What are errors to avoid in responding to counterarguments

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Reference no: EM131351972


When you write an academic essay, you make an argument: you propose a thesis and offer some reasoning, using evidence that suggests why the thesis is true. When you counter-argue, you consider a possible argument against your thesis or some aspect of your reasoning. This is a good way to test your ideas when drafting, while you still have time to revise them. And in the finished essay, it can be a persuasive and (in both senses of the word) disarming tactic. It allows you to anticipate doubts and pre-empt objections that a skeptical reader might have; it presents you as the kind of person who weighs alternatives before arguing for one; who confronts difficulties instead of sweeping them under the rug; who is more interested in discovering the truth than winning a point. Not every objection is worth entertaining, of course, and you shouldn't include one just to include one. But some imagining of other views, or of resistance to one's own, occurs in all good essays. And instructors are glad to encounter counterargument in student papers, even if they haven't specifically asked for it.

Counterargument in Pre-Writing and Revising

Good thinking constantly questions itself, as Socrates observed long ago. But at some point in the process of composing an essay, you need to switch off the questioning in your head and make a case. Having such an inner conversation during the drafting stage, however, can help you settle on a case worth making. As you consider possible theses and begin to work on your draft, ask yourself how an intelligent person might plausibly disagree with you or see matters differently. When you can imagine an intelligent disagreement, you have an arguable idea. Awareness of this disagreement will help you to sharpen your own thinking as you compose. If you come to find the counterargument truer than your thesis, consider making it your thesis and turning your original thesis into a counterargument.

Where does the counter-argument go?

The short answer is a counter-argument can go anywhere except the conclusion. This is because there has to be a rebuttal paragraph after the counter-argument, so if the counter-argument is in the conclusion, something has been left out. In practice (there are exceptions), the rebuttal is usually not the concluding paragraph, which means that generally the counter-argument is anywhere but the last two paragraphs. Counter-arguments can be very effective in introductions, especially if you are arguing against a popularly held view. If its part of your introduction-you can present it as a different view--the motive for your essay, the reason it needs writing. However, it's also very common to place them after the presentation of the case for the thesis. In other words, they would go after all of the main points that support the thesis, but before the conclusion-in the third-to-last paragraph, with the rebuttal in the second-to-last. This is probably the most common position.

But watch that you don't overdo it. A turn into counterargument here and there will sharpen and energize your essay, but too many such turns can have the reverse effect by obscuring your main idea or suggesting that you're ambivalent. While for this assignment, you will write an extended counter argument for practice, in your final paper, use your best judgment to decide how much counter argument to include. For me, the amount of counter argument included falls under the precepts of style-there is no right answer--as there is over a page of counter argument in the "Benefits of Video Games" article. This may be because of the topic-video games, which must counter a great of research on issues like gender stereotypes in some games, or violence in shooter games, etc.

What makes a good counter-argument?

Some counter-arguments are better than others. You want to use ones that are actually persuasive. There's nothing to be gained by rebutting a counter-argument that nobody believes-or that has no critical traction; or is a outlier or fringe idea or belief; or to argue against a minor, inconsequential counter argument. Four things to look for in tackling a significant counter argument are reasonableness, validity, plausibility, and authority.

What are some errors to avoid in responding to counterarguments?

One error is the creation of a "straw man" argument-a counterargument that is so weak that no one would ever take it seriously. You can create such an argument by offering a counterargument without any good supports, or a counterargument that is contradicted by evidence that would easily occur to most intelligent people. Straw-man counterarguments are bad because their refutation adds nothing to your own argument. They just waste your reader's time.

A second error is identifying a "counterargument" that is just a statement, not an argument at all. "Some might say that constitutional checks and balances just weaken the government. But as I've shown, that's not true." Here, the first statement is simply that-a statement. There's no evidence or logic to support the position. The "response" is equally banal. To make this a real counterargument with a real response, the writer might proceed in this manner: "Some might say that checks and balances just weaken the government, keeping it from waging war effectively. The Supreme Court, for example, prevents Congress and the president from arresting people who denounce the government and urge their fellow citizens not to support it, thus weakening the government's war efforts. It would hardly be ‘oppression' to force such people to be quiet, but the government cannot do that, under the current constitutional system." That is a real counterargument, and real arguments can now be brought forward to oppose it.

Breakdown of steps: How To Write the Counterargument


• Concession: acknowledgement of the other side
• Refutation or Rebuttal: an answer that challenges a specific claim or charge
• Counterargument: the other side of an argument

The Turn Against

Counterargument in an essay has two stages: you turn against your argument to challenge it and then you turn back to re-affirm it. You first imagine a skeptical reader, then cite an actual scholarly source that resists your argument by pointing out a problem with your claim, e.g., that a different conclusion could be drawn from the same facts; that a key assumption is unwarranted; that a key term is used unfairly; that certain evidence is ignored or played down; one or more disadvantages or practical drawbacks to what you propose; that an alternative explanation or proposal might make more sense.

