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Strengthen arguments with counterclaims

march 7, 2023

An argument reveals the author’s position on a debatable topic or issue. The writer makes a claim and supports it with reasons and evidence— all in order to persuade the reader to agree with his viewpoint.

However, a key piece to a strong argument is the inclusion of the counterclaim. By acknowledging the opposition, the writer proves he has thoroughly researched and carefully considered all perspectives. By noting the valid points of the opposing side, he honors the skeptical reader and makes his argument even stronger.

When introducing students to the counterclaim, answer two important questions:

1. How do you write the counterclaim?

When initially researching the issue, the writer comes across several different perspectives. After aligning with a side and writing his overall claim, the student should consider the opposite position or the most common opinion against it. That—written into a sentence—is the counterclaim.

Just like the student supports his claim with reasons and evidence, he must do that for the opposition, too. In other words, the student should follow the counterclaim with facts, evidence, and quotes to support it.

To be clear, all references to the counterclaim are done with a respectful and courteous tone. Remember, by including the counterclaim, the writer has positioned himself as a fair and balanced writer. He hopes to gain the respect of the skeptical reader, so students shouldn’t undo all that by then bad-mouthing those who think differently.

2. Where do you put the counterclaim within the overall writing?

There are three places where the counterclaim should be incorporated into an argument—the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

Within the introduction, it’s common for the writer to start with some general background information about the issue. This easily leads into the counterclaim. Some people think… Follow that with However and the writer’s claim.

Ideally, the counterclaim is woven into each body paragraph. However, when first introducing this skill to students, it’s easiest for them to address it in a stand-alone paragraph. This would include a topic sentence stating the counterclaim and several sentences that provide evidence and support of it.

Consider where this additional body paragraph should be inserted. So as not to break the flow of the argument, it’s best to bury the counterclaim paragraph. Consider teaching students to organize their reasons as follows:

  • 2nd best reason in support of the claim
  • 3rd best reason in support of the claim
  • Counterclaim statement and evidence
  • st best/strongest reason in support of the claim

It’s important to include the counterclaim, but the writer also wants his strongest reason to be the last thing the reader hears. This 2-3-cc-1 pattern acknowledges the opposition, develops it, and then moves past it.

When concluding the argument, reiterate that this debatable issue has different perspectives. Restate the counterclaim. Then, reinforce the stronger, better position by reiterating the thesis.

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CompCON 2024
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