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Essay 2 – Opening Statement

Unit of discourse

rhetorical part: assertion, support, explanation

analogy: pull out your gun, load, aim and shoot


Help them think

An assertion is like a gun. Anyone can pull one out and start waving it around. By itself, an assertion is an opinion, all talk, lots of fervent belief, but nothing else. To make it more persuasive, all you can do it raise your voice, wag the gun more wildly.

The support is the bullets. It’s what you load your gun with. A loaded gun is a lot more threatening. It can, potentially, do a lot more damage than the gun by itself.

However, to effectively communicate, you need to pull the trigger. No matter how good your gun and your bullets, you’re never going to hit your target unless you pull the trigger. Your target is your reader. That’s a singular “reader” on purpose. You cannot shoot everyone with a gun. It’s pretty much one at a time.

Same with an essay. Don’t try to write to “everyone”. Write to one specific person, one reader. You need to explain what you want your reader to get out of the evidence. Then it’s not just your opinion against someone else’s. It’s your substantiated, explained opinion, which is more persuasive and carries more weight than the opinions of those wagging their guns at each other.



Can they agree?

Write an essay of at least 750 words that uses this unit of discourse to explain why you think the defendant is or is not guilty.

rhetorical situation:

  • the audience is the jury.
  • the purpose is to tell the jury what you are going to do when making your case: presenting the witnesses, documents, and physical evidence and explaining what you want the jury to get out of the witnesses’ testimony, the documents’ information, and the physical evidence.
  • the thesis statement is “The defendant is (or is not) guilty because …”
  • the rhetorical mode is cause-and-effect. ” … guilty because …”
  • the body of the essay is organized according to most important reason to least important reason (or the reverse).
  • the evidence for either essay, guilty or innocent, is the same evidence: the witness affidavits, documents, and physical evidence, and the stipulated facts of the case. Go through all the evidence and tell the jury how to think about it in order to reach your conclusion. Go through the other side’s case, and explain to the jury why it should not be followed.

This video goes into more detail and shows some excellent examples: Professor Rose teaches Opening Statement using examples by Stetson Student Meagan O’Shea. Don’t miss the related videos on the right sidebar.

Will she tell the truth?

Will she tell the truth?


This essay should have an introduction with a clear thesis statements (Guilty or not guilty *because* ….).

That “because” is an indication that this is a cause-and-effect essay. Your job is to reveal your thinking to the jury by using the rhetorical mode of cause-and-effect and the unit of discourse (assertion, evidence, explanation). The jurors have to make a decision. Tell them how to think about it so that they can see how you reached your conclusion (your thesis statement).

If you have four strong reasons, things in the evidence or testimony that contributed to your conclusion, your statement of each becomes an assertion, aka a topic sentence or little gun. The evidence or testimony is there for you to copy or paraphrase. The explanation is your thinking linking the evidence to your conclusion. You would then have four parts to the body of your essay. Arrange them most important to least important, or the reverse.


Do you believe him?

In your conclusion, address the jury directly and drive home your thesis statement. Tell them why it is so important that they agree with you.

Evidence and citations

You can either copy and paste witness statements, try to quote verbatim from court testimony, or summarize court testimony. Just like any other citation, we need to know, in the body of the essay, who said it or did it. Don’t write “one of the witnesses said …”. Which witness? Name them. What’s the source, the written affidavit? The witnesses direct examination or cross-examination? A statement by another witness?

Four sources of evidence:

  • witness testimony
  • documents
  • physical evidence
  • expert statements and testimony