Back To CourseEnglish 104: College Composition I
11 chapters | 102 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
With our example here, your argument in favor of your point blends nicely with your refutation of the opposing view, since they're just two sides of the same coin. Note that refutation is a fancy word for the act of proving something false.
Let's take a look at the second opposing view that we listed, about the difficulty of scheduling extracurricular activities. That opposing view was, 'It would be exceedingly difficult to schedule extracurricular activities involving practices and competitions with other schools and districts on different schedules.'
How should you handle a point like this, and where should you do it in your essay? Let's think first about how you would go about crafting a counterargument to this point.
Here's a simple tip for how to introduce opposing views. You could start a paragraph in which you address an opposing view with a phrase like, 'Some opponents of year-round school schedules might argue that...'
With this phrase, or something similar, you can clearly signal to your reader that you're about to present an opposing view and then engage in counterargument, distinguishing that paragraph or section from the rest of the arguments in your paper.
I mentioned earlier the importance of research when you're writing a persuasive paper. With our example, you would need to do some research to determine whether schools or school districts that have adopted year-round school schedules have run into real scheduling problems with football games, spelling bees, science fairs or any types of competitions or activities that involve multiple schools or districts.
If your research shows that this hasn't been a problem, or that school administrators have found solutions for those problems, then discuss that in response to the opposing view that you've presented.
Now that we've thought about how to address an opposing view, we have to think about where in your essay you should address it. There are really two approaches to this.
One approach would be to look at your own outline or list of points and consider where the opposing views that you'll address fit in thematically. Can you make a smooth transition from one of your points to your refutation of one of your opponent's points?
Another approach would be to cluster the opposing views that you've identified together - along with your counterarguments - either at the beginning or end of the body of your essay. If you have a particularly good takedown of an opposing view, you might tuck that opposing view followed by your counterargument toward the very end of your essay to leave your audience with a strong impression of how your view trumps that of your opposition.
When you write an argumentative paper, your job isn't just to come up with good, persuasive points and evidence in support of those points. You also have to think about what views your audience might hold that are in opposition to your argument and effectively refute those views in order to be truly persuasive.
To do this, think first about your major points of argument and how effective they are. Then, through brainstorming and research, develop a few points that you anticipate the opposing side of the position might argue, and work on presenting counterarguments to show the weaknesses of those views.
Place these opposing views and counterarguments either where they blend together with your own points in your paper or cluster them together at the start or end of the body of your essay.
By anticipating the ways that your audience might disagree with you, you can work to refute opposing views and increase the effectiveness of your argument.
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Back To CourseEnglish 104: College Composition I
11 chapters | 102 lessons | 10 flashcard sets