. Draft your thesis statement as an “I believe” statement so your stance on an issue is clear. Also, think of your main points as reasons to support your thesis. Students end up with speeches that aren’t very persuasive in nature if they don’t think of their main points as reasons. Identifying arguments that counter your thesis is also a good exercise to help ensure your topic is persuasive. If you can clearly and easily identify a competing thesis statement and supporting reasons, then your topic and approach are arguable.

Review of Tips for Choosing a Persuasive Speech Topic

  1. Choose a topic that is current.
    • Not current. People should use seat belts.
    • Current. People should not text while driving.
  2. Choose a topic that is controversial.
    • Not controversial. People should recycle.
    • Controversial. Recycling should be mandatory by law.
  3. Choose a topic that meaningfully impacts society.
    • Not as impactful. Superman is the best superhero.
    • Impactful. Colleges and universities should adopt zero-tolerance bullying policies.
  4. Write a thesis statement that is clearly argumentative and states your stance.
    • Unclear thesis. Homeschooling is common in the United States.
    • Clear, argumentative thesis with stance. Homeschooling does not provide the same benefits of traditional education and should be strictly monitored and limited.

Adapting Persuasive Messages

Competent speakers should consider their audience throughout the speech-making process. Given that persuasive messages seek to directly influence the audience in some way, audience adaptation becomes even more important. If possible, poll your audience to find out their orientation toward your thesis. I read my students’ thesis statements aloud and have the class indicate whether they agree with, disagree with, or are neutral in regards to the proposition. It is unlikely that you will have a homogenous audience, meaning that there will probably be some who agree, some who disagree, and some who are neutral. So you may employ all of the following strategies, in varying degrees, in your persuasive speech.

When you have audience members who already agree with your proposition, you should focus on intensifying their agreement. You can also assume that they have foundational background knowledge of the topic, which means you can take the time to inform them about lesser-known aspects of a topic or cause to further reinforce their agreement. Rather than move these audience members from disagreement to agreement, you can focus on moving them from agreement to action. Remember, calls to action should be as specific as possible to help you capitalize on audience members’ motivation in the moment so they are more likely to follow through on the action.

There are two main reasons audience members may be neutral in regards to your topic: (1) they are uninformed about the topic or (2) they do not think the topic affects them. In this case, you should focus on instilling a concern for the topic. Uninformed audiences may need background information before they can decide if they agree or disagree with your proposition. If the issue is familiar but audience members are neutral because they don’t see how the topic affects them, focus on getting the audience’s attention and demonstrating relevance. Remember that concrete and proxemic supporting materials will help an audience find relevance in a topic. Students who pick narrow or unfamiliar topics will have to work harder to persuade their audience, but neutral audiences often provide the most chance of achieving your speech goal since even a small change may move them into agreement.

When audience members disagree with your proposition, you should focus on changing their minds. To effectively persuade, you must be seen as a credible speaker. When an audience is hostile to your proposition, establishing credibility is even more important, as audience members may be quick to discount or discredit someone who doesn’t appear prepared or doesn’t present well-researched and supported information. Don’t give an audience a chance to write you off before you even get to share your best evidence. When facing a disagreeable audience, the goal should also be small change. You may not be able to switch someone’s position completely, but influencing him or her is still a success. Aside from establishing your credibility, you should also establish common ground with an audience.

Acknowledging areas of disagreement and logically refuting counterarguments in your speech is also a way to approach persuading an audience in disagreement, as it shows that you are open-minded enough to engage with other perspectives.

Build common ground with disagreeable audiences and acknowledge areas of disagreement.

Determining Your Proposition

The proposition of your speech is the overall direction of the content and how that relates to the speech goal. A persuasive speech will fall primarily into one of three categories: propositions of fact, value, or policy. A speech may have elements of any of the three propositions, but you can usually determine the overall proposition of a speech from the specific purpose and thesis statements.

Propositions of fact focus on beliefs and try to establish that something “is or isn’t.” Propositions of value focus on persuading audience members that something is “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” or “desirable or undesirable.” Propositions of policy advocate that something “should or shouldn’t” be done. Since most persuasive speech topics can be approached as propositions of fact, value, or policy, it is a good idea to start thinking about what kind of proposition you want to make, as it will influence how you go about your research and writing. As you can see in the following example using the topic of global warming, the type of proposition changes the types of supporting materials you would need:

  • Proposition of fact. Global warming is caused by increased greenhouse gases related to human activity.
  • Proposition of value. America’s disproportionately large amount of pollution relative to other countries is wrong.
  • Proposition of policy. There should be stricter emission restrictions on individual cars.

To support propositions of fact, you would want to present a logical argument based on objective facts that can then be used to build persuasive arguments. Propositions of value may require you to appeal more to your audience’s emotions and cite expert and lay testimony. Persuasive speeches about policy usually require you to research existing and previous laws or procedures and determine if any relevant legislation or propositions are currently being considered.

