An academic argument involves the process of establishing a proposition, or ‘thesis’, and then justifying it with the use of logical reasoning, examples and research.
Ideally, the argument will anticipate objections or counter-arguments, and maintain momentum that carries the reader along to the conclusion. You will learn to convince others, for instance, the instructor who is grading your work, to agree with your facts, share your viewpoint, or accept your argument and conclusions and hopefully adopt your way of thinking.
Writing an essay on an academic argument requires you to think critically about a problem. In order to do this properly, you will need to:
As Socrates said, “Good thinking constantly questions itself”. In making your persuasive argument, you have proposed a thesis statement with some rationale, supported by evidence. A very convincing strategy to strengthen the validity of your position is to present counter-argument. As we have said before in this unit, you need to write your essay with cognizance of the questions that will be occurring in your readers’ minds. Counter-argument gives you an effective tool for predicting and addressing doubts that your audience may be having. By anticipating skeptical responses to your thesis, you can pre-empt objections.
When you counter-argue, you consider a possible argument against your thesis or an element of your logic. This is a good way to test your theories whilst you are still writing and, when presented in the final essay, it shows that you have assessed the different options before taking your stance. By presenting a counter-argument you confront objections before they arise, by being overt and truthful rather than simply trying to score a point.
It is pointless to try and anticipate or address every single opposing argument that might occur, but a consideration of other perspectives is a feature of many strong arguments.
There are two stages to counter-argument in an essay: the ‘turn-against’ where you challenge your own argument and then the ‘turn-back’ to re-affirm your thesis.
You introduce this turn against with a phrase like “It might seem that…” or “Admittedly,…” or with an predicted confrontation question such as “But how…?” or “But isn’t this just…?” Following this you state the opposing case to your thesis, succinctly but as plainly and robustly, pointing to evidence where possible. Be careful not to use a flimsy inconsequential counter argument. You can easily shoot yourself in the foot by using a laughable opposing idea, which will make it look like you fear challenging your thesis with a really sticky counter-argument.
An example of a turn-back is:
“Some may argue that Captain Smith was justified in leaving the bridge to take rest. After all, no one can function effectively without sleep. However, given the dangerous speed that the Captain had agreed to run the ship, and the knowledge that icebergs were a potential hazard, it seems a critical error of judgment to leave command of the ship to a junior officer without reducing the speed of the vessel to a more manageable rate of knots for the less experienced seaman.”
Counter-argument can appear anywhere in the essay, but it most commonly appears as part of your introduction—before you propose your thesis—where the existence of a different view is the motive for your essay. It can appear as a section or paragraph just after your introduction, in which you address expected objections or opposition before presenting your own ideas. Sometimes you might use it as a quick move within a paragraph, where you imagine a counter-argument not to your main idea but to the topic sentence of a paragraph.
Use counter-arguments to your advantage – if you find viewpoints that go against your own argument, don’t ignore them. It strengthens an argument to include an opposing viewpoint and explain why it is not as convincing as your own line of reasoning. Be specific and avoid making sweeping generalizations or points that are difficult to support with specific evidence. It is better to be more measured and tie your counter-arguments to precise examples or case studies.
Hint: Be careful not to go overboard with the counter arguments. Occasional use of the device will add a spark of interest your essay. Too many ‘turns’ will start to get in the way of you what you are trying to convey, and might appear evasive.
So, by deploying counter-argument, you can demonstrate your integrity as a writer, showing that you have researched different aspects of the argument and reached an informed decision. Conceding to some of your opposition’s concerns can demonstrate respect for their opinions. Addressing the opposing claims is an important element in developing a persuasive argument.