A Guide to Using Counter Arguments
As you move through the writing process, share and discuss your ideas in class, and conduct research, you will find that your opinion conflicts with other people’s points of view. When we acknowledge that these other points of view exist, we strengthen our argument because we show our audience that we know the complexity of the issue we are addressing and we are open-minded and willing to entertain other opinions. Addressing counterarguments is a component of the art of rhetoric and we do this when we speak and write. Learning to negotiate and include arguments that are counter to (that is against) ours is a valuable and important skill that builds our credibility. We also show our audience our ability to use rhetoric, which separates us from other writers and speakers.
What is a counter argument?
A counter argument is any position that contradicts the position you present in your paper (or presentation). Ideally, the position your share and present in your paper is one you hold and believe, so you can bring in arguments that you disagree with. Writers address counter arguments in two ways—with concession and refutation.
Concession is the easier of the two since it acknowledges a point’s or fact’s validity or credibility.
To concede, you acknowledge the validity of an opponent’s point or fact by placing it in the beginning of the sentence, after which, usually in the same sentence, you set your opinion or fact that correlates to the opponent’s point after it. By placing your opponent’s point or fact first, you acknowledge and de-emphasize it while emphasizing your point that comes last. I like to think of concession as a friendly tap of acknowledgement on the shoulder of some who disagrees with me.
To concede a point, you can use the subordinators although, though (more informal) or even though (more emphatic). You may use while or whereas, although these words are better at showing contrast than showing concession. You may also use the coordinator but or yet which is less emphatic than the subordinators. For both subordinators and coordinators, you concede your point in one sentence.
Or you may use transitional adverbs that show contrast, for instance however or on the other hand. However, since transitional adverbs do not join sentences, you will have to concede in two sentences, which may draw more emphasis on the “I think.” Saving transitional adverbs is best for refutation, but you can do as you wish.
Examples: Even though George Lakoff shares how he came up with the concept for Metaphors We Live By from a student’s relationship problems, the excerpt we read in class was a complex linguistic study of metaphor moving well beyond a relationship being on the “rocks” or “hitting a dead end.”
When I read Metaphors We Live By, I did not think I understood the discussion of systematic metaphors, but after our class discussion, I started recognizing the presence of them in my everyday conversations that gave the book meaning to my understanding of my language and construction of self.
Refutation is more work than concession because you show why the argument is faulty, illogical, or mistaken and to do so, you need to explain both the counterargument—and your argument.
When you refute, you present an opinion that is against yours. Then, you spend time explaining your opponent’s opinion, usually in a paragraph. Next, a new paragraph begins with the “turn around” or “response,” when you introduce your argument about the same topic, explaining why your opponent’s position is false, misleading, irrelevant, or weak with respect to the your thesis statement. When you use refutation, you show your understanding of another perspective while discrediting the perspective in some well-reasoned way; in turn, you prove an aspect of your thesis statement. When you introduce your argument, you may use transitional adverbs like, “however,” “on the other hand,” “admittedly,” to signal to the audience you are returning to your argument. Writers address the counterargument through refutation in a paragraph or more.
Please watch Writing Counter Argument Paragraph (3.16 minutes) for an illustration of the counterargument
Why include counter arguments?
Excellent point! To show that we have come to our opinion from understanding the complex nature of the topic from many different points of view, we show we are thoughtful, open-minded, considerate of our audience, and aware of other voices and views.
Here are some reasons to address counter arguments.
- You are writing to an intelligent, rational audience who is reading for knowledge. Therefore, they may have come up with or hold arguments counter to yours. If you do not address these, your argument is biased which will damage your credibility and may deter your audience from reading your work.
- You may be able to clarify your point if you are addressing a point of view that goes against the norm. Presenting the common point of view will enable you to explain and discuss yours in reference to the former.
- You show you are fair and understanding, which builds your credibility and strengthens your argument. You are able to show your audience you are thoughtful and considerate, which invites them to listen to you and consider your point of view more attentively.
What are the rules for addressing counterarguments?
1. Be certain that the counterargument you address is counter to your argument. They need to address the same topic, so they relate to a similar point or opinion.
2. For refutation, take your time to explain your opponent’s position, usually in a paragraph. You can follow the TEA structure as you do to show your understanding of your opposition’s opinion. Also, place it early in your paper so if your audience holds this view, you address it early, and show you understand the dialectical nature of the argument.
3. For concession, you may include it anywhere in your paper. Sometimes conceding a fact in the thesis statement or topic sentences strengthens the argument. Other times, using concession in the paragraphs themselves feels right. Like everything, the more you practice with it, the easier it will become — and every paper will be different.