When you write an academic essay, you make an argument: you propose a thesis and offer some reasoning, using evidence, that suggests why the thesis is true. When you counter-argue, you consider a possible argument against your thesis or some aspect of your reasoning. This is a good way to test your ideas when drafting, while you still have time to revise them. And in the finished essay, it can be a persuasive and (in both senses of the word) disarming tactic. It allows you to anticipate doubts and pre-empt objections that a skeptical reader might have; it presents you as the kind of person who weighs alternatives before arguing for one, who confronts difficulties instead of sweeping them under the rug, who is more interested in discovering the truth than winning a point.
Not every objection is worth entertaining, of course, and you shouldn't include one just to include one. But some imagining of other views, or of resistance to one's own, occurs in most good essays. And instructors are glad to encounter counterargument in student papers, even if they haven't specifically asked for it.
The Turn Against
Counterargument in an essay has two stages: you turn against your argument to challenge it and then you turn back to re-affirm it. You first imagine a skeptical reader, or cite an actual source, who might resist your argument by pointing out
- a problem with your demonstration, e.g., that a different conclusion could be drawn from the same facts, a key assumption is unwarranted, a key term is used unfairly, certain evidence is ignored or played down;
- one or more disadvantages or practical drawbacks to what you propose;
- an alternative explanation or proposal that makes more sense.
You introduce this turn against with a phrase like One might object here that... or It might seem that... or It's true that... or Admittedly,... or Of course,... or with an anticipated challenging question: But how...? or But why...? or But isn't this just...? or But if this is so, what about...? Then you state the case against yourself as briefly but as clearly and forcefully as you can, pointing to evidence where possible. (An obviously feeble or perfunctory counterargument does more harm than good.)
The Turn Back
Your return to your own argument—which you announce with a but, yet, however, nevertheless or still—must likewise involve careful reasoning, not a flippant (or nervous) dismissal. In reasoning about the proposed counterargument, you may
- refute it, showing why it is mistaken—an apparent but not real problem;
- acknowledge its validity or plausibility, but suggest why on balance it's relatively less important or less likely than what you propose, and thus doesn't overturn it;
- concede its force and complicate your idea accordingly—restate your thesis in a more exact, qualified, or nuanced way that takes account of the objection, or start a new section in which you consider your topic in light of it. This will work if the counterargument concerns only an aspect of your argument; if it undermines your whole case, you need a new thesis.
Where to Put a Counterargument
Counterargument can appear anywhere in the essay, but it most commonly appears
- as part of your introduction—before you propose your thesis—where the existence of a different view is the motive for your essay, the reason it needs writing;
- as a section or paragraph just after your introduction, in which you lay out the expected reaction or standard position before turning away to develop your own;
- as a quick move within a paragraph, where you imagine a counterargument not to your main idea but to the sub-idea that the paragraph is arguing or is about to argue;
- as a section or paragraph just before the conclusion of your essay, in which you imagine what someone might object to what you have argued.
But watch that you don't overdo it. A turn into counterargument here and there will sharpen and energize your essay, but too many such turns will have the reverse effect by obscuring your main idea or suggesting that you're ambivalent.
Counterargument in Pre-Writing and Revising
Good thinking constantly questions itself, as Socrates observed long ago. But at some point in the process of composing an essay, you need to switch off the questioning in your head and make a case. Having such an inner conversation during the drafting stage, however, can help you settle on a case worth making. As you consider possible theses and begin to work on your draft, ask yourself how an intelligent person might plausibly disagree with you or see matters differently. When you can imagine an intelligent disagreement, you have an arguable idea.
And, of course, the disagreeing reader doesn't need to be in your head: if, as you're starting work on an essay, you ask a few people around you what they think of topic X (or of your idea about X) and keep alert for uncongenial remarks in class discussion and in assigned readings, you'll encounter a useful disagreement somewhere. Awareness of this disagreement, however you use it in your essay, will force you to sharpen your own thinking as you compose. If you come to find the counterargument truer than your thesis, consider making it your thesis and turning your original thesis into a counterargument. If you manage to draft an essay without imagining a counterargument, make yourself imagine one before you revise and see if you can integrate it.
Copyright 1999, Gordon Harvey (adapted from The Academic Essay: A Brief Anatomy), for the Writing Center at Harvard University
Persuasive essays are those in which you must convince a reader that your position on an issue is the correct one. Thus, you may want to convince an audience that animal testing is immoral or that genetically modified foods are harmful. Perhaps you want to convince someone that the proposed Canadian pipeline or fracking poses dangers to our environment; maybe you believe that there is too much money spent on political campaigns. Whatever your topic and whatever your position, you must organize an essay that flows logically from one point to the next.
Good Transitions = Logical Flow
You may have done great research and you may have great arguments in favor of our position. If they are not presented well, though, your essay will fall flat and your reader will not be convinced.
Part of a good presentation means than you understand how to use transition words for persuasive essays. So, let’s first look at what a transition is and then take a look at good transition words and phrases for essays.
Definition of Transitions: These are words or phrases that connect one thought or idea to the next. They can be used to connect thoughts in two sentences or to move the reader on to the next paragraph in a logical way. They can be single words, phrases, or complete sentences. Typical examples might include the following:
- Words: Clearly, Definitely, Obviously, Furthermore, However, Notwithstanding, First (Second, etc.)
- Phrases: Without question, What is more, In reality, In fact, Yet another, For example (instance), In other words, According to,
- Sentences: These usually occur at the end of a paragraph as you are trying to move your reader into the point that will be covered in the next paragraph. For example, if you are writing a persuasive essay about money in politics, and you have just completed a paragraph on the Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision, you might end that paragraph with something like, “This decision has impacted campaign and elections in many ways.” Now, your reader is prepared for what is to come next – the ways in which that decision has affected campaigns/elections.
Now, your next paragraph in such an essay will speak to one impact that the decision has had – perhaps the establishment of PAC’s into which donors can throw a much money as they wish. At the end of that paragraph, you will want to transition into the next point you will be making, so your transition sentence might read something like, “And once a campaign has been successful because of all of the donated money, the elected official will have certain obligations to those who have provided that campaign funding.” This sentence contains great a lead in to the next paragraph which will discuss how an elected official is then obligate to vote and make decisions based upon the desires of those who provided the funding.
Whether you are using persuasive essay transition wordsbetween sentences or entire phrases or sentences between paragraphs, your transitions connect your arguments and allow the reader to see where you are going next. If you don’t use these transitions, the reader cannot follow your argument!
Primary Uses for Transition Words and Phrases of Essaysthat Attempt to Persuade
You have to think about the flow of your essay and what you are trying to do with your use of transitional words, phrases and sentences. Basically, the purposes of your transitions are any one of the following:
- Adding to a Point You Have Made: You will use such words/phrases as: Furthermore, What is more, In addition to, Likewise, Moreover
- Providing Examples: Use such phrases as, for instance, for example, in other words
- Providing Lists: Use any of the following: First, second, third (etc.), yet another, the following.
- Same Point Stated in a Different Way: Good phrases include, in other words, with this in mind, another way to look at this, etc.
Transitions Can Be Tricky
You know that you need to use transitional words correctly, especially when you are trying to make points that will persuade someone to accept your point of view. Without them, your essay loses clarity and logic. If you are having trouble with transitions, you can get great help at http://www.grabmyessay.com/write-my-essay. These pros can either write your persuasive essay in its entirety or provide a review and edit, adding the words, phrases, and/or sentences that should be included in order to achieve your persuasive purose.
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