Argumentative Essays: The Counter-Argument & Refutation


An argumentative essay presents an argument for or against a topic. For example, if your topic is working from home, then your essay would either argue in favor of working from home (this is the for side) or against working from home.

Like most essays, an argumentative essay begins with an introduction that ends with the writer’s position (or stance) in the thesis statement.

Introduction Paragraph

(Background information….)

Thesis statement: Employers should give their workers the option to work from home in order to improve employee well-being and reduce office costs.

This thesis statement shows that the two points I plan to explain in my body paragraphs are 1) working from home improves well-being, and 2) it allows companies to reduce costs. Each topic will have its own paragraph. Here’s an example of a very basic essay outline with these ideas:

Introduction Paragraph

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement: Employers should give their workers the option to work from home in order to improve employee well-being and reduce office costs.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Topic Sentence: Workers who work from home have improved well-being.
  • Supporting details:
      • Reasons
      • Examples
      • Evidence from academic sources

Body Paragraph 2

  • Topic Sentence: Furthermore, companies can reduce their expenses by allowing employees to work at home.
  • Supporting details:
      • Reasons
      • Examples
      • Evidence from academic sources

Conclusion

  • Summary of key points
  • Restatement of thesis statement

Does this look like a strong essay? Not really. There are no academic sources (research) used, and also…

You Need to Also Respond to the Counter-Arguments!

The above essay outline is very basic. The argument it presents can be made much stronger if you consider the counter-argument, and then try to respond (refute) its points.

The counter-argument presents the main points on the other side of the debate. Because we are arguing FOR working from home, this means the counter-argument is AGAINST working from home. The best way to find the counter-argument is by reading research on the topic to learn about the other side of the debate. The counter-argument for this topic might include these points:

  1. Working from home could reduce productivity
    • Distractions at home > could make it hard to concentrate
    • Dishonest/lazy people > might work less because no one is watching

Next, we have to try to respond to the counter-argument in the refutation (or rebuttal/response) paragraph.

The Refutation/Response Paragraph

The purpose of this paragraph is to address the points of the counter-argument and to explain why they are false, somewhat false, or unimportant. So how can we respond to the above counter-argument? With research!

A study by Bloom (2013) followed workers at a call center in China who tried working from home for nine months. Its key results were as follows:

  • The performance of people who worked from home increased by 13%
  • These workers took fewer breaks and sick-days
  • They also worked more minutes per shift

In other words, this study shows that the counter-argument might be false. (Note: To have an even stronger essay, present data from more than one study.) Now we have a strong refutation.

Where Do We Put the Counter-Argument and Refutation?

Commonly, these sections can go at the beginning of the essay (after the introduction), or at the end of the essay (before the conclusion). Let’s put it at the beginning. Now our essay looks like this:

Introduction Paragraph

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement: Employers should give their workers the option to work from home in order to improve employee well-being and reduce office costs.

Counter-argument Paragraph

  • People might argue that working from home could reduce productivity
    • Distractions at home > could make it hard to concentrate
    • Dishonest/lazy people might work less because no one is watching

Refutation/Response Paragraph

  • Results in China suggest this is false (Bloom, 2014)
    • Study: Productivity increased by 14%
    • (+ other details)

Body Paragraph 3

  • Topic Sentence: In addition, people who work from home have improved well-being.
  • Supporting details:
      • Reasons
      • Examples
      • Evidence from academic sources

Body Paragraph 4

  • Topic Sentence: Furthermore, companies can reduce their expenses by allowing employees to work at home.
  • Supporting details:
      • Reasons
      • Examples
      • Evidence from academic sources

Conclusion

  • Summary of key points
  • Restatement of thesis statement

The outline is stronger now because it includes the counter-argument and refutation. Note that the essay still needs more details and research to become more convincing.

Working from home

Working from home may increase productivity.

Extra Advice on Argumentative Essays

It’s Not a Compare and Contrast Essay!

An argumentative essay focuses on one topic (e.g. cats) and argues for or against it. An argumentative essay should not have two topics (e.g. cats vs dogs). When you compare two ideas, you are writing a compare and contrast essay. An argumentative essay has one topic (cats). If you are FOR cats as pets, a simplistic outline for an argumentative essay could look something like this:

  • Thesis: Cats are the best pet.
  • Counter-argument
    • People say cats are…
      1. are unloving
      2. cause allergy issues
  • Refutation/Response
    • Re: #1, true cats are quite independent and not very needy
      • This is a benefit >  Many working people do not have time for a needy pet
    • Re: #2, this is true
      • If you have an allergy, do not buy a cat.
      • But for most people (without allergies), cats are great
  • Body Paragraph
    • Supporting Details
    • Supporting Details
  • Body Paragraph
    • Supporting Details
    • Supporting Details
  • Conclusion

Use Language in Counter-Argument That Shows Its Not Your Position

The counter-argument is not your position. To make this clear, use language such as this in your counter-argument:

  • Opponents might argue that cats are unloving.
  • People who dislike cats would argue that cats are unloving.
  • Critics of cats could argue that cats are unloving.
  • It could be argued that cats are unloving.

These underlined phrases make it clear that you are presenting someone else’s argument, not your own.

Choose the Side with the Strongest Support

Do not choose your side based on your own personal opinion. Instead, do some research and learn the truth about the topic. After you have read the arguments for and against, choose the side with the strongest support as your position.

Do Not Include Too Many Counter-arguments

Include the main (two or three) points in the counter-argument. If you include too many points, refuting these points becomes quite difficult.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below.

– Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com

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