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Words of Wisdom

Those of us who have been doomed to read manuscripts written in an examination room—whether at a grammar school, high school, or a college—have found the work of even good scholars disfigured by bad spelling, confusing punctuation, ungrammatical, obscure, ambiguous, or inelegant expressions. Everyone who has had much to do with the graduating classes of our best colleges has known men who could not write a letter describing their own Commencement without making blunders which would disgrace a boy twelve years old.

— Adam Sherman Hill



So, you’ve just written up an argument on the topic you’ve been researching.
You know it’ll be scrutinized by your instructor, but you’re not quite sure how.
Enter counterarguments. When constructing an argument, it’s beneficial to anticipate what kind of
points “the opposition” may make against your argument. If you anticipate what arguments your
opponents might make to discredit you, you can cut them off at the pass by showing how their
arguments are not solid. That’s called a counterargument.
In other words, a surefire way to ensure your position is well defended is to build a good offense. Attack
your own position to find weak spots and build your defenses. It’s all about anticipating what your
opponents might say, saying it first, and showing why it’s wrong.
Let’s say you’re making the argument that private citizens should not be able to own tigers.
Now that we’ve identified the argument, we can also identify two