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Choosing a topic can be easy. Choosing what to say about that topic can be more difficult. The following questions are designed to help you discover the real issue, become aware of your audience, and develop a relevant argument.Note: The terms in parenthesis are the classical names for the concepts. All examples are based on a hypothetical prompt: Under what circumstances could murder be justified?
These questions will help you be able to identify the point of conflict that needs to be addressed.
Is the issue a question of fact? (Conjectural Stasis)
Example: Did he, in fact, kill someone?
Is the issue a question of definition? (Definitional Stasis)
Example: Does this killing count as murder?
Is the issue a question of quality? (Qualitative Stasis)
Example: Was the murder justified by something like self-defense?
Is the issue a question of appropriateness? (Translative Stasis)
Example: Is this the right place to discuss the issue murder?
These questions will help you consider who your audience is and how to approach that audience in the most useful way (i.e. the right words for the right moment).
Does location matter? (Contingency of Place)
Example: Would murder be discussed differently in a church setting as opposed to an academic setting?
What are the demographics of the audience? (Contingency of Culture)
Example: How would war veterans react differently to the topic of murder than other groups?
How informed is this audience?
Example: Would the legal terms associated with murder need explanation?
What is unique about this moment? (Contingency of Time)
Example: Are there any circumstances or controviersies related to the topic of murder presently influencing this audience?
These questions will help you identify content that addresses the point of conflict and displays an awareness of audience.
What is the essential meaning of x and what is only a characteristic of x? (Subject/Adjuncts)
Example: What is the essential meaning of murder and what is only a characteristic of murders? The essential meaning of murder is that it is the unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought.
Characteristics of murder might include a weapon, presence of blood, crime scenes, etc.
Does x belong to a larger category? (Genus/Species)
Example: Does murder belong to a larger category of crimes?
What does x consist of? (Whole/Parts)
Example: What does murder consist of?
How is x similar to y? How is x different from y? (Similarity/Difference)
Example: How is murder similar to manslaughter? How is murder different than manslaughter?
What are the causes of x? What are the effects of x? (Cause/Effect)
Example: What are the causes of murder? What are the effect of murder?
Is x _______ because the opposite is ________? (Contraries)
Example: Is murder bad because not murdering is good?
What if x is not x? (Contradiction)
Example: What if murder is not murder?
Is x possible? Is x impossible? (Possible/Impossible)
Example: Is murder possible? Is murder impossible?
If x happened in the past, does that mean x will happen in the future? (Past Fact/Future Fact)
Example: If murders happened in the past, does that mean murders will happen in the future?
Has anyone actually witnessed x? (Witnesses)
Example: Did anyone witness the murder?
Are there any laws regarding x? (Law)
Example: Are there any laws regarding murder?
Are there any previous decisions or judgements regarding x? (Precedent)
Example: What are the previous discussions or views of murder?
Is the meaning of x static or context-based? (Notation and Conjugates)
Example: Does the meaning of murder depend on the context, or does it stay the same?
Burton, Gideon. "Silva Rhetorica." http://rhetoric.byu.edu/.
Jeremy Walker and Clancy Clawson, Fall 2008.