“Getting Critical”

Persuasion and Masculinity

The traditional view of rhetoric that started in ancient Greece and still informs much of our views on persuasion today has been critiqued for containing Western and masculine biases. Traditional persuasion has been linked to Western and masculine values of domination, competition, and change, which have been critiqued as coercive and violent (Gearhart, 1979).

Communication scholars proposed an alternative to traditional persuasive rhetoric in the form of invitational rhetoric. Invitational rhetoric differs from a traditional view of persuasive rhetoric that “attempts to win over an opponent, or to advocate the correctness of a single position in a very complex issue” (Bone et al., 2008). Instead, invitational rhetoric proposes a model of reaching consensus through dialogue. The goal is to create a climate in which growth and change can occur but isn’t required for one person to “win” an argument over another. Each person in a communication situation is acknowledged to have a standpoint that is valid but can still be influenced through the offering of alternative perspectives and the invitation to engage with and discuss these standpoints (Ryan & Natalle, 2001). Safety, value, and freedom are three important parts of invitational rhetoric. Safety involves a feeling of security in which audience members and speakers feel like their ideas and contributions will not be denigrated. Value refers to the notion that each person in a communication encounter is worthy of recognition and that people are willing to step outside their own perspectives to better understand others. Last, freedom is present in communication when communicators do not limit the thinking or decisions of others, allowing all participants to speak up (Bone et al., 2008).

Invitational rhetoric doesn’t claim that all persuasive rhetoric is violent. Instead, it acknowledges that some persuasion is violent and that the connection between persuasion and violence is worth exploring. Invitational rhetoric has the potential to contribute to the civility of communication in our society. When we are civil, we are capable of engaging with and appreciating different perspectives while still understanding our own. People aren’t attacked or reviled because their views diverge from ours. Rather than reducing the world to “us against them, black or white, and right or wrong,” invitational rhetoric encourages us to acknowledge human perspectives in all their complexity (Bone et al., 2008).

  1. What is your reaction to the claim that persuasion includes Western and masculine biases?
  2. What are some strengths and weaknesses of the proposed alternatives to traditional persuasion?
  3. In what situations might an invitational approach to persuasion be useful? In what situations might you want to rely on traditional models of persuasion?

Choose a persuasive speech topic that you’re passionate about but still able to approach and deliver in an ethical manner.

Organizing a Persuasive Speech

We have already discussed several patterns for organizing your speech, but some organization strategies are specific to persuasive speaking. Some persuasive speech topics lend themselves to a topical organization pattern, which breaks the larger topic up into logical divisions. Earlier, in Chapter 9 “Preparing a Speech”, we discussed recency and primacy, and in this chapter we discussed adapting a persuasive speech based on the audience’s orientation toward the proposition. These concepts can be connected when organizing a persuasive speech topically. Primacy means putting your strongest information first and is based on the idea that audience members put more weight on what they hear first. This strategy can be especially useful when addressing an audience that disagrees with your proposition, as you can try to win them over early. Recency means putting your strongest information last to leave a powerful impression. This can be useful when you are building to a climax in your speech, specifically if you include a call to action.

The problem-solution pattern is an organizational pattern that advocates for a particular approach to solve a problem. You would provide evidence to show that a problem exists and then propose a solution with additional evidence or reasoning to justify the course of action. One main point addressing the problem and one main point addressing the solution may be sufficient, but you are not limited to two. You could add a main point between the problem and solution that outlines other solutions that have failed. You can also combine the problem-solution pattern with the cause-effect pattern or expand the speech to fit with Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

As was mentioned in Chapter 9 “Preparing a Speech”, the cause-effect pattern can be used for informative speaking when the relationship between the cause and effect is not contested. The pattern is more fitting for persuasive speeches when the relationship between the cause and effect is controversial or unclear. There are several ways to use causes and effects to structure a speech. You could have a two-point speech that argues from cause to effect or from effect to cause. You could also have more than one cause that lead to the same effect or a single cause that leads to multiple effects. The following are some examples of thesis statements that correspond to various organizational patterns. As you can see, the same general topic area, prison overcrowding, is used for each example. This illustrates the importance of considering your organizational options early in the speech-making process, since the pattern you choose will influence your researching and writing.

