Determining the Issue

In argumentative or persuasive writing, you need to find the issue, or the point of disagreement. For instance, if I were trying to sell someone a set of encyclopedias, I would need to try to figure out if my potential customer is likely to resist my sales pitch because the encyclopedias are not of good quality or because of their prices. There may be other points of resistance as well, but figuring them out is figuring out the issue.

Here are a couple other brief examples. Perhaps I have just read an editorial in the newspaper supporting a certain local proposal. For some reason, I find myself disagreeing and decide to write a letter to the editor. To make my letter effective, I need to decide the issue: that is, I need to figure out just what it is about the editorial I disagree with. Or suppose someone is being tried for murder. The prosecution and the defense will try to figure out what the issue is: Did the accused kill the deceased? Was it murder or self-defense? Was it justifiable homicide? The two sides will try to figure out how they want to define the issue. Once they have done that, they can build a case to support their side of the argument.

But just how do you decide what the issue is? There is an ancient system, developed primarily by Roman rhetoricians, which is very helpful for this purpose. It is called stasis or sometimes status. It was used primarily in court cases like the murder case I just mentioned, but it can be adapted to many different situations. Here's how it works.

Stasis consists of four questions.

Stasis can be applied to all kinds of situations. Think about watching the evening news or a news program like Dateline or Sixty Minutes. Do you find yourself disagreeing sometimes? If so, you might trying to figure out if it is with the facts they present, the definitions they attribute, the moral judgments they imply, or the inappropriateness of their being the ones to talk about it. Try it with commercials--what do you disagree with? How would you define the issue if you were to defend or accuse someone of shabby advertising practices?

For more information about stasis, go to a discussion of stasis at Georgia Tech.