The Invention Phase (Canon One)

Yesterday, I introduced the Five Canons of Rhetoric. Today, we will take a closer look at the first of these canons, called “Invention”.

The Invention phase is the brainstorming phase. This is the stage when you will brainstorm ideas of what you wish to say, and how you wish to say it. This is often the longest step than all of the five. Time is well invested in this first stage.

What are some things to consider in this first step?

  • Your audience (demographics)
  • Your evidence (What would persuade your audience? Facts? Anecdotal evidence? Stories? Quotes? )
  • Your means of persuasion (Ethos, Pathos, or Logos, or a mixture of all three? Aim for a well-balanced combination.)
  • Timing (When is your message going out? If it’s a speech, what time of day? If it’s an article or essay, when will it be published? How long is it? What other factors are contributing to the timing, such as current events?)

Now, we turn to how to format the argument: Stasis. Stasis helps to clarify the point of the argument by asking four questions:

  1. Questions of fact: What am I talking about? Is it a person, an idea, a problem? What is the source of the problem? What facts exist to support my stance?
  2. Questions of definition: How is this idea or problem defined? Is there more than one way? What is the best way? Can this idea be grouped with other ideas?
  3. Questions of quality: Is this good or bad? Right or wrong? Serious or not serious?
  4. Questions of procedure/jurisdiction: Is this the right venue for my topic? What actions do I want my listener/reader to take?

 

Next we will consider the Topics of Invention. The Topics help a writer or speaker find relationships among ideas. In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle divided the topics into two categories, common and special. Below are the list of “common topics”, since they are more general and more widely applicable.

  • Definition. Definitions are vital. If you are familiar with the world of debate, you will know that definitions are “key terms”. A debate round can be lost because of a poor definition. As a writer or speaker, your definition creates the framework and meaning for your idea.
  • Comparison. “Compare and contrast” is a common type of essay that students learn to write. But, have you used this as a powerful tool in your own communication? You can develop powerful analogies through comparison that stay with your audience. A metaphor is another way of “comparing” and making those ideas stick.
  • Cause and effect.  If you can factually show “cause and effect”, this is another powerful tool for persuasion.
  • Circumstance. What is possible or impossible based on the circumstances? You can draw conclusions about the future based on the past.

Using “stasis” and the “common topics” are two ways of organizing your thoughts in the “invention phase” (or discovery phase). I hope that you can utilize these steps intentionally in order to create a more defined piece of communication. Tune in tomorrow for the next canon: Arrangement.

Question for you: Do you start your projects with a specific list of questions? Try making a list of the above questions and topics. As you organize your next speech or piece of writing, try answering these questions, before writing. As with other communication tips, take what works for you from the process, and tweak it to make it helpful to you.

Writing this piece as part of a 31 day challenge for the month of October… 31 days of Communication Tips (for speech and writing).

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