Persuasive Speech Thesis Statements by Organizational Pattern

  • Problem-solution. Prison overcrowding is a serious problem that we can solve by finding alternative rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.
  • Problem–failed solution–proposed solution. Prison overcrowding is a serious problem that shouldn’t be solved by building more prisons; instead, we should support alternative rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.
  • Cause-effect. Prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent offenders, which leads to lesser sentences for violent criminals.
  • Cause-cause-effect. State budgets are being slashed and prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent offenders, which leads to lesser sentences for violent criminals.
  • Cause-effect-effect. Prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent offenders, which leads to increased behavioral problems among inmates and lesser sentences for violent criminals.
  • Cause-effect-solution. Prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent offenders, which leads to lesser sentences for violent criminals; therefore we need to find alternative rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is an organizational pattern designed for persuasive speaking that appeals to audience members’ needs and motivates them to action. If your persuasive speaking goals include a call to action, you may want to consider this organizational pattern. We already learned about the five steps of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence in Chapter 9 “Preparing a Speech”, but we will review them here with an example:

  1. Step 1: Attention
    • Hook the audience by making the topic relevant to them.
    • Imagine living a full life, retiring, and slipping into your golden years. As you get older you become more dependent on others and move into an assisted-living facility. Although you think life will be easier, things get worse as you experience abuse and mistreatment from the staff. You report the abuse to a nurse and wait, but nothing happens and the abuse continues. Elder abuse is a common occurrence, and unlike child abuse, there are no laws in our state that mandate complaints of elder abuse be reported or investigated.
  2. Step 2: Need
    • Cite evidence to support the fact that the issue needs to be addressed.
    • According to the American Psychological Association, one to two million elderly US Americans have been abused by their caretakers. In our state, those in the medical, psychiatric, and social work field are required to report suspicion of child abuse but are not mandated to report suspicions of elder abuse.
  3. Step 3: Satisfaction
    • Offer a solution and persuade the audience that it is feasible and well thought out.
    • There should be a federal law mandating that suspicion of elder abuse be reported and that all claims of elder abuse be investigated.
  4. Step 4: Visualization
    • Take the audience beyond your solution and help them visualize the positive results of implementing it or the negative consequences of not.
    • Elderly people should not have to live in fear during their golden years. A mandatory reporting law for elderly abuse will help ensure that the voices of our elderly loved ones will be heard.
  5. Step 5: Action
    • Call your audience to action by giving them concrete steps to follow to engage in a particular action or to change a thought or behavior.
    • I urge you to take action in two ways. First, raise awareness about this issue by talking to your own friends and family. Second, contact your representatives at the state and national level to let them know that elder abuse should be taken seriously and given the same level of importance as other forms of abuse. I brought cards with the contact information for our state and national representatives for this area. Please take one at the end of my speech. A short e-mail or phone call can help end the silence surrounding elder abuse.

Key Takeaways

  • Arguments are formed by making claims that are supported by evidence. The underlying justification that connects the claim and evidence is the warrant. Arguments can have strong or weak warrants, which will make them more or less persuasive.
  • Good persuasive speech topics are current, controversial (but not inflammatory), and important to the speaker and society.
  • Speakers should adapt their persuasive approach based on audience members’ orientation toward the proposal.
    • When audience members agree with the proposal, focus on intensifying their agreement and moving them to action.
    • When audience members are neutral in regards to the proposition, provide background information to better inform them about the issue and present information that demonstrates the relevance of the topic to the audience.
    • When audience members disagree with the proposal, focus on establishing your credibility, build common ground with the audience, and incorporate counterarguments and refute them.
  • Persuasive speeches include the following propositions: fact, value, and policy.
    • Propositions of fact focus on establishing that something “is or isn’t” or is “true or false.”
    • Propositions of value focus on persuading an audience that something is “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” or “desirable or undesirable.”
    • Propositions of policy advocate that something “should or shouldn’t” be done.
  • Persuasive speeches can be organized using the following patterns: problem-solution, cause-effect, cause-effect-solution, or Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.


  1. Getting integrated: Give an example of persuasive messages that you might need to create in each of the following contexts: academic, professional, personal, and civic. Then do the same thing for persuasive messages you may receive.
  2. To help ensure that your persuasive speech topic is persuasive and not informative, identify the claims, evidence, and warrants you may use in your argument. In addition, write a thesis statement that refutes your topic idea and identify evidence and warrants that could support that counterargument.
  3. Determine if your speech is primarily a proposition of fact, value, or policy. How can you tell? Identify an organizational pattern that you think will work well for your speech topic, draft one sentence for each of your main points, and arrange them according to the pattern you chose.

Putting your strongest argument last can help motivate an audience to action.

Celestine Chua – The Change – CC BY 2.0.


Bone, J. E., Cindy L. Griffin, and T. M. Linda Scholz, “Beyond Traditional Conceptualizations of Rhetoric: Invitational Rhetoric and a Move toward Civility,” Western Journal of Communication 72 (2008): 436.

Gearhart, S. M., “The Womanization of Rhetoric,” Women’s Studies International Quarterly 2 (1979): 195–201.

Ryan, K. J., and Elizabeth J. Natalle, “Fusing Horizons: Standpoint Hermenutics and Invitational Rhetoric,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 31 (2001): 69–90.

This is a derivative of Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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