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Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

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Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)?

The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

It’s all about scholarship and tactics: intellectual honesty and manipulation.

In argumentative essays the writer must prove his or her thesis according to the rules of the game, but the writer needs to know the rules so thoroughly that these rules can be used to work in the writer’s favor. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a senior at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!).

As a senior I took a seminar on independent research. At the suggestion of a professor, I dug into the Halévy Thesis: the thesis that the rise of religious revivals in Eighteenth Century England helped prevent a French-style revolution. I know. Pretty obscure. But for some reason the project really got me going: The thrill of academic discovery, the smell of the musty old book stacks, the cute library helper, etc.

Anyways, I became convinced that the Halévy Thesis was true. As a twenty-one year old I had discovered absolute truth. Not only did religious revival prevent violent revolution in England, it could also save our society today, cure the common cold, and solve the Middle East problem.

An effective counterclaim can…

  1. show how a different conclusion can be drawn from facts.
  2. show how an assumption many be unwarranted.
  3. show how a key term has been misused.
  4. show how evidence has been ignored or downplayed.
  5. show how an alternative explanation might make more sense.
  6. test your argument.
  7. anticipate objections to your thesis.
  8. help the writer weigh alternatives.
  9. show how informed you the writer are about opposing arguments.
  10. make the writer’s argument stronger.
  11. show that the writer is reasonable and respectful of opposing views.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to Why Use an Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and What is the Essay Counterclaim?

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