Audience Opposition: Anticipating and Refuting Opposing Views in Your Essays Video

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  • 0:05 Opposing Views in Your Essays
  • 1:23 Determine the…
  • 2:44 Anticipate Opposing Arguments
  • 3:27 Refute Opposing Arguments
  • 6:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

In addition to planning the major argumentative points you'll make when writing a persuasive paper, you should also think about potential opposing views. This video gives you tips for determining how to effectively anticipate and refute opposing views as you write your argument.

Anticipating and Refuting Opposing Views in Your Essays

Have you ever seen one of those courtroom dramas on TV or at the movies where, in a climactic moment, a lawyer is grilling a witness or delivering an impassioned argument, and the other lawyer stands up and weakly says, 'Objection,' but the first lawyer is so overpowering and exciting that the judge doesn't even seem to care about or acknowledge the objection?

It's possible that you, too, are so dashing and your arguments are so thrilling that when you're writing an argumentative essay, you don't need to worry about what the opposing side of the argument might be... but you should probably plan for how to handle those objections just in case.

Consider why it's important to anticipate opposing views when writing an argumentative paper. Your purpose when writing this type of essay is to persuade the reader to accept your point of view on your chosen subject.

And because the success of this type of essay is so tied up with your audience - with convincing your readers that your position on the subject is the right one - you have to really pay special attention to your audience. What views and opinions do they already hold before they read your essay? Are they open and receptive to your point of view? Or are they more skeptical of your position?

You might present several brilliant and dazzling points in favor of your position, but if your reader sees things differently than you do, and you haven't made an attempt to address and make compelling arguments against some of his or her views, you're not likely to make much of an impact with your efforts at persuasion.

Determine the Strengths of Your Argument

Before you start thinking about the specific views of people who might be opposed to your position, get a clear sense of the crucial points of your own argument. Only after you've done that can you start thinking about the relative importance of touting your own ideas versus knocking down those of the opposition.

It can be useful to sketch out a rough outline of your major argumentative points. For example, let's say that you're writing a persuasive paper arguing that school districts should adopt a year-round school schedule instead of having a long summer vacation. Make a list of your strong points. For example:

  1. Students tend to forget many of the concepts they learned throughout the year during the summer break, meaning that teachers have to devote too much time each year to reviewing old materials.
  2. Students in need of remedial programs or enrichment can get those things more effectively during short breaks during an all-year schedule.
  3. Summer break is an outdated idea that's no longer needed now that most families don't depend on their kids to help out with farming during the summer.

Try to assess the strength of your various points. Do your points look like winning arguments in and of themselves? Or are your points on the weak side? Perhaps it's not the case that your points are really that strong, but rather, that your opponent's arguments are exceptionally weak.

Performing this assessment will help you gain a sense of whether the bulk of your paper will be spent trumpeting your own solid points or knocking down the weak ideas of the opposing side.

Anticipate Opposing Arguments

Using our year-round school example, let's assess the strength of the opposing side. Take some time to research or brainstorm to come up with a list of points that those who oppose adopting a year-round school calendar might argue. For example:

  1. Studies haven't shown conclusively that there are great academic benefits associated with year-round school.
  2. It would be exceedingly difficult to schedule extracurricular activities involving practices and competitions with other schools and districts on different schedules.

Note that I said a moment ago that you should do some brainstorming to think of some of the possible opposing arguments with regard to your topic. But if you're having trouble determining what those opposing arguments might be, do some research. You want to have a clear-eyed view of what you're up against as you craft your approach to your position.

Refute Opposing Arguments

Take a look at your list of opposing views, and determine how they match up with the arguments that you'll make in favor of your position. You'll see that with our examples, the first opposing view, which posits that there are no conclusive academic benefits associated with year-round school, is the opposite side of the coin of our first point, that students forget too many concepts over the summer and that year-round school would, therefore, be a good thing.

When you have an argument as well as a corresponding opposing view to refute, it works out well from an organizational standpoint. When you write the part of your essay arguing that a year-round school schedule should be implemented to prevent the academic problems that result from forgetful students, you can then transition smoothly into the opposing view that there are no real academic benefits to year-round schooling.

In your critique of that opposing view, you could perhaps make the argument that sheer common sense tells us that without a huge interruption in the academic year, students will retain information better. But don't let 'common sense' arguments take over your paper; you'll still need to do research to present data and evidence that support your points.

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