How to Write a Counter Argument (2018 Guide)

counter argument
  • Last Edited: August 13, 2018

 

Writing a counter argument is one of the most meaningful skills you can develop as a student. Such an assignment doesn’t just force you to become a better writer; it pushes you to become a better thinker as well. Developing a counter argument is a skill you really will use for the rest of your life. It is also one you should continuously hone. Having the ability to anticipate a counter argument to any point you craft will force your own arguments to be stronger. This will allow you to address any dissension in your own points readily and with accuracy. When you write an argumentative essay and you dedicate a paragraph to addressing the counter argument, you automatically elevate your own essay exponentially. It makes your work look more academic, more mature and more comprehensively developed. Being able to develop a counter argument to the tightest viewpoint is the mark of a high-level thinker. You constantly want to be able to push both your thought patterns and your writing to this more complex level.

Being aware of the counter argument within an essay is crucial for building a strong case and offering the most relevant supporting evidence. Weak essays are written with no regard to the sometimes very obvious counter-argument. Finally, being able to write a sound counter-argument is something that will seep into your personal life—in a positive manner. Refining this skill will cause you to naturally see the perspective of other people, even when their opinions differ from your own. This is one academic skill that will make you a more compassionate, emotionally intelligent person.

Definition

Nearly every essay you write has an argumentative aspect to it. This means that you pose a thesis and seek to argue in favor of what you have proposed. You offer supporting details, research and facts to indicate why this thesis is in fact correct. Placing a counter argument in your essay is a sign of immense confidence as you essentially offer a means of testing the fortitude of the perspective of your rationale (Harvey, 1999). “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” (Harvey, 1999).

The counter argument is essentially the soundest and most obvious point that disagrees with your thesis. It should be valid enough to be worth addressing in your essay. It’s almost always a good idea to include one in your writing because most teachers are happy to see that you’re able to acknowledge the viewpoints that disagree with your own. There are three main stages of a solid counterargument: when you raise an objection against your argument, expand on the position of this objection and and then discard it, affirming why you were right originally.

The most important aspect of a good counter argument is that it is compelling and successful in convincing some people. After all, commonsense dictates that there’s no point in addressing an argument no one agrees with. When you present the counter argument, you want the reader to internally reflect, “oh yeah, that’s true” and be completely interested in how you’re going to disarm this perspective. In terms of popular culture, the counter argument is the moment when the other lawyer in the courtroom drama yells “objection, your honor.” Then the judge looks over at him/her and they have less than two second to present the persuasive reason for their objection—the fate of their client depends on it.  Your counter argument needs to be just as strong.

How to Write a Counter Argument

  1. Brainstorm the three most obvious objections to your point and write them down on a piece of scrap paper. Then rank them in order of weakest to strongest. Select the objection that is the most convincing to use as your counter-argument in your essay. This objection should feel like it legitimately challenges your thesis.
  2. Select a transitional word or phrase (more on that later) and then suggest an issue with your thesis or argument. For instance, you could suggest that one draw a different conclusion, or that one of the founding assumptions is way off. Similarly, you could suggest that there are inherent disadvantages or logistical liabilities to what is being proposed. Or you can suggest that an alternative solution is better. Likewise, you can point out a glaring problem that makes the entire thesis improbable or invalid.
  3. Elaborate on this counter-argument. Compose a few more sentences to offer an explanation as to why certain people believe this objection. Give an example of how its validity can manifest in daily life.
  4. Pivot back to the validity of your thesis with a transitional word or phrase (see below) and show that while compelling on the surface, this counter-argument is actually very invalid and problematic. Explain why. The explanation you offer is very important. You need to show how much you understand the other argument and why it is so wrong at its core.
  5. Re-assert your thesis in a more precise manner that acknowledges this presumed counter-argument. The way you state your thesis is important, as you need to do so in a manner that makes it appear even stronger and more exact. The average reader should feel deeply persuaded in regards to the excellence and importance of what you have suggested.

How to Start a Counter Argument

Starting a counter-argument should slip seamlessly into the greater real estate of your essay, like a strand of pearls. This will depend in part on the transitional words or phrases that you use. These transitional terms will signal to the reader that you have something to address off the beaten path of your essay, but that you will return to the main path in a second. When done correctly, addressing your counter argument shouldn’t feel jarring or upsetting, but should just gently redirect the reader’s attention away from the glowing spotlight of your main argument. How to start a counter argument sentence will depend on your transition words.

Counter Argument Transition Words

Counter argument transition words can make all the difference in the success of stating your counter argument and in your essay as a whole. A strong transitional phrase will help you to ease the reader into your line of thinking and keeping them on the same proverbial page as you go. Your teacher will appreciate it as well, which is likely to help you gain higher marks.

Transition Words Examples

“Conversely, some experts argue that…”

“Some might object, asserting…”

“On the other hand, some argue that…”

“Admittedly… (state objection)”

“Some find fault with this line of thinking arguing that…”

“Some have a problem with this perspective, viewing it as…”

Likewise, you can always offer a question as your means of introducing your objection.

