26 Claims, Support, and Structure

Core Curriculum; Christina Frasier; and Kirsten DeVries

Learning Objectives

  • Compose debatable claims about a topic
  • Support claims with evidence
  • Organize evidence in a structured argument
  • Compose effective counterarguments


Both as a student and as a professional, you may be asked to examine complicated situations and to develop and support positions that reflect the complexity of the issues involved. For example, if you go into education, you may be asked to develop and support a recommendation for a remedial reading program based upon a careful analysis of the costs and impacts of competing proposals. If you go into a medical field, you may be asked to develop and support a recommendation for the long-term care of a patient who has suffered a catastrophic injury. Whatever field you enter—management, criminal justice, social work, information technology, or any other—you are likely to confront challenging issues that require you to analyze data and evidence and to report out your conclusions in professional language and according to a professional format. The Academic Argument assignment is intended to help you develop the writing skills necessary to perform such an analysis and to report the results.

In the course of this assignment, you will write a thesis-driven essay that articulates reasons and examples that support your claims. Your objectives as you work your way through this assignment will be to

  • make a debatable claim about a topic,
  • support all claims with evidence,
  • analyze a multifaceted issue in writing, and
  • acknowledge the legitimate concerns of others.

Objective 1. Make a debatable claim about a topic.

Central to any Academic Argument is a claim. This section will define this fundamental concept and address related concepts, such as how the claim is reflected in a thesis statement and how it is used to guide the development of the essay. In particular, this section will answer the following questions:

  1. What is a claim?
  2. When is a claim debatable?
  3. How do I begin an argument essay?
  4. How do I introduce a topic and explain its significance?
  5. How do I use my thesis statement to state a main claim and key supporting ideas at the same time?
  6. How do I use my thesis statement and key ideas to organize my argument?
  7. How do I use my thesis and key ideas to organize my argument when speaking?
  8. What is the purpose of a body paragraph in an argument essay?
  9. How do I structure a body paragraph to support my thesis?

1. What is a claim?

A claim is an idea—or point—about a topic or issue that a writer or speaker makes in an argument. It is the equivalent of a thesis sentence for an argumentative essay. For example, let’s say that your topic is social media. Claims about social media might include one of the following:

  • Social media help people stay in touch across long distances.
  • Social media are hurting the communication skills of young Americans.
  • Social media are useful tools for social movements.
  • Social media are responsible for “slacktivism.”

2. When is a claim debatable?

A claim is debatable when it says something about the topic or issue that is not common knowledge or that most people have not generally agreed upon. Once again taking the topic of social media as an example, making the claim that “many people use social media” would not be debatable. But writing that “social media are hurting the communication skills of young Americans” would be debatable because the author must prove both that there is a problem with the communication skills of younger Americans and that social media are the cause of it.

3. How do I begin an argument essay?

Many students make the mistake of beginning their essays in overwhelmingly broad or obvious terms. For example, a student writing about the politics of same-sex marriage might begin a paper by saying, “People have been falling in love and getting married for thousands of years.” A sentence like this simply postpones the real work of an essay by giving its audience information that any reasonable person would already know. Students usually write overly vague introductions because they have been taught to “start broad” and then “narrow their focus.” More experienced writers understand that everything in an introduction needs to contribute substantially to their argument.

There is no strict formula for composing an introduction, but effective introductions usually do the following:

  • introduce the problem or issue;
  • explain the problem or topic’s significance to a community that may include the reader;
  • make a debatable claim about the topic or issue in a thesis statement, possibly one that includes supporting arguments; and
  • explain how the thesis contributes to the conversation in some way.

4. How do I introduce a topic and explain its significance?

There is no single formula for introducing a topic and explaining its significance, but here are some methods that writers return to again and again:

  • Providing information or data that draw the audience’s attention to the problem or issue. To present her research on electric car usage and ownership, Yuliya Chernova writes:

Electric cars are still such a novelty that little is known about their owners and how they use the vehicles. But recent research is beginning to unlock some of the mysteries. Plug-in vehicles—those that run entirely on battery power or that combine electric and gasoline drives—represent less than 1% of total U.S. vehicle sales, but in the past three years their numbers have grown rapidly. Sales nearly tripled in 2012 and are on track to nearly double this year, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a trade group. (Chernova, 2013)

  • Employing anecdotes that dramatize the problem or issue. Brad Tuttle begins his article, ”The Major Problem with Cheap Electric Cars,” with the following account:

