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How To Refute Your Own Argumentative Essay

When you get into debates with friends or family members, do you tend to win or lose? The art of arguing is closely related to your ability to harness compelling facts, statistics, and concepts that support your viewpoint on a topic. When you lose an argument, chances are you only used opinion to support your position.

Being able to argue in a logical and reasonable way is a great life skill. It will help you to stand up for what you think is right and to get others to pay attention to your reasoning. In this blog post, I’ll teach you the secrets of a strong argumentative essay.

Important Elements of an Argumentative Essay

The goal of an argumentative essay is to convince others that your opinion is valid. Usually, an argumentative essay addresses readers who hold an opposing viewpoint on a particular issue. For example, you might argue the virtues of solar power to a group of city leaders invested in coal and oil.

There are four important elements to consider when constructing an argumentative essay.

#1 Your topic must be debatable.

When selecting an issue to argue, you need to choose a topic that has more than one side.

For example, there is no way you can argue on the topic of whether humans walk on two legs because it’s a known fact with no attached debate.

However, you could argue for days about contentious topics like GMOs, gun control, and even fast food. For example, should the government regulate the sale of sugary beverages? That’s certainly a question up for debate.

#2 You must take a strong stance.

You can’t possibly argue if you don’t take a stance and write a compelling thesis.

Imagine reading an argument about the regulation of sugary beverages that says something like, “I enjoy drinking Pepsi, so I’d like to be able to purchase it as I please, but the government should regulate it because it’s making me gain weight.”

All this does is confuse the reader. Is the author for or against the regulation of sugary beverages?

Take a stance and stick with it. A strong stance might be, “The government should regulate the purchase of sugary beverages because these drinks lead to a higher prevalence of diabetes.”

In this second example, it’s obvious which side of the argument the author is taking.

#3 Your argument must be supportable.

A good argument requires the use of logic and irrefutable evidence. You must be able to back up your statements with facts, statistics, examples, and informed opinions from experts.  In the argument for regulating sugary beverages, the author might write something like, “A study by Imperial College London found that drinking just one 12-ounce can of soda per day leads to a 22% increase in a person’s chances of developing diabetes.”

An argumentative essay does not include unsubstantiated opinions. Writing “I think sugary drinks should be regulated because they are unhealthy” is not a valid argument…unless you support it with evidence.

#4 You must refute alternate positions.

The final element of a strong argumentative essay is refuting alternate positions. By addressing opposing positions, you make your argument stronger. It’s best to try to address the most common opposing beliefs.

For example, an opponent might say, “By drinking sugary drinks, I’m only hurting myself, so it’s not the government’s place to ban them.”

To refute this argument, the author might write something like, “The American Diabetes Association reports that the cost of diabetes has risen 41% in five short years, from $174 billion in 2007 to $245 billion in 2012. It’s a social problem that decreases productivity in the workforce and costs taxpayers money.”

By refuting alternate opinions, you make your opponents question their own arguments, which is a powerful tactic indeed.

A Real Argumentative Essay Dissected

To help you wrap your mind around the argumentative essay, I’ll dissect an example from a real argument that I found online.

In a 2013 Slate article, “The End of the College Essay,” author Rebecca Schuman argues against the practice of college teachers assigning essays to students.  She follows the four elements of an argumentative essay as I described above. Here’s a table that breaks it down for you:

Now, as an English buff and a fierce believer in the importance of being able to communicate well through writing, I’m definitely against Schuman’s argument. However, she does such an amazing job writing her argumentative essay that I have to admit she makes a compelling point.

And that, my friends, is the mark of a successful argument!

Final Thoughts on the Argumentative Essay

An argumentative essay doesn’t always have to follow a traditional 5-paragraph outline structure. As long as it contains all four of the elements we discussed, you can write a compelling and thorough argument.

Next time you need to write an argumentative essay, simply create an outline that covers the four steps I discussed. It might look something like this:

Need more help? Read How to Create a Powerful Argumentative Essay Outline.

How many points and counterarguments you include will depend on several factors, including your teacher’s requirements, if applicable, and the number of excellent points you can find to support your position in the first place. When in doubt, refer to the requirements of your assignment.

Also, be sure to include a good hook sentence to start off your paper. You’ll definitely lose the argument if no one wants to read your essay.

Finally, an argumentative essay that is polished and edited will be better received than one that isn’t.

Don’t go into your next argumentative essay empty-handed. Instead, gather the supportive evidence you need to argue and win. Good luck!

* Cover Image Credit: Northern Mockingbird juveniles at a bird bath in Austin, Texas. Original photo by Chiltepinster. (Creative Commons license)

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

How to Write an Argumentative Essay

The argumentative essay, although bearing many similarities to the persuasive (argument) essay, has several very distinct differences.
Basic Essay Format
I. Introduction

II. Body
A. First point and supporting info
B. Second point and supporting info
C. Third point and supporting info

III. Conclusion

The objective of a persuasive essay is to "win" the reader over to your side of an argument, while the primary objective of an argumentative essay is just to show that you have a valid argument, allowing the reader either to adopt your position or to "agree to disagree".