“However, why…?”

“However,  if this is accurate wouldn’t it mean that…?”

“Nonetheless, how does…?”

Practice using these words and phrases to create counter argument example sentences until you feel comfortable.

Counter Argument Refutation

The counter-argument refutation is one of the more satisfying parts of drafting this part of the essay, because you essentially discuss how this counter argument is wrong and you are right. Essentially you are poking holes into the foundation of the counter argument and demonstrating how and why your thesis is superior. With this refutation, the reader should be strongly convinced that your thesis is correct and the totality of the counter argument is deeply flawed or sadly mistaken. The best counter argument essay examples will demonstrate the importance of a solid refutation. Take a look at any counter argument examples persuasive essays and you’ll see this is true—the integrity of the argument depends on the solidity of the refutation.

If you feel very confident, you can even address how some parts of the counter are valid—but that ultimately this validity doesn’t matter. Either these parts of the argument are irrelevant, or don’t fully understand the issue/reality, or they don’t address certain fundamentals of the topic. Your goal in the refutation is to demonstrate how this counter argument is of no real consequence to the correctness of your entire thesis.

For instance, when you draft your refutation paragraph, you don’t have to follow a logical formula or structure—but it can help. If you think just pointing out the inherent problems with the objecting arguments and shining a light on their inherent fallibility will work for you that is fine. However, some students feel more comfortable using a more concrete structure such as a counter argument outline.

  • Develop a strong opening sentence that summarizes the core of the objecting argument.
  • Acknowledge the occasional validity of their claims.

(It may be true that + homeschooling is ideal in certain situations, but for the most part, this is invalid/irrelevant/misguided.)

  • Pick a transition and connect it to a strong topic sentence. This topic sentence must clearly assert why the crux of the counter argument is wrong (Forcing a child to attend a traditional school forces them to be socialized within a greater society and to relate to a variety of personalities, some thing that is undeniably priceless for their development).
  • Support this topic sentence with research from experts, such as a quotation or paraphrase ( Q of the Cambridge College of Child Development has found that children who are homeschooled grow up into adults who are more withdrawn and have fewer satisfying relationships).
  • Offer an explanation or an expansion of the expert evidence and explain its clear significance and importance. Help the reader connect the dots regarding its importance (This indicates that homeschooled children become adults who are less able to engage with the rest of the world in a less effective manner, something that no doubt impacts their productivity and overall success).
  • To further strengthen your refutation, you could offer an example from history or current events or even find statistics to support your position.
  • A final concluding sentence that illustrates how grave the sheer fallibility of the counter argument is and the primacy of the main argument helps add closure.

Counter Argument Examples

Counter Argument on Homeschooling

Conversely, many experts in child development see the numerous benefits in homeschooling kids. Homeschooling is a viable option for children who are withdrawn, very creative or very sensitive, who are unable to thrive in the overly structured environment of traditional school. Furthermore, children who are pursuing a professional goal, such as young athletes, actors or musicians have no choice in many cases but to be homeschooled. Homeschooling offers the ability to tailor the curriculum to the exact needs and preferences of the child so that the child has a distinct advantage and is able to thrive.

Refutation Example

 

Admittedly, homeschooling has some perceived advantages, such as more individualized lessons and more attention on the student. However, these apparent “advantages” are actually severe liabilities to the child’s development. The traditional school provides a unique environment where the child is forced to constantly deal with challenges and uncertainty—bullies, mockery, mean teachers, boring work, unclear instructions, gym class, embarrassment, feeling excluded, being teased, and a host of others. It is full of unpleasant experiences. However, these unpleasant experiences are exactly what force the child to develop and evolve into a stronger version of him or herself. A small seed grows into a mighty tree by busting through the pressure of the outer shell. A boxer/chess-player/tennis star becomes a better through the rigors of competing against a worthy opponent. School is an environment riddled with stimuli that force students to overcome obstacles so they can grow into the best version of themselves. “Traditional school prepares children for the real world by having them interact with diverse people. In a classroom, children must learn to work in groups of their peers and to negotiate the world around them without constant supervision and/or intervention from their parents” (Dalien, 2017). Despite the flexibility of homeschool, it just can’t offer children the social skills crucial for them to negotiate the outside world as adults.

