The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Breaking Down the Canon of Arrangement

Arrangement, the “second canon” of the Five Canons of RhetoricOpens in new window, refers to the planned ordering of a message to achieve the effect of persuasion, clarity, or beauty.

A speaker makes the decision to place the strongest of her three arguments against animal experimentation last in a speech to a local civic organization. She believes that her strongest argument stands to have the greatest impact on her audience if it is the last point they hear.

Speakers and writers make many such decisions about arrangement in their messages, but the designers of a public building make similar decisions. The Holocaust MuseumOpens in new window in Washington, D.C., for instance, is physically arranged to make the strongest case possible against the racial hatred that resulted in the horrors of the concentration camps, and against all similar attitudes and actions.

Careful planning went into decisions about which scenes visitors would encounter as they entered the museum, as they progressed through it, and as they exited. The great impact of this museum is enhanced by its careful arrangement.

In the classical period, a rather rigid formula was laid down to arrange a speech into six elements which include the following:

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

These are considered the back bone to constructing speeches that will persuade the audience. Each of these is given detailed explanation hereOpens in new window.

In summary, however, the formula hints that there should be an introduction (a speech preparing the audience to enliven their attention and receptivity toward the proposed speech), a narration (of the facts to give the audience an overview of what to expect from the argument), division (an outline of the structure of the speech), a proof of the argument, a refutation of opposing arguments, and a perorationOpens in new window (or conclusion).

It is important to be conscious of structure, whether you are preparing a speech yourself or conducting an analysis of someone else’s rhetoric. This is because the structure of an argument is intimately related to its capacity to persuade. For example, the purpose of an introduction, in Cicero’sOpens in new window words, is to put ‘the mind of the auditor into proper condition to receive the rest of the speech’, in other words to get the audience’s attention and to start to win them over.

This may be a simple matter of saying hello and making a joke; it may be more substantive and arresting, as when the Holocaust survivor Elie WieselOpens in new window began his 1999 address on ‘The Perils of IndifferenceOpens in new window’ by recalling, in the third person, his liberation from Buchenwald concentration camp fifty-four years earlier to the day.

Omitting the introduction, and launching directly into the substance of a speech risks boring or alienating the audience. Similarly, if a stirring passage suitable for a peroration leads the audience to expect that the speech is coming to an end, but further detailed factual material follows instead, the effect will be anti-climactic. When analyzing rhetorical structure, always ask: why has this passage been put here rather than there? What is the intended effect? Could the speech have been arranged better?

Important Hint! 

It is useful to be aware of this structure when analyzing Classical or Renaissance rhetoric, but it should not be imagined that it was invariably followed. Nor does a successful speech necessarily require all these elements, at least not in such a strictly demarcated order.