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Writing a Paper: Responding to Counterarguments

Basics of Counterarguments

When constructing an argument, it is important to consider any counterarguments a reader might make. Acknowledging the opposition shows that you are knowledgeable about the issue and are not simply ignoring other viewpoints. Addressing counterarguments also gives you an opportunity to clarify and strengthen your argument, helping to show how your argument is stronger than other arguments.

Incorporating counterarguments into your writing can seem counterintuitive at first, and some writers may be unsure how to do so. To help you incorporate counterarguments into your argument, we recommend following the steps: identify, investigate, address, and refine.

Identify the Counterarguments

First you need to identify counterarguments to your own argument. Ask yourself, based on your argument, what might someone who disagrees counter in response? You might also discover counterarguments while doing your research, as you find authors who may disagree with your argument.

For example, if you are researching the current opioid crisis in the United States, your argument might be: State governments should allocate part of the budget for addiction recovery centers in communities heavily impacted by the opioid crisis. A few counterarguments might be:

  1. Recovery centers are not proven to significantly help people with addiction.
  2. The state’s money should go to more pressing concerns such as...
  3. Establishing and maintaining a recovery center is too costly.
  4. Addicts are unworthy of assistance from the state. 

Investigate the Counterarguments

Analyze the counterarguments so that you can determine whether they are valid. This may require assessing the counterarguments with the research you already have or by identifying logical fallacies. You may also need to do additional research.

In the above list, the first three counterarguments can be researched. The fourth is a moral argument and therefore can only be addressed in a discussion of moral values, which is usually outside the realm of social science research. To investigate the first, you could do a search for research that studies the effectiveness of recovery centers. For the second, you could look at the top social issues in states around the country. Is the opioid crisis the main concern or are there others? For the third, you could look for public financial data from a recovery center or interview someone who works at one to get a sense of the costs involved. 

Address the Counterarguments

Address one or two counterarguments in a rebuttal. Now that you have researched the counterarguments, consider your response. In your essay, you will need to state and refute these opposing views to give more credence to your argument. No matter how you decide to incorporate the counterargument into your essay, be sure you do so with objectivity, maintaining a formal and scholarly tone

Considerations when writing:

  • Type of Response.
    • Will you discredit the counteragument by bringing in contradictory research?
    • Will you concede that the point is valid but that your argument still stands as the better view? (For example, perhaps it is very costly to run a recovery center, but the societal benefits offset that financial cost.)
  • Placement. You can choose to place the counterargument toward the beginning of the essay, as a way to anticipate opposition, or you can place it toward the end of the essay, after you have solidly made the main points of your argument. You can also weave a counterargument into a body paragraph, as a way to quickly acknowledge opposition to a main point. Which placement is best depends on your argument, how you’ve organized your argument, and what placement you think is most effective.
  • Weight. After you have addressed the counterarguments, scan your essay as a whole. Are you spending too much time on them in comparison to your main points? Keep in mind that if you linger too long on the counterarguments, your reader might learn less about your argument and more about opposing viewpoints instead. 

Refine Your Argument

Considering counterarguments should help you refine your own argument, clarifying the relevant issues and your perspective. Furthermore, if you find yourself agreeing with the counterargument, you will need to revise your thesis statement and main points to reflect your new thinking. 

Templates for Responding to Counterarguments

There are many ways you can incorporate counterarguments, but remember that you shouldn’t just mention the counterargument—you need to respond to it as well. You can use these templates (adapted from Graff & Birkenstein, 2009) as a starting point for responding to counterarguments in your own writing.

 

  • The claim that _____ rests upon the questionable assumption that _____.
  • X may have been true in the past, but recent research has shown that ________.
  • By focusing on _____, X has overlooked the more significant problem of _____.
  • Although I agree with X up to a point, I cannot accept the overall conclusion that _____.
  • Though I concede that _____, I still insist that _____.
  • Whereas X has provided ample evidence that ____, Y and Z’s research on ____ and ____ convinces me that _____ instead.
  • Although I grant that _____, I still maintain that _____.
  • While it is true that ____, it does not necessarily follow that _____.

 

Reference

Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2009). They say/I say: The moves that matter in academic writing (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Norton.