Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 26, 2011 · 19 comments

in Manly Knowledge

Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. Last time we discussed invention, which is essentially brainstorming and planning your speech or writing. In this installment, we’ll be exploring the canon of arrangement. Let’s get started.

What Is Arrangement?

Arrangement is simply the organization of a speech or text to ensure maximum persuasion. Classical rhetoricians divided a speech into six different parts. They are:

  1. Introduction (exordium)
  2. Statement of Facts (narratio)
  3. Division (partitio)
  4. Proof (confirmatio)
  5. Refutation (refutatio)
  6. Conclusion (peroratio)

If you’ve taken debate or philosophy classes, you’ve probably seen this format for organizing a speech or paper.

1. Introduction

There are two aspects of an effective introduction: 1) introducing your topic and 2) establishing credibility.

Introducing your topic. In your introduction, your main goal is to announce your subject or the purpose of your speech–to persuade, to teach, to praise, etc. Simple, huh? Well, not really.

Your introduction is crucial for the success of your speech or essay. In the first few seconds, your audience will determine whether your speech is worth listening to. If you can’t grab their attention right off the bat, you’ve lost them for the remainder of the speech.

So how can you announce your subject in a way that grabs your audience’s attention? You have the old stand-bys: start off with a quote, ask a rhetorical question, or state some shocking fact relating to your topic. Those are decent ways to introduce your topic, but they’re overdone. Some men also try to open with a joke, but most of the time it falls flat, the credibility of the speaker takes a nose dive, and the audience begins tuning the speaker out.

In my experience, the best way to start a speech is to tell a captivating story that draws readers in and engages them emotionally. Journalists do this all the time. They always try to find a human angle to any story no matter how tangential the connection. For tips on crafting compelling and sticky stories, check out a book I recommended last time, Made to Stick.

Establishing credibility. Quintilian taught that it was during the introduction that a rhetorician should use the persuasive appeal of ethos. Ethos, if you remember from our class on the three means of persuasion, is an appeal to your character or reputation to persuade your audience. It doesn’t matter how logical your argument is, if people don’t think you’re trustworthy or a credible source, you’ll have no sway with them.

2. Statement of Facts (narratio)

The statement of facts is the background information needed to get your audience up to speed on the history of your issue. The goal is to provide enough information for your audience to understand the context of your argument. If your rhetoric is seeking to persuade people to adopt a certain course of action, you must first convince the audience that there really is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Don’t just dryly list off a bunch of facts. Make them interesting to read or listen to. Create a story. Narrate.

While the statement of facts is primarily used to inform your audience, with some subtle tweaking, you can use your facts to persuade as well. Now, I don’t mean you should make up facts out of thin air; only a scalawag would do that. But you can emphasize and deemphasize facts that support or hurt your argument

Attorneys do this all the time. They’ll use certain language and emphasize or deemphasize certain facts to help their case and their client. Let’s use a murder trial as an example.

Both sides have to recognize the fact that someone is dead, but each will do it differently to further their case.

The prosecutor might say,”The defendant, Mr. Killzalots, shot the victim John Smith, a beloved community philanthropist, twenty times at point blank range in front of the victim’s children.”

The defendant’s attorney might convey the same fact thusly: “John Smith was shot.”

The prosecutor emphasized the fact that Mr. Killzalots did the shooting and did so multiple times at point blank range in front of the victim’s children. Moreover, he mentioned that the victim was admired by his community. This was an attempt to create sympathy for the victim and rage towards the defendant. The defending attorney did a lot of deemphasizing. He didn’t want sympathy for the victim or rage directed at his client. So he tried to describe the murder in as neutral a tone as possible.

It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates how your statement of facts can be a powerfully persuasive tool.

3. Division (partitio)

Quintilian taught that after stating your facts, the most effective way to transition into your argument is with a partitio: a summary of the arguments you’re about to make. Think of the division as your audience’s roadmap. You’re about to take them on a journey of logic and emotion, so give them an idea of where they’re going, so it’s easier to follow you. When I listen to a speech, I like when the speaker starts out by saying something like, “I have three points to make tonight.” That way I know how far along in the speech he is (and if it’s boring, when it’s going to end!).

4. Proof (confirmatio)

Now comes the main body of your speech or essay. This is when you will make your argument. In the proof section, you want to construct logical arguments that your audience can understand and follow. If you need to, review our previous segment on logos to ensure you’re using sound and valid arguments. When you construct your arguments, be sure to relate back to the facts you mentioned in your statement of facts to back up what you say. If you’re suggesting a course of action, you want to convince people that your solution is the best one for resolving the problem you just described.

5. Refutation (refutatio)

After you’ve crafted a strong and convincing argument for your case, it’s time to highlight the weaknesses in your argument to your audience. This might seem surprising. Why on earth would we go out of our way to show our audience possible reasons our argument is faulty? While at first blush this tactic would seem to be counterproductive, sharing the weaknesses of your arguments will actually make you more persuasive in two ways.