Counter Argument on Drinking Age

But what about the fact that a young person can drive a car at age 15, enlist in the army at age 18, and even become a legal guardian of a child at that same age? It simply does not make logical sense that someone can drive across the country, die for his or her country, and be responsible for another human being, and still not be able to legally order a glass of beer in a restaurant. This absurd fact undermines these age-specific laws in place and makes them all seem odd and random. Furthermore, this does very little for the perspective of America by our European neighbors who all raise their children with a more relaxed perspective of alcohol. It gives America the look of being antiquated and puritanical. It moreover gives the appearance that America is raising a population of young people to ultimately have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Refutation Example

 

While it is true that the drinking age in America is much higher than in other places around the world, the reasons for that are strategic. America has always been a nation concerned with rugged individualism and not one to get hung up on what everyone else is doing. There is good reason for this. Historically, children usually find a way to access to age inappropriate substances way before they reasonably should. Many parents believe that a lowered drinking age would increase binge drinking among teenagers, and this is an extremely valid concern to have. Once the law officially lowers the legal age to buy a drink, then it would give the proverbial green light to adolescents all over the nation that the teen years are the time to drink and over-drink. This is simply how basic human psychology works. Furthermore, it’s crucial to remember that 21 wasn’t some random age selected by Congress: almost have the states of the nation had the drinking age set there since 1984. This is with good reason: “…since the 21 law was widely enacted, the number of young people killed annually in crashes involving drunk drivers under 21 has been cut in half, from more than 5,000 individuals in the early 1980s to around 2,000 in 2005. By the end of 2005, the 21 drinking age had saved nearly 25,000 American lives—approximately 1,000 lives a year” (Dean-Mooney, 2008). The legal drinking age set at 21 has a very practical purpose: it saves young lives. Nothing could be more important than that. Thus, it doesn’t matter what the other age-related laws are. It doesn’t matter what our European allies think of us. All that matters is we keep our young people safe from substances they can’t handle and aren’t wise enough to use with discretion.

Counter Argument on The Electoral College

Admittedly, the Electoral College is an antiquated method of selecting a president. It did, however, have a serious purpose at one time, but that time has long since passed. It’s time to make voting simpler in America: the person who wins the popular vote should win the election. The founding fathers were worried that a charismatic tyrant might dupe the average citizen; thus, they feared a direct election to president. The Electoral College also ensured that smaller states would be better represented in presidential elections and not lose their voice to the overwhelming majority of bigger states. These are valid concerns of a new country, but they just aren’t relevant anymore. The fact that citizens are still forced to participate in what is a skewed, old-fashioned system is completely ridiculous and undermines what the people actually want. And most poignantly, had it not been for the Electoral College system in 2016, we would have our first female president. Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes, a number that reflects a large portion of the nation.

Refutation Example

 

While abolishing the Electoral College system might seem like a quick fix to some people, such an impulse would undermine the wisdom of the founding fathers. Our founding fathers were deeply afraid of the “tyranny of the majority” and how large, overly vocal groups in the population can dominate, leaving smaller pockets of the nation out of luck (Hamilton et al., 2011). If the popular vote was the only method of choosing a presidential candidate, it would open our nation up to a higher level of corruption and imbalance than we ever thought possible. Candidates would just flock to big cities and  nearby suburban pockets, and places like rural Iowa and Wisconsin would be largely left out. These campaigns would be more expensive and would need more special interest funding, leading to more biased candidates. Case in point, Hillary Clinton, in lieu of 2016’s failure, wants to abolish the Electoral College system, a system her husband excelled at twice. The Clintons already have a murky reputation of cozying up to the big banks and to celebrity donations. An election based just on the popular vote would exacerbate these interests to a higher extent. Finally, the strongest reason to protect the Electoral College system is the fact that most winning candidates who become president, win both the popular and electoral college. Only five times in history have candidates won the popular vote but lost the actual Electoral College, which is proof enough that it is a system that works (Revesz, 2016).

Conclusion

Drafting a counter-argument and rebuttal allows you to flex your critical thinking muscles and show your teacher that you can add nuance and multifaceted thought to your essay. Acknowledging the validity and perspective of those who disagree with you is the mark of a refined scholar. It demonstrates that you understand completely how your opponents think and why. Then, to describe the fallibility of their arguments tightens your case exponentially. It is the hallmark of a seasoned writer. Adding a counterargument and corresponding refutation is one of the exercises that can also make you a better person, as it forces you to consider the other side of things—putting yourself in the shoes of others. Always give yourself the opportunity to study counter argument and refutation examples until you feel comfortable writing your own. This is an activity that builds emotional intelligence along with critical thinking skills. It is one that should be embraced.

References

Dalien, S. (2015, March 13). Traditional School Vs Homeschooling | SpecialEdResource.com. Retrieved from https://specialedresource.com/traditional-school-vs-homeschooling

Dean-Mooney, L. (2008, September 8). A Lower Age Would Be Unsafe. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2008/09/08/a-lower-age-would-be-unsafe

Hamilton, A. (2011). Federalist papers. Place of publication not identified: Bottom Of The Hill Publis.

Harvey, G. (n.d.). Counterargument. Retrieved from https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/counter-argument

Revesz, R. (2016, November 16). Five presidential nominees who won popular vote but lost the election. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/popular-vote-electoral-college-five-presidential-nominees-hillary-clinton-al-gore-a7420971.html

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