Another difference between the two types of essay is that in the persuasive essay, although you acknowledge the opposing view, only one side of the issue is debated. An important part of the argumentative essay is to use evidence both to substantiate one's own position and to refute the opposing argument.

The final difference between the argumentative essay and the argument (persuasive) essay is the organization of the composition. The persuasive essay follows the basic essay format as displayed in the example.

The argumentative essay may be formatted in several ways:

Example 1: Claim/Counter Claim
  • Introduce the topic and state or explain the question. State both the claim (your position) and the counter claim (the opposing position).
  • Start building a strong case by refuting or disproving the opposing position.
  • Use one paragraph to state each counter point, following your statement with related evidence that refutes the point.
  • Present your case in the second section of the body.
  • Use one paragraph to state each of your points, following your statement with the evidence that proves or supports your point.
  • The conclusion of this format is a restatement of your claim and a summary of the information that supports it.
  • I. Introduction (Claim and counter claim statement)

    II. Body Part I
    A. First counter point and refuting information
    B. Second counter point and refuting information
    C. Third counter point and refuting information

    III Body Part II
    A. First point and supporting information
    B. Second point and supporting information
    C. Third point and supporting information

    IV Conclusion - Restatement of claim and summary of the main ideas




    Example 2: The Cluster Format
  • Introduce the topic and state or explain the question.
  • Start the first section of the body with your statement of claim or position.
  • In this format, you begin by stating and supporting your points. Use one paragraph to state each of your points, following your statement with the evidence that proves or supports your point.
  • Follow each point with an opposing view related to that point and evidence that supports the objection. Use one paragraph for each counter point and its evidence.
  • After you have finished presenting all points, counter points and evidence, start the second section of the body with your rebuttals to each of the counter points.
  • Back your rebuttals with evidence and logic that shows why the objections are invalid. If the opposing view is valid, acknowledge it as so but use your evidence to show that it's somehow unattractive and that your position is the more desirable of the two.
  • Use one paragraph to rebut each counter claim.
  • The conclusion of this format is a restatement of your claim, a summary of supporting information and an assessment of rebuttals.
  • I. Introduction (Claim and counter claim statement)

    II. Body Part I - Presenting the Case
    A. Statement of the claim
    B. First point and supporting information
    C. First point opposition and refuting evidence
    D. Second point and supporting information
    E. Second point opposition and refuting evidence
    F. Third point and supporting information
    G. Third point opposition and refuting evidence

    III. Body Part II- Author's rebuttal
    A. First point rebuttal
    B. Second point rebuttal
    C. Third point rebuttal

    IV Conclusion




    Example 3: The Alternating Format
  • Introduce the topic and state or explain the question.
  • Start the body with your statement of claim or position.
  • In this format, you begin by stating and supporting your points. Use one paragraph to state each of your points, following your statement with the evidence that proves or supports your point.
  • Follow each point with an opposing view related to that point and evidence that supports the objection. Use one paragraph for each counter point and its evidence.
  • Follow each objection with your rebuttal. Use one paragraph to rebut each counter claim.
  • The conclusion of this format is a restatement of your claim, a summary of supporting information and an assessment of rebuttals.
  • I. Introduction (Claim and counter claim statement)

    II. Body
    A. Statement of the claim
    B. First point and supporting information
    C. First point opposition and refuting evidence
    D. First rebuttal and supporting information
    E. Second point and supporting information
    F. Second point opposition and refuting evidence
    G. Second rebuttal and supporting information

    III Conclusion

    Writing the Argumentative Essay
    Now that you know how to format an argumentative essay, it's time to begin writing.

    Again, as in the persuasive essay, state your thesis objectively. Don't use first person. Instead of saying, "I don't think global warming is worth worrying about", you might say, "A two degree rise in temperature over the last hundred years makes global warming a trivial problem."

    Now that you have �put the gloves on" be prepared to back up your thesis with facts. Use statistics, expert quotations, and other evidence in support of your thesis and in rebuttal of counter claims. In addition, all counter claims should be backed with solid evidence as well.

    As you research your material, anticipate objections and be prepared to make concessions. This will help you to research and write your thesis as if you were debating a real person instead of a piece of paper!

    Perhaps the biggest mistake people make in writing an argumentative essay is to substitute their opinions for facts. Remember that each claim you make must be supported by solid evidence if your argument is to hold up to counter claims and objections.

    Although in an argumentative essay you don't have to win the reader over to your side, your objective at the least should be to persuade them to "agree to disagree" with your position and accept it as another point of view that merits further thought and discussion.