Outlining Essays — a little theory

We look to the ancients for ideas on how to organize our writing better.

Parts of an Ancient Speech

If you include an introduction and a conclusion, Aristotle says the basic parts of a speech are four:

I. Introduction (Also called Exordium or Proemion)
II. Statement of the Proposition (Prothesis)
III. Proof (Pistis)
IV. Conclusion (Epilogos)

The Introduction (Exordium or Proemion)

The purpose of the introduction is to tell your reader what the purpose of your writing is. (If you are writing a short piece, you may not need an introduction.)
Your introduction, according to Aristotle, should serve the following purposes:

1. Begin the speech
2. Engage attention of the audience and make the audience receptive to the message
4. Secure good will for the speaker
5. Remove (or excite) any prejudices the audience might have
6. Pave the way for what follows in the speech

The Statement (Prothesis)

Aristotle’s prothesis is what we moderns call the thesis statement. Now that your introduction has led your audience to be interested in your topic, you state your position clearly and forcefully. And then you support it with proofs.

The Proof (Pistis)

Your proof is the body of your essay. The proof you bring forth should compel your audience to accept your position (your prothesis) as true and valid. In the proof section of the essay, you demonstrate the truth of your claims by use of enthymemes and examples (as we discussed in Chapter 2).

The Conclusion (Epilogos)

The conclusion’s purpose is fourfold:
1. To favorably dispose the audience towards the speaker (and against the speaker’s opponent)
2. To amplify or diminish certain arguments/facts
3. To inspire emotion [pathe] in the audience
4. To give a reminder of the chief points in the speech

Those are some basic structural ideas on how to organize a piece of writing.

About Lene Jaqua

Co-author of Classical Writing books
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