Mitsubishi is the latest in a long line of automakers to slash prices on an electric car, the unpronounceable, unfortunately named i-MiEV. The model is now the cheapest electric vehicle (EV) on the market, yet it’s still hard to imagine many drivers excitedly running out to buy one. (Tuttle, 2013)

  • Responding to a quotation that addresses the problem or issue in some way. Columnist George F. Will quotes President Barack Obama to begin his own argument about the United States’ policy on Iran’s nuclear program:

In his disproportionate praise of the six-month agreement with Iran, Barack Obama said: “For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted progress of the Iranian nuclear program.” But if the program, now several decades old, had really been “halted” shortly after U.S. forces invaded neighboring Iraq, we would not be desperately pursuing agreements to stop it now, as about 10,000 centrifuges spin to enrich uranium. (Will, 2013)

5. How do I  state a main claim and key supporting ideas at the same time?

You can use your thesis statement to state your main claim—the central point of the essay—but you also can use it to forecast the supporting claims that will explain and illustrate the main claim.

Here is a basic thesis statement:

Social media are useful tools for social movements.

This thesis statement, while it could be the main claim of an essay, does not hint at the path you will follow to explain and illustrate your claim.

Now look at this second, more elaborate thesis statement:

Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists from the Arab Spring movement to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here the general claim about social media has been made more specific as you have introduced particular examples of social media and occasions when these media proved to be significant. You have given your readers a clearer picture of what the essay will be about.

6. How do I use my claim and key ideas to organize my argument?

While your main claim should guide the entire argument, key ideas included in the thesis statement can be used in topic sentences to guide your paragraphs.

Using the sample claim, “Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists from the Arab Spring movement to the Black Lives Matter movement.” the argument might be outlined as follows:

  1. Introduction: Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists from he Arab Spring movement to the Black Lives Matter movement.
  2. Twitter contributed to:
    1. Arab Spring
    2. Black Lives Matter
  3. Facebook contributed to:
    1. Arab Spring
    2. Black Lives Matter
  4. YouTube contributed to:
    1. Arab Spring
    2. Black Lives Matter
  5. Conclusion: The Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements may not have happened without the use of social media.

In the above outline, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are used to divide the body of the essay into three main sections, and then those sections are subdivided into Egypt and the United States. Alternately, you could divide the body of the essay into two main sections—one for Egypt and the other for the United States—and then subdivide by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The resulting outline would look like this:

  1. Introduction: Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists from Tahrir Square to decentralized movements like black Lives Matter.
  2. Arab Spring
    1. Twitter
    2. Facebook
    3. YouTube
  3. Black Lives Matter
    1. Twitter
    2. Facebook
    3. YouTube
  4. Conclusion: The Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements may not have happened without the use of social media.

Either of these outlines would be a clear progression from the thesis statement and would help the reader to see how each key idea furthers the main claim. An element missing in these examples are counterarguments, which are key in reducing bias. Read more about them and how to structure an essay with counterarguments HERE ADD INTERNAL CITATION

7. How do I use my claim and key ideas to organize my argument when speaking?

A thesis statement that includes key ideas is a useful way to guide organization in both written and oral communication. Consider the thesis “Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists involved in the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements.” The audience knows up front that you will cover at least three social media sites and at least two social movements in your discussion of young activists. They are well prepared for what will be covered in your speech and will be more likely to follow your argument. Conversely, if you promise these details and skip something, you are likely to confuse or disappoint your audience.

8. What’s the purpose of a body paragraph in an argument essay?

As with a personal essay, a body paragraph in an argument should be organized around a single point or supporting claim that furthers the thesis, should be fully developed with evidence (such as an illustration or an example), should contain a transition from the paragraph that precedes it, and should prepare the way for the paragraph that will follow it.

9. How do I structure a body paragraph to support my thesis?

Many authors use the PIE format to structure their essays. PIE = point, illustration, explanation. The point furthers your thesis or claim, the illustration provides support for the point, and the explanation tells your audience why the evidence you have provided furthers your point and/or your thesis.

For example, in his argument against the +/- grading system at Radford, student-writer Tareq Hajj makes the Point that “Without the A+, students with high grades in the class would be less motivated to work even harder in order to increase their grades.”

He Illustrates with a quote from a professor who argues, “ ‘(students) have less incentive to try’ (Fesheraki, 2013).”

