The classical argument has been around for centuries. It is said to have started with ancient Greek rhetors, also known as teachers, who began teaching nearby farmers strategies to appeal their cases to the Greek courts in the fifth century B.C. The farmers needed a way to argue their case plausibly and logically to an open-minded audience, which is just how the classical argument is structured. While there are no ancient Greek farmers around today, the classical argument is still used in academic writing and is an equally useful strategy in the world of small business.
The five basic components of an argument are an introduction followed by narration, confirmation, refutation and a conclusion or summation.
While there are different names for each part, the basic components of an argument are introduction, narration, confirmation, refutation and summation. When trying to convince the reader of your point, using the elements of an argument in this order will help establish your view, provide credibility and convince the reader to take your side.
In some cases, the component of refutation is split into two separate sections – concession and refutation. In this scenario, the concession consists of presenting the opposing viewpoints, while the refutation is where the writer breaks down the opposing arguments. However, most often those two sections are presented together as one.
While classical arguments are prevalent in academic settings and used commonly in essays and books, they also have a place in the world of business. As a small business owner, you routinely need to convince prospective customers to make purchases, and you may need to convince a bank to increase a loan at some point. You can do this by presenting the business's strengths through a classical argument. Similarly, you may use an argument to convince a supplier to provide you with an additional discount, or a potential partner to sign on for a long-term engagement. A classically structured argument can also be used when presenting a specific point of view to members of the board, and asking for their vote.
There are many ways a classically structured argument can benefit a business. As a small business owner, you can use a formal argument in the following ways:
- Demonstrate your expertise.
- Present your knowledge of the industry.
- Establish rapport with your customers.
- Identify customers’ pain points.
- Refute sales objections.
- Ask for the sale.
A classically structured argument helps to present a logical stance with sound reasoning to back up any claims, which is a useful tool for any business owner.
The introduction is the first part of the argument and is referred to colloquially as the "hook." It's where you capture your audience and grab their attention. The goal of the introduction is to establish a connection between the writer or the speaker and the audience and to show why it's worth paying attention to this argument. An excellent introduction often starts with an interesting or even shocking statistic, quotation or an anecdote that the audience can relate to, helping to set the stage for what's to come and getting the audience on the same page.
The thesis of the argument is the main component of the introduction. A strong thesis statement tells the audience what you plan to argue, how you plan to argue it and what evidence you will provide for your position. By the end of the introduction, your audience should be interested in what you have to say. While they may not be convinced just yet, their interest should be sufficiently piqued to continue paying attention.
In the world of small business, using a thesis statement is a powerful way to begin a sales presentation. Say, for example, you are a small business that provides unique custom-crafted teething necklaces for babies and toddlers that mom wears around her neck. You can use the classical elements of argument when speaking to prospective customers at a trade show.
To capture your customer’s attention, you can relate an anecdote or a personal story of your experience in dealing with a teething baby. You could mention why you developed your necklace and why they're better than teething rings. Your story helps your prospect, likely a parent of a baby or toddler, relate to your business. It shows that you understand your customer's problems because you've had first-hand experience.
An example thesis statement in this scenario is, “These teething necklaces are the best way for your baby to find relief because they are made from the highest quality silicone and are easy to hold. Plus, they look great while you wear them.” In this statement, you show what kind of problem your product solves, how it solves it and a unique benefit it provides.
After the introduction, the argument moves on to the element of narration. In this section of the argument, the goal is to provide context for the topic at hand. Here, you should provide background information and any important history or precedence in similar situations. By doing so, the audience gains a better understanding of the environment the argument fits into. You help to show what is at stake by providing related information and setting the scene.
In academic writing, the narration section often includes a review of the literature referenced in the essay or book. In the world of small business, this can consist of statistical data that concerns elements of the thesis, or data that shows relevant aspects of the business environment.
In the example of the small business owner selling teething necklaces at a trade show, you can use the narration element to provide background information on the product. For example, you can discuss when teething necklaces started becoming popular, what materials are used to make them and how they benefit families. You can also discuss the issue of teething pain in children and how it can cause sleep disruption, excessive crying and refusal to eat.
Even though your prospect may already be aware of some of the information, after hearing your narration, she will have a better understanding of the problems and realize that you understand them, too. Your narration helps to build rapport and shows that you have extensive knowledge of your product. And by establishing expertise, you build credibility with the customer.
After you have established the background information with narration, it’s time to move on to confirmation, which is where the “meat” of the argument lies. Here, you provide claims that support the thesis of the argument, with evidence to back up each claim.
There are several ways to structure the claims. In certain cases, it’s best to start off with the strongest or most logical claim, followed by the second strongest and so on, ending with the most subtle claim. On the other hand, some writers choose to start with the second most logical claim, followed by the weakest claim and ending with the strongest claim. The reason for ending with the strongest claim is that it's most memorable in this position. The strongest claim may have a surprising statistic or testimony, or it could include an emotional appeal. It works well at the end of the confirmation section depending on the kind of argument, who it’s being presented to and the stakes involved.
As a small business owner, the confirmation section of the argument is where you can present valid reasons for prospects to choose your product or service. In the example of the business selling teething necklaces, you can tell the prospective customer about the benefits of avoiding pain medication, the practicality of the necklaces, the benefits of the materials used and the effects of the necklaces on teething pain. A strong way to end the confirmation is to provide a testimonial from a happy customer, showing how successful the necklaces are for helping babies and toddlers deal with teething pain.
Once the strong and logical claims have been presented, it’s time to look at the opposing viewpoint. While it might seem counterintuitive to discuss the opposition, it’s a great way to deal with objections head-on. By discussing opposing viewpoints, you show that you understand all the angles related to the issue. The refutation shows you're not afraid of the opposition because you have the claims to back up your viewpoint.
In both academic writing and business, the refutation allows the writer or the speaker to anticipate what kind of objections might arise and consider multiple ways to debate them, which creates a stronger argument. Consequently, when you can find logical errors in the opposing perspectives, you set up your thesis for success. While it’s effective to bring up the objections within an argument, you need to also walk a fine line between presenting the counterargument and strengthening your own so as not to weaken your argument.
In the trade show example, you would consider common objections you may hear from potential customers. These can include “the product won’t work” or “the product costs too much.” When anticipating the rebuttal, you can craft a logical argument to refute the opposing viewpoints which show the customer that you are well-prepared and open-minded enough to consider other views.
Once the counterarguments have been stated and successfully refuted, it’s time for the summation of the argument. This section of the argument is more than just a conclusion. It amplifies the force of the argument and shows that your solution is the best in the circumstances. It's also a way to keep the momentum of the argument going while at the same time providing closure for the audience. The summation is an opportunity to remind the audience what is at stake. Also, this is where you can emphasize your strongest claims and summarize the supporting evidence.
It's also important for the summation to recall the significant points made during the narration and once again review the statistics or background information the audience needs to consider to make an informed decision.
Bottom line, the principal purpose of the summation is a final plea for action. In academic writing, this is often asking the reader to accept the argument. However, in business, there is an opportunity at this juncture to take it one step further. Instead of just asking the audience to accept the argument, you can ask for a larger bank loan, a deeper supplier discount or a vote in your favor, for instance.
The summation is also a business owner's opportunity to ask for the sale. After recapping the points made in the narration and the confirmation, and providing your strongest evidence, here is where you can ask your customer to buy the product.
With this purpose in mind, a well-thought-out and carefully constructed argument featuring all five elements is an effective strategy to win customers and can benefit your business in multiple ways.