Almost anything you can argue or claim in a persuasive paper can be refuted – and that is a good thing when you are writing an argument. Opposing points of view exist in every good debate, and it’s important to anticipate possible objections to your arguments and to discuss them in your paper.
At the end of this chapter, in the Deeper Reading: Counterargument “On the Other Hand: The Role of Antithetical Writing Writing in First Year Writing Courses,” Steven Krause offers an extended explanation of what counterarguments are and, more importantly, why it is important to examine them as a way to strengthen your own arguments. If you are struggling to articulate a counterargument, if you are unsure of how counterarguments fit into to a larger persuasive work, or if you are struggling to respond to counterarguments, Krause can offer you a lot of useful information.
Below, however, is a brief overview of what counterarguments are and how you might respond to them in your arguments.
Types of counterarguments
- Could someone disagree with your claim? If so, why? Explain this opposing perspective in your own argument, and then respond to it.
- Could someone draw a different conclusion from any of the facts or examples you present? If so, what is that different conclusion? Explain this different conclusion and then respond to it.
- Could a reader question any of your assumptions or claims? If so, which ones would they question? Explain and then respond.
- Could a reader offer a different explanation of an issue? If so, what might their explanation be? Describe this different explanation, and then respond to it.
- Is there any evidence out there that could weaken your position? If so, what is it? Cite and discuss this evidence and then respond to it.
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, that does not necessarily mean that you have a weak argument. It means, ideally and as long as your argument is logical and valid, that you have a counterargument. Good arguments can and do have counterarguments; it is important to discuss them. But you must also discuss and then respond to those counterarguments.
Responding to counterarguments
You do not need to attempt to do all of these things as a way to respond; instead, choose the response strategy that makes the most sense to you, for the counterargument that you have.
- If you agree with some of the counterargument perspectives, you can concede some of their points. (“I do agree that ….”, “Some of the points made by ____ are valid…..”) You could then challenge the importance/usefulness of those points.
- “However, this information does not apply to our topic because…”
- If the counterargument perspective is one that contains different evidence than you have in your own argument, you can explain why a reader should not accept the evidence that the counterarguer presents
- For a detailed account of the various ways that evidence can fail in an argument, see Section 8.5, how evidence fails
- If the counterargument perspective is one that contains a different interpretation of evidence than you have in your own argument, you can explain why a reader should not accept the interpretation of the evidence that that your opponent (counterarguer) presents
- If the counterargument is an acknowledgement of evidence that threatens to weaken your argument, you must explain why and how that evidence does not, in fact invalidate your claim.
It is important to use transitional phrases in your paper to alert readers when you’re about to present an counterargument. It’s usually best to put this phrase at the beginning of a paragraph such as:
- Researchers have challenged these claims with…
- Critics argue that this view…
- Some readers may point to…
- A perspective that challenges the idea that . . .
Transitional phrases will again be useful to highlight your shift from counterargument to response:
- Indeed, some of those points are valid. However, . . .
- While I agree that . . . , it is more important to consider . . .
- These are all compelling points. Still, other information suggests that . .
- While I understand . . . , I cannot accept the evidence because . . .