Writing a solid five-paragraph essay can be an adventure, depending on the assignment. For an informational essay, you can use straightforward facts to convey a message. However, with any type of persuasive essay—one where you need your reader to see things from your point of view—there is some leeway to use creative efforts. One of those efforts includes incorporating the counterargument. Just what is this mysterious compound word? That’s what we’re here to find out.
What is the Counterargument?
Have you been in a disagreement? Have you ever watched a debate on TV? When someone points out all the reasons you are wrong, they are countering your argument. The counterargument is simply all the points that the opposing view would use to try and prove you wrong.
A counterargument can occur in many kinds of disagreements. In a discussion as simple as where to eat for dinner, a counterargument can be used. A counterargument will also usually arise in a formal debate, from high school debate teams all the way to courts of law or even the government.
To help you visualize what a counterargument is, imagine that you are trying to convince your college roommate to join you on an evening out. Your roommate is set on staying in to study. You may point out all the reasons going out would be fun.
Their counterargument might be:
“It may be fun now, but it will be more fun to have a high score on this test so that I keep up my GPA and get a good job one day.”
You can anticipate their counterargument by using it before they do. As part of your initial proposal to go out on the town, you can add:
“Hey, I know you might rather study so you can make a good grade on this test, but sometimes your brain needs a break.”
In this situation, you were able mention the counterargument before your opponent and then explain why it was wrong. That, in a nutshell, is using the counterargument.
Why Should I Use it?
Even though the counterargument is technically what the opposing view feels is true, and can therefore be something you inherently disagree with, you can use the counterargument to your advantage. There are several reasons why using the counterargument can help you win a disagreement.
- Credibility. For one thing, mentioning the counterargument gives you and your argument credibility. It shows that you have done your research, proving you are open-minded and worthy of respect.
- Rounding the argument. Another important part of proving your point is showing why your argument is valid. If you spend an entire essay reiterating that your point is important, the reader might see that sure, this is what the writer thinks. But if you don’t show them why your point of view is better than anyone else’s, they may not be persuaded, or they may not understand why you’re arguing that point.
- Neutralize the opposition. According to Gerald Graff and Cathy Berkenstein in their book They Say/I Say (3rd edition, W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), a counterargument “[makes] a kind of preemptive strike, identifying problems with your argument before others can point them out for you.” (79) By bringing in the counterargument, you are telling the reader or audience that you know what others might say about you, but you are prepared for it.
Using the counterargument is, therefore, a very effective way to ensure that your persuasive piece is accurate and effective.
NOTE: Graff and Berkenstein mention “identifying problems with your argument,” which is a good point. Not only does the counterargument dispel what the opposition believes, but it can also detail flaws you see with your own argument. What I mean is that sometimes we have a good argument but are unable to resolve one angle of it. The counterargument might point out this flaw in your thinking in an attempt to discredit you. To prevent this, acknowledge your own flaws first. This type of counterargument incorporation not only neutralizes the opposition, but it presents an aspect of humility, increasing your credibility with the reader.
Using the Counterargument
Now that you’ve decided that the counterargument is worth putting into an essay, how in the world do you use it?
You can bring in a counterargument in a variety of ways. First, consider the form of the counterargument. Are you going to quote someone, paraphrase a discourse, or summarize an entire source? Which one you choose depends on the point you’re making. (Remember that no matter which form you use, you need to cite your source. BibMe can help you create citations in MLA format, APA format, Harvard referencing, and several other styles.)
Once you’ve decided the form of your counterargument, you have to frame it so that you are showing respect to the person you disagree with. This sense of professionalism can boost your credibility with a reader, thereby increasing your odds of persuading them.
For example, if you are writing an essay promoting solar energy as a power source, you might needs facts and statistics, a perfect opportunity to paraphrase your source. You might frame it like this:
Although the EPA claims that there are many different sources of renewable energy like wind and geothermal, solar power is the best way to go because ___________.
In this example, I have remained professional (in other words, I haven’t said that the EPA is bad or negative in any way). Yet I have also used this paraphrase to show that even though there are those who would argue for different power sources, the source I have selected is the best for various reasons.
There are other templates you can use to represent and refute a counterargument while maintaining your integrity. Some include the following:
- While Dr. Y says _________, I feel that ________.
- Although…, my opinion is ….
- Even though many people think ______, I think _____ because….
How you use the counterargument is up to you. Just remember that including a naysayer (the opponent to your thesis or argument) adds richness and motivation to your writing as well as boosts your credibility to an otherwise skeptical reader. You should also make it a point to include reasons why your argument is more valid than those of a naysayer; otherwise, the counterargument can fall flat.
How does the counterargument appear in your writing?
Have you ever used the counterargument or included what a naysayer thought without realizing you were following this persuasive strategy? Great job! And even if you’ve never practiced using the counterargument, that doesn’t mean you can’t start now.
Use the templates in this article, or check out the book They Say/I Say for some other useful templates. You can even get creative and develop your own templates to enable you to write in your own voice clearly and effectively.
I hope this review of the counterargument has inspired you, or at least helped you feel less daunted by the next persuasive writing you need to do!