Format of the counterargument: The 3 Moves.

1. Move 1: Introduce the opposing side's arguments. You are acknowledging the other point of view. You will use phrases such as the following:

• Some critics argue/assert/contend/claim/state . . .
• Many believe that . . .
• It has been argued/asserted/contended/claimed/stated . . .
• Opponents argue/assert/contend/claim/state . . .
• More specific: Critical theorist Donna Haraway argues that...
• Try to avoid using vague statements: some critics assert...it has been argued. Better to find a real, actual critic or a school of thought that complicates or problematizes your claim. A real critic has more weight and authority than some vague critics who are unidentified.

Expert Source that supports the counterargument: This sentence backs up the sentence with a quotation or paraphrase of evidence from an expert. It includes the name of the author/source, the title of the article and, if necessary, the expertise of the source to show the validity of the evidence.

For example: In counter-argument to my claim that new technology can engender greater social freedoms and identity construction, Donna Harawaycontends that technology does engender greater freedoms, but it also curtails it. Donna Haraway argues that we are already assimilated in her Cyborg Manifesto. Haraway argues that our dependence on external technology has already turned us into the cyborg - a fusion of animal and machine in which we lose certain freedoms of self. Critics like Haraway have a valid point about technology--technology enhances possibilities on the one hand, but it limits them on the other. Even though it is a valid point, technologies have also made major improvements to daily life.

2. Move 2: Concession: Concede (acknowledge) the other side's validity in a respectful way. You might begin with phrases such as the following:

• For this reason, opponents believe/argue/claim/contend/stress etc.
• As a result of work like Haraway's, many believe/argue etc.
• It is understandable why the opposition believes/argues etc.
• Critics like Haraway have a valid point about . . .

3. Move 3: The Turn Back: Refutation/Rebuttal sentence: This is where you refute or challenge the opposition's viewpoint and remind readers of your stance. Then you state the case against yourself as clearly and forcefully as you can, pointing to evidence where possible. (An obviously feeble or perfunctory counterargument does more harm than good.) Your return to your own argument-which you announce with a but, yet, however, nevertheless or still-must likewise involve careful reasoning, not a flippant (or nervous) dismissal. In reasoning about the proposed counterargument, you may

• refute it, showing why it is mistaken-an apparent but not real problem;
• acknowledge its validity or plausibility, but suggest why on balance it's relatively less important or less likely than what you propose, and thus doesn't overturn it;
• concede its force and complicate your idea accordingly-restate your thesis in a more exact, qualified, or nuanced way that takes account of the objection, or start a new section in which you consider your topic in light of it. This will work if the counterargument concerns only an aspect of your argument; if it undermines your whole case, you need a new thesis. You can begin by using a phrase such as the following:
• Nevertheless/nonetheless/however + your argument
• Though it is a valid point/argument + your argument
• Even though (one part of the argument) is true, it still does not
• Though he/she/they make a good point, + your argument

Below are guidelines for the formatting of essays based on recommendations from the MLA (the Modern Language Association).

1 Fonts: Your essay should be word processed in 12-point Times New Roman fonts.

2 Double space: Your entire essay should be double spaced, with no single spacing anywhere and no extra spacing anywhere. There should not be extra spaces between paragraphs.

3 Heading: In the upper left corner of the first page of your essay, you should type your name, the instructor's name, your class, and the date, single spaced.

4 Margins: According to the MLA, your essay should have a one-inch margin on the top, bottom, left, and right.

5 Page Numbers: Your last name and the page number should appear in the lower right corner of each page of your essay, including the first page, as in Calavitta3. Insert your name and the page number as a "header." Do not type this information where the text of your essay should be.

6 Title: Your essay should include a title. The title should be centered and should appear under the heading information on the first page and above the first line of your essay. The title should be in the same fonts as the rest of your essay, with no quotation marks, no underlining, no italics, and no bold.

7 Indentation: The first line of each paragraph should be indented. According to the MLA, this indentation should be 1/2 inch or five spaces, but pressing [Tab] once should give you the correct indentation.

8 Align Left: The text of your essay should be lined up evenly at the left margin but not at the right margin. In your word processor, choose "Align Left." Do not choose "Justify."

Course Outcomes:

• Write coherent, well organized, and analytical essays appropriate to the second semester transfer level based on the study of various literary genres. Essays should employ advanced critical thinking strategies as well as conventions of scholarly discourse.

• Analyze, interpret, evaluate, and distinguish between various literary genres and their elements.

• Utilize literary critical theories and more advanced research to illuminate various literary works.

Reference no: EM131351972

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