Hajj then Explains that “not providing [the most motivated students] with additional motivation of a higher grade … is inequitable.”

Through his explanation, Hajj links back to his claim that “A plus-minus grading scale … should not be used at Radford University” because, as he explains, it is “inequitable.”  The PIE structure of his paragraph has served to support his thesis.

Objective II. Support all claims with evidence.

Nowadays, it is common to read or hear the statement that “everyone is entitled to his opinion.” It is indeed true that people are free to believe whatever they wish. However, the mere fact that you believe something is not an argument in support of a position. If your goal is to communicate effectively, you must provide valid explanations and sufficient and relevant evidence to convince your audience to accept your position. If you cannot, it may be time to modify that position. In other words, “everyone is entitled to his opinion, but no one is entitled to have his opinion go unchallenged.” So “challenge” your opinion by considering how it stands up to the answers to the following questions.

  1. What are the types of evidence?
  2. How do you decide how much evidence you need?
  3. How can you use STAR to assess appeals to logos?
  4. What makes evidence relevant, not just related?

1. What are the types of evidence?

Any essay should provide illustrations for each of its points, but it is especially important to provide reliable evidence when preparing an academic argument. Evidence for an academic argument can be based on primary source material or data (your own experience and/or interviews, surveys, polls, experiments,  that you have created and administered). Evidence can also stem from secondary source material or data (books, journals, newspapers, magazines, websites or surveys, experiments, statistics, polls, and other data collected by others).

Let’s say, for example, that you are arguing that college instructors should let students use cell phones in class. Primary source material might include a survey that asks students if policies forbidding cell phone usage actually stop them from using their phones in class and/or interviews with professors about what their cell phone policies are.  Secondary sources might include articles about the issue from Faculty Focus or The Chronicle of Higher Education.

2.   How do you decide how much evidence you need?

Four important terms are defined in the Approaches to Written Argument section of this Handbook: ethos*, logos*, pathos*, and *kairos. Writers and speakers are generally most successful with their audiences when they can skillfully and appropriately balance these, including the appeal to logos, which refers to the evidence and reasoning presented in support of a thesis. In appealing to the reasoning ability of the audience, an author or speaker might use a combination of different types of evidence, such as anecdotes, accepted facts, case studies, statistics, and experiments; analogies and logical reasoning; and citation of recognized experts on an issue.

How much of such evidence and reasoning is enough? This question is not always easy to answer. You cannot rely on intuition or on any formula. Rather, you need to become a careful, skilled judge of the quality and quantity of evidence and of the reasoning offered in support of claims. In addition, the answer to how much evidence to present will depend upon what kind of argument you are trying to make.

3.   How can you use STAR to assess appeals to logos?

Mapping or diagramming your arguments may help you judge whether you are adequately supporting an appeal that depends upon evidence and reasoning. Applying the STAR Criteria—Sufficiency, Typicality, Accuracy, and Relevance—is one such technique for assessing whether your argument has sufficient depth and clarity.

Measure                          Question                             Examples & Notes

Sufficiency Is there enough evidence cited to support the conclusion? Generally, only “strongly” and not “weakly” supported conclusions should be accepted. The more controversial a claim is, the more evidence authors should provide before expecting an audience to accept it. If the evidence is not sufficient, the author may need to modify or qualify the claim, by stating that something is true ‘sometimes’ rather than ‘always’.
Typicality Is the cited evidence typical or representative? If an author makes a claim about a whole group  but the evidence is based on a small or biased sample of that group, the evidence is not “typical.” Similar problems stem from relying just on personal experiences (anecdotal evidence) and from ‘cherry picking’ data by citing only the parts that support a conclusion while ignoring parts that might challenge it.
Accuracy Is the cited evidence up to date and accurate? Authors using polls, studies and statistics must ask whether the data were produced in a biased way and also ask whether the sample was large and representative of its target population so that results were outside the ‘margin of error’. (Margin of error: If a sample is too small or not well chosen, results may be meaningless because they may represent random variation.)
Relevance Is the cited evidence directly relevant to the claim(s) it is being used to support? An author may supply lots of evidence, but the evidence may support something different from what the person is actually claiming. If the evidence is not relevant to the claim, you may need to modify or qualify the claim—or even to acknowledge that the claim is indefensible.