First, it gives you a chance to preemptively answer any counterarguments an opposing side may bring  up and resolve any doubts your audience might be harboring. Bringing up weaknesses before your opponent or audience takes the bite out of a coming counterargument. And some people will already have objections they’re mulling over in their heads; if you don’t address those objections, your audience will assume it is because you can’t, that you have something to hide, and that they’re right after all.

Second, highlighting the weaknesses in your argument is an effective use of ethos. No one likes a know-it-all. A bit of intellectual modesty can go a long way to getting the audience to trust and like you, and consequently, be persuaded by what you have to say. Recognizing that your argument isn’t iron-clad is an easy way to gain the sympathy and trust of your audience.

6. Conclusion (peroratio)

The goal of your conclusion is to sum up your argument as forcefully and as memorably as possible. Simply restating your facts and proof won’t cut it. If you want people to remember what you said, you have to inject some emotion into your conclusion. In fact, Quintilian taught that the conclusion of a speech was when one should liberally use pathos–or the appeal to emotion. Perhaps the best example of an amazingly effective, emotion-filled conclusion is the finish to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” still brings tears to eyes and chills to spines, forever searing the memory of the speech in the minds of those who hear it.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laurinda February 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I would buy this series as an ebook. I love it!

2 Tsosamotse February 27, 2011 at 1:03 am

Hi Brett

Thank you again for publishing this series again I’ve been following it closely and waiting for the next publication in anticipation, your suspence is been killing because It’s almost like I’m in a hurry to complete this series and get the skills and start applying them immediately. Yesterday I was making a wedding speech and I tried using the skills your have taught us so far, to be specific I used storytelling to persuade my audience and the newly weds and I’m happy to note that they remembered my story immediately. It’s true that choosing the right story has long effect on people, for me people will remember a story than trying to persuade with a long speech without stories and lessons to teach from a story line. I like the picture you have used, I also have a similar Martin Luther King picture on my iPhone 4, everytime I look it, it reminds me of his famous speech “I have dream” what a touching speech. I would like to suggest that you investigate iPhone and iPad Apps that are relevant when preparing a speech like my and Wikipedia Apps with thesaurus and also those Apps that relevant when delivering a speech like self timer, technology is making things simple.

I wish I was taught this skills when I was still a teenager, rhetoric skills are excellent for anything, from class sleeches at school, tertiary institution speeches in class, community speech at church to entrepreneurial speeches in business and business speeches at work.

My most favourate orator so far is Malcom, his speeches are well researched and well organized to deliver a strong speech that touches your emotions or should I say your spirit. One thing in common about Martin Luther King and Malcom X I think is their religious platform that nurtured their orator skills.

Thank you again, this most favourite series from the Art of manliness, you and your wife are doing an excellent job.

Reporting from South Africa, Johannesburg, Vereeniging at 7:55 am, Sunday Morning, 27 February.

I wish to hear your personally opinion to my post if possible.

Keep well!

Kind regards,

Tsosamotse Marvin Hlabi

I would like

3 Norman Kraft February 27, 2011 at 9:07 am

Another great article, Brett & Kate! Skills like these were taught as part of a university education years ago, but that art and power of rhetoric has been lost to technical know-how. We’ve become a nation of technicians and specialists. The last place that rhetoric is routinely taught is in seminaries.That may be why so many great speakers are or were once religious leaders.

Articles like this series help lift the rest of us just a bit toward our own “I Have a Dream” moment.

4 R J Vincent February 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

Great series of articles. We were never taught this in school or college. Thanks for filling in the blank spots in my education.

5 Matt February 27, 2011 at 10:40 am

Maybe I just couldn’t find them, but could you add links to the previous parts for those of us who came across this article in midstream?

6 Joe D February 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Great post as always.

A couple of weeks ago I took a trip up to the African Burial Ground in Manhattan for an employee development event. If anyone is planning on a trip to New York, the site is a must see.

Back to the post though, one of the interpretive park rangers was a student of classical oratory and rhetoric. He gave a rousing, inspiring, and powerful tour. For an afternoon, I was transported to the late 17th century. It was refreshing in the age of ever present microphones and droning professorial type speeches. The man knew his stuff.

+1 on the article Brett and Kate. Keep up the good work.

7 Matthew R. Jones February 28, 2011 at 6:14 am

A good book on rhetoric:

Rhetoric: A User’s Guide by J. D. Ramage

8 Insomniac February 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

Excellent series. Rhetoric and formal argumentation are not being taught with any great degree of rigor or frequency, as far as I can tell. It’s a shame, since these skills can aid us in a great many areas of our lives.

9 Josh February 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I’m going to second the idea of putting this in an ebook. I’ve picked up a couple of your other ebooks in the past and would love to have this in a collected form once you’re finished with the series.

Can’t wait for the next installment!

10 Barker February 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Another good entry in this topic. Well done.

When thinking about introduction, and indeed structure as a whole, I’ve found Churchill’s advice to be very helpful. I tried to find the reference, but was unable, so I’m quoting from memory: “When you have something important to say, say it. Hammer it home again and again. Hit them with it until their ears ring.”

The quotes belie the fact that this probably more of a summary and not as poetic as Churchill. Still, it makes the point. And will keep speakers on task and on target and prevent them from getting muddled in schemes and tropes and rhetorical surprises that, while effective in seasoned pens, will in the hands of new speakers be used far too often and will produce an overly restful reaction from the crowd.

Thanks for the hard work on this! Cheers!

11 Brett McKay March 1, 2011 at 3:01 am

Hi Tsosamotse-

Thanks very much for the comment! The rhetoric series is a lot of work but doesn’t seem to be as popular as some of the other articles we do, so I wasn’t sure if I should keep going with it. So it’s good to know that readers like you are so into it! Thanks for the encouragement. Congrats on giving a great best man’s speech. I was just at a wedding where the best man gave a speech that had everyone cringing in embarrassment for him. It’s awesome that you took the time to read up on the subject and apply what you read.

I do definitely plan on putting this together in an ebook once the series is finished.

12 Lancelot March 1, 2011 at 6:38 am

My philosophy teacher as an advice for introduction: say why your speech is of interest to your audience. To give a dumb example, if you’re trying to sell a revolutionary new pencil, start by pointing out problems with regulars pencil and how it is a pain everybody can share. Then go on saying “I have the solution to that”, and carry on.

13 Allen March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm

My favorite references include:
Booth, Wayne. 1974. Modern Dogma & the Rhetoric of Assent.
___________ 1987. The Harper and Row Rhetoric: Writing As Thinking, Thinking As Writing.
___________ 2004. Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication.
Nibley, Hugh W. 1956. “Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of
Everything Else.” Western Speech 20/2 (Spring): 57-82. Reprinted in The Ancient State, volume 10 of Nibley’s Colleted Works. Also online at:

The following audio lectures with printed transcripts from The Teaching Company are very good:
* Hale, John R. Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches in History. Also TTC.
* Hall, James. Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason.
* Landon, Brooks. Building Great Sentences.
* Zarefsky, David. Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd ed.

14 Tod Bowman March 1, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Brett and Kate, Great post in a great series.

Brett, I’d like to comment on your comment. In “new media” I think people tend to only comment on things that they can relate to in the context of their personal history. Things like adventure or humor… “I remember when… happened to me”. Or things they already know and/or love, cooking for example.

In your comment, you stated: “The rhetoric series is a lot of work but doesn’t seem to be as popular as some of the other articles we do, so I wasn’t sure if I should keep going with it.”. I don’t know if you’re counting popularity by “hits” or “comments”, but if it’s comments, see above. I suspect that most of us aren’t skilled orators (I, myself, didn’t know how to spell rhetoric before you started this series!) so we don’t have the background to comment intellagently. If you’re judging by hits, never fear, we’ll all be referring back to the series over the years. Eventually, all of us are going to have that “uh, oh!” moment that we’ll need to prepare for.

Like our freind Tsosamotse before me, I will be giving a speech at a wedding (this coming April). Not as Best Man, but as the father of the Bride. Maggie is our oldest child and the first to be married, so this is a very important event for both myself and my own bride. Maggie’s dated her fiance for about ten years. They lived with us for several of those years. I find myself in the eviable position of being able to refer to Billy as a very good freind, rather than “just” my son-in-law. I couldn’t think of a better man to accept my daughters hand from my own. Which makes this event even MORE important.

The length of this comment belies the fact that I’m a man of little words, so please undestand that I am very anxious and apprehensive about my speech. This series is invaluable to me, and will be for many others in the future.

Both you and Kate are regularly encouraging and teaching us, I’d like to give a little encouragement back. You guys are awesome! I’d also like to thank you. Not for your hours, efforts, writing or research this time, but just for, well… helping!


15 Chris March 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I have a wedding around the corner and am planning on saying something. This article has provided me with some much needed structure. Thanks, and perfect timing.

16 JustinR March 1, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Thank you, knowledge like this is gold

17 Guy March 2, 2011 at 12:51 pm

My two cents Brett…….keep the series going!

Thanks for all you do,

18 Rick Snyder March 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I do not get to the Art of Manliness as often as I would like. Everytime that I do I find articles of great worthiness. The series on Rhetoric is a prime example and one that has brought me back with a greater frequency. Perhaps with a better understanding of rhetoric we will have a lesser need for the cool survival skills articles.

19 Dominique October 22, 2013 at 11:12 am

Thank you so much for this. I’m teaching freshman English at a university for the first time and this is helping construct a handout for my amateur rhetors!

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