Arrangement in Composition and Rhetoric

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In rhetoric and composition, arrangement refers to the parts of a speech or, more broadly, the structure of a text. Arrangement (also called disposition) is one of the five traditional canons or subdivisions of classical rhetorical training. Also known as dispositio, taxis, and organization.

In classical rhetoric, students were taught the "parts" of an oration. Though rhetoricians did not always agree on the number of parts, Cicero and Quintilian identified these six: the exordium, the narrative (or narration), the partition (or division), the confirmation, the refutation, and the peroration.

Arrangement was known as taxis in Greek and dispositio in Latin.

Examples and Observations

  • "Aristotle states that...the very nature of rhetoric requires at least four components: an exordium, or introduction (prooimion), an advanced thesis (prothesis), proofs (pisteis), and a conclusion (epilogos)."
    (Richard Leo Enos, "Traditional Arrangement." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, 2001)
  • In A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), Kenneth Burke summarized the classical position on arrangement as "rhetorical form in the large" involving the following: "a progression of steps that begins with an exordium designed to secure the goodwill of one's audience, next states one's position, then points up the nature of the dispute, then builds up one's own case at length, then refutes the claims of the adversary, and in a final peroration expands and reinforces all points in one's favor while seeking to discredit whatever had favored the adversary."

Declining Interest in Arrangement

"In the place of the old rhetoric's formulaic arrangement, the new rhetoric [of the 18th century] advised an arrangement that reflected the flow of thought itself. By the nineteenth century, the classical rhetorical tradition was pretty much adrift—although Richard Whately made an heroic effort to salvage it. As writing pedagogy abandoned prescribed techniques for invention, arrangement, and style (memory and delivery were already sinking as writing displaced oral literacy), teachers increasingly focused on grammar and surface features. How the student was supposed to create an essay was a mystery—as all writing came to be seen as the result of inspiration. Teaching the structure of the classical oration certainly made little sense because the form of a piece of writing should be determined by the reality the writer aimed to convey, not some static pre-ordained formula."
(Steven Lynn, Rhetoric and Composition: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Arrangement in Modern Media

"Modern mass media...present special complications to the study of arrangement because the sequencing of information and arguments, the order in which certain appeals reach an audience, is very difficult to predict...Saturation and sheer quantity of exposure to a 'message' given in single bursts may count for more than the interrelationships of parts of a single message achieved by its carefully crafted arrangement."
(Jeanne Fahnestock, "Modern Arrangement." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, 2001)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Arrangement in Composition and Rhetoric." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Arrangement in Composition and Rhetoric. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Arrangement in Composition and Rhetoric." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).