4. What makes evidence relevant, not just related?

The last element of the STAR criteria is Relevance. The evidence you are considering as potential support for your claims may be related in some way to the issue you are discussing, but you must ask yourself whether it actually serves to prove your claims or to disprove the claims of those who disagree with your assertions—in other words, whether it is relevant.

The difference between ‘relevant’ and ‘related’ can be illustrated by the claim that:

College instructors should let students use cell phones in class.

Relevant support for that claim would be:

surveys by yourself or others that show that strict policies prohibiting cell phones do not discourage students from using them.

You could use that relevant information to argue that:

instructors should instead consider finding ways to incorporate smart phones into their teaching methods, for example, by asking students to use a student response app on their phones during class 

Evidence that is related, in this case, might include sources on:

laptop or tablet usage in class. Neither your argument nor your claims focus on the use of those devices. However, in cases where specific information about cell phone use is unavailable, this related material might still provide useful information. You may be able to argue by analogy, suggesting that student use of laptops or tablets may parallel student use of cellphones.

Objective III. Analyze a multifaceted issue in writing.

The popular news media tend to present every issue as an either/or argument: Democrat vs. Republican; right vs. wrong; Mac vs. PC. Such divisions do make information easy to digest and categorize. In academia and in the professional world, however, people strive to unearth the complexities in every argument. Every issue you will encounter in these settings is multifaceted—many-sided—and will prompt more questions than answers. A primary way in which academics and professionals make sense of this complexity is through writing. As John C. Bean (2011) has argued, writing helps us to develop our critical thinking skills and communicate our ideas effectively (p. 4). These two skills are essential in every discipline and profession, so it is important that you begin to develop them early on in your college career. The following sections will provide you with some principles for engaging complex subjects in writing by answering the following questions:

  1. Why is it important to be able to analyze an issue?
  2. What kinds of things should I consider when analyzing an issue?
  3. How do I identify the different people involved in an issue?
  4. How do I identify a stakeholder’s assumptions?
  5. How do I identify the facts of an issue?
  6. How do I identify what is at stake in an issue?
  7. How do I conclude an argument?

1. Why is it important to be able to analyze an issue?

Strong critical thinking skills help you to make better decisions personally and professionally. Your critical thinking skills will be put to the test every day of your life, whether you are preparing a proposal at work, deciding which candidate to vote for, or choosing which type of car to buy. It is in your best interest, then, to develop your critical thinking skills as much as possible.

In addition to the personal and professional benefits, thinking critically also has social benefits. Frequently, you will find yourself in positions where you may wish to convince people that your ideas are worth considering. You may speak or write to encourage a transformation in your community or to help others better understand an issue you find significant. Regardless of whether you want to find alternative sources of energy, explain the role of gender in popular culture, or improve parking on campus, you will need to communicate effectively, showing that you understand the topic at hand and illustrating how your ideas contribute to the conversation.

2. What kinds of things should I consider when analyzing an issue? 

In order to understand an issue thoroughly, you will need to analyze the different facets of the issue: namely, the facts of the issue and what is at stake and the people involved in the conversation,. You will need to identify their various opinions, the reasons given for those opinions, and the attitudes and beliefs that underlie those opinions.

Questions to consider include these:

  • What reasons do people give in support of their opinions? To what extent are those reasons backed up by reliable facts?
  • What kinds of philosophies or belief systems underlie particular opinions on an issue? To what extent is there room for compromise between different perspectives?
  • What are the consequences or implications of different perspectives or opinions on an issue?
  • Which opinions (if any) do you agree with?  What is convincing about the opinions that you agree with? What is unconvincing about the opinions that you disagree with?
  • What new and unique perspective, opinion, or approach can you add to the conversation?
  • How does your own opinion or your own perspective impact the way you respond to viewpoints on an issue?

3. How do I identify the different people involved in an issue?

Usually, any complex topic features multiple stakeholders: people who have an interest in or are affected by the outcome of decisions revolving around the issue. One of your goals as a student or a professional will be to identify the main parties involved. As you read a text, ask yourself:

  • Who are the different individuals or groups involved?
  • What are the interests of these individuals or groups?
  • What opinions have been stated or arguments made by the individuals or groups?
  • Who are the different individuals or groups affected by decisions about this issue?
  • What are the interests of each affected individual or group?
  • What opinions have been stated or arguments made by affected individuals or groups?
  • Does the bias or agenda of any of the above stakeholders weaken the credibility of their arguments?
  • Are the authors of any of the sources you are using associated with any individuals or groups that could be considered stakeholders? Does that association weaken the credibility of those sources?

When trying to identify the different people involved in an issue, it can be very helpful to take notes on the people or groups cited by the author. Write down what each person or group says about the topic and compare their positions.

The following example from CNN.com illustrates an issue with numerous stakeholders:

Since news first broke about the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, people began wondering how something so horrible could happen. Within a few hours, before the magnitude of the tragedy was fully known, reports began to surface that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was autistic or had Asperger’s syndrome in addition to a possible personality or anxiety disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. …  However, national autism organizations cautioned against speculation about a link between violence and autism or Asperger’s. (Falco, 2012)

It is relatively easy to determine the stakeholders in the above quotation. While the most obvious are the alleged shooter, the victims, their families, and of course, anyone concerned with preventing violence in schools, Falco’s article provides insight into two other groups of people who have interest in the shootings: mental health professionals and those with mental conditions. The rest of the article lists the opinions of experts, who argue against a link between those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and violence.

4. How do I identify a stakeholder’s assumptions? 

Often a writer or speaker expects her audience to share a particular belief or attitude. Such an assumption might not be an outright part of an argument. In fact, assumptions frequently are implied instead of being directly stated. However, an assumption may be part of an argument’s foundation because the writer or speaker is constructing that argument in the belief that the audience shares her attitudes or beliefs. The assumption is often a byproduct of a person’s standpoint, social position, and/or political leanings.

An example of an assumption might be the following opening to a piece on tanning beds:

“We all want that perfect summer tan.”

What is the author assuming here? Are there people who might not want “that perfect summer tan”? Who might they be? How can you point out a person’s assumptions without attacking the her personally?

5. How do I identify the facts of an issue?

When identifying the facts of an issue, a good place to start is with recently-published sources that strive to be as objective as possible. For more on evaluating sources for their accuracy and relevance, see the above sections that answer these questions: How can you use STAR to assess appeals to logos? and What makes evidence relevant, not just related?

After you find several sources that meet proper standards for reliability and accuracy, look for aspects of the issue on which all or most of your sources agree, or try to find those aspects that nobody contests. The information that you gather as a result of this process will help you construct a baseline that you can use as you examine and evaluate the arguments of people with various positions on the issue.

6. How do I identify what is at stake in an issue?

Good writers always ask themselves the questions “so what?” or “why should people care about my ideas?”  It’s the writer’s job to articulate what’s at stake in his writing, and it’s the reader’s job to understand what’s at stake. Sometimes, writers can be very straightforward, leaving little room for mistaking or overlooking what is at stake. Writing about how a scandal involving the British banking system can affect her audience, Denver Business Journal writer Heather Draper declares,

A global scandal involving London-based Barclays bank and the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) may seem like a distant problem, but it could affect Denver taxpayers. (Draper, 2012)

While Draper clearly states that a problem in one part of the world can affect a community thousands of miles away, other writers are less explicit. Take, for example, the following editorial from The Roanoke Times, which talks in general about the significance of a relatively minor compromise in the U.S. House of Representatives:

The level of comfort most Americans are feeling over the budget deal approved by the House of Representatives last week speaks more to the national hunger for boring but stable governance than to the brilliance of the compromise itself. Compromises, of course, are not designed to tickle anyone’s fancy. Their beauty lies in the aversion of more sorrowful consequences. Those consequences are well-known, lurking not in the imagination but in our collective short-term memory. October’s government shutdown and near miss with the menace of a credit default visited harm on the nation’s economy and its good name. (“A small but significant deal”, 2013)

Though not as explicit as Draper’s article, the editorial from The Roanoke Times argues that Americans’ happiness with the budget deal is an indication of how much they have come to expect partisan fighting and a shutdown of the United States government in October, 2013.

7.  How do I conclude an argument?

You want the conclusion to grow naturally out of the ideas in the paragraphs that preceded it, and you want to avoid bringing up new issues not previously covered in the essay. Specific strategies that worked for the conclusion of the personal essay may work for an argument as well, such as returning to something, such as a question, from the beginning of the essay or speech in order create a sense of closure.

One very natural move to make in the conclusion is to show why the argument matters. What is the significance of the issue that has been the subject of the argument? What are the implications for stakeholders, who may include members of the audience? Will their lives be impacted, for better or worse, by facets of the issue that is under debate?

Another natural move to make in the conclusion is to advocate action. What steps should be taken by stakeholders, their representatives, or society as a whole? Would it be wise for society to invest in research and search for a solution to a problem identified in the argument? Are there changes people should make in their lives? Are there political or social reforms stakeholders should be advocating? Should individuals or groups be taking steps to get involved in a political process or a social movement?

Showing why the argument matters and proposing actions are ways to “conclude” while at the same time encouraging the audience to continue thinking about the issue that has been the subject of the argument.


What Is a Counterargument?

Remember that arguments are multi-sided. As you brainstorm and prepare to present your idea and your support for it, consider other sides of the issue. These other sides are counterarguments. Make a list of counterarguments as you work through the writing process, and use them to build your case – to widen your idea to include a valid counterargument, to explain how a counterargument might be defeated, to illustrate how a counterargument may not withstand the scrutiny your research has uncovered, and/or to show that you are aware of and have taken into account other possibilities.

For example, you might choose the issue of declawing cats and set up your search with the question should I have my indoor cat declawed? Your research, interviews, surveys, personal experiences might yield several angles on this question: Yes, it will save your furniture and your arms and ankles. No, it causes psychological issues for the cat. No, if the cat should get outside, he will be without defense. As a writer, be prepared to address alternate arguments and to include them to the extent that it will illustrate your reasoning.

Almost anything claimed in a paper can be refuted or challenged. Opposing points of view and arguments exist in every debate. It is smart to anticipate possible objections to your arguments – and to do so will make your arguments stronger. Another term for a counterargument is antithesis (i.e., the opposition to a thesis). To find possible counterarguments (and keep in mind there can be many counterpoints to one claim), ask the following questions:

  • Could someone draw a different conclusion from the facts or examples you present?
  • Could a reader question any of your assumptions or claims?
  • Could a reader offer a different explanation of an issue?
  • Is there any evidence out there that could weaken your position?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, the next set of questions can help you respond to these potential objections:

Is it possible to concede the point of the opposition, but then challenge that point’s importance/usefulness?

  • Can you offer an explanation of why a reader should question a piece of evidence or consider a different point of view?
  • Can you explain how your position responds to any contradicting evidence?
  • Can you put forward a different interpretation of evidence?

It may not seem likely at first, but clearly recognizing and addressing different sides of the argument, the ones that are not your own, can make your argument and paper stronger. By addressing the antithesis of your argument essay, you are showing your readers that you have carefully considered the issue and accept that there are often other ways to view the same thing.

You can use signal phrases in your paper to alert readers that you are about to present an objection. Consider using one of these phrases–or ones like them–at the beginning of a paragraph:

  • Researchers have challenged these claims with…
  • Critics argue that this view…
  • Some readers may point to…

Acknowledge Counterarguments

Arguments take place in the context of real world situations, and each situation affects a wide range of people. These people can be considered stakeholders—individuals who have an interest in the outcome of an issue—and they may be part of your audience. To help you communicate with stakeholders, this section will answer two questions:

  1. Why is it important to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of others?
  2. How do I acknowledge counterarguments?
  3. Structures for essay with counterarguments

1.   Why is it important to acknowledge counterarguments?

Like you, stakeholders have needs and wants, and like you, they will want to be heard. In order to achieve your goals, you need to be able to work with these stakeholders to see how both your goals and their goals can be achieved. Working with them requires that you communicate to them your willingness to listen to them, just as you hope they will be willing to listen to you.

When you’re studying a situation in order to develop an argument, then, you need to figure out who is affected by the situation and how they are affected. Consider the following questions:

  • Who are the people who benefit from the current situation?
  • How are people who benefit likely to be affected by any changes?
  • Who are the people who are harmed?
  • How are people who are harmed likely to be affected by any changes?
  • How do your priorities match up to those who benefit?
  • How do your priorities match up to those who are harmed by the current situation?

2.   How do I acknowledge counterarguments without conceding my claim?

After you have analyzed the different facets of an issue you will be ready to respond with your own perspective. Remember that the purpose of scholarly writing or speaking is to participate in a larger conversation. To be an ethical—and effective—participant in that conversation, it is important for you to thoughtfully and respectfully acknowledge the views of other people, whether you agree with their positions or not.

  • Acknowledge the philosophies or belief systems that underlie the views of other people. Show that you understand that it is legitimate for people to have approaches, beliefs, and priorities different from your own.
  • Show that you have read and understood other people’s opinions by careful and accurate use of sources.
  • Show that you are fair and respectful by avoiding loaded or biased language when you paraphrase or summarize the opinions of others.
  • Consider directly quoting key statements to show that you are willing to let other people “speak up” even if you disagree with them in whole or in part. Be careful to quote accurately and to avoid placing the quotations in a context that might create a misleading impression.
  • Show readers that you are not afraid to let them consider other points of view by using documentation to help them to locate sources that contain opinions different from your own.

Having accurately and ethically represented the positions of others, you are now ready to present and explain your own position. In fact, by acknowledging different viewpoints, you are actually preparing yourself to write the strongest argument possible. Acknowledging opposing positions in advance allows you to respond to those positions and decreases the likelihood that your audience will think of a challenge to your argument that will be left unanswered.

Failing to acknowledge legitimate counterarguments sets your paper up for bias, which limits your paper’s logos, or credibility.

After presenting the counterargument, you must refute the counterargument. Refutation reiterate your message to shore up any doubt you may have created for the reader in presenting your counterargument.

3. Structures for arguments containing counterarguments

A classic argument structure incorporates a counterargument. Let’s take another look at one of the organizational plans from above:

  1. Introduction: Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists from Tahrir Square to Wall Street.
  2. Arab Spring
    1. Twitter
    2. Facebook
    3. YouTube
  3. Black Lives Matter
    1. Twitter
    2. Facebook
    3. YouTube
  4. Conclusion: The Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements may not have happened without the use of social media.

To limit bias in this proposed essay, we must add a counterargument, as below:

  1. Introduction: Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been indispensable tools to young activists from Tahrir Square to Wall Street.
  2. Arab Spring
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • YouTube
  3. Black Lives Matter
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • YouTube
  4. Counterargument:
    • Some of the social media companies above had more impact than others
    • Traditional media also played a major role in both
    • Refutation: Although social media companies has differing amounts of impact and traditional media still played a role in both movements, the core method of engagement for young activists was social media.
  5. Conclusion: The Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements may not have happened without the use of social media.

Another method of organization incorporates the counterargument within each paragraph:

  1. Introduction: Although most scientists agree on the phenomenon of climate change, some people still deny its impact on our environment.
  2. Counterargument 1:
    • The Earth’s climate has always changed, with temperatures fluctuating.
    • Refutation

3. Counterargument 2:

    • Climate is not real because it still gets cold
    • Refuation

4. Counteragument 3:

    • Climate change is a problem for future generations
    • Refuation

5. Conclusion: People who deny climate climate owe it to themselves and future generations to take the scientific evidence regarding its causes, effects, and impacts on our planet more seriously.

References for Academic Argument

A small but significant deal. [Editorial]. (2013, December 16). The Roanoke Times. Retrieved from http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/editorial/2451620-12/a-small-but-significant-deal.html

Bean, J. C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom.  2nd ed. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Chernova, Y. (2013, September 23). Who drives electric cars? A close-up look at a small but fast-growing group of Americans. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324123004579055112450200336

Draper, H. (2012, July 20). LIBOR scandal may cost Denver schools money. Denver Business Journal. Retrieved from http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/print-edition/2012/07/20/libor-scandal-may-cost-denver-schools.html

Falco, M. (2012, December 19). Groups: Autism not to blame for violence. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/17/health/connecticut-shooting-autism/index.html?iref=allsearch

Tuttle, B. (2013, December 7). The major problem with cheap electric cars. Time. Retrieved from  http://business.time.com/2013/12/07/the-major-problem-with-electric-cars/?hpt=hp_t5

Will, G.F. (2013, December 8). Nuclear “containment” least worst option in Iran. The Boston Herald. Retrieved from http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/opinion/op_ed/2013/12/nuclear_containment_least_worst_option_in_iran



Adapted from Let’s Get Writing! by Elizabeth Browning; Kirsten DeVries; Kathy Boylan; Jenifer Kurtz; and Katelyn Burton, CC BY-SA 4.0 

Adapted from Radford University Core Handbook, by Core Curriculum, Public Domain



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This work (Claims, Support, and Structure by Core Curriculum; Christina Frasier; and Kirsten DeVries) is free of known copyright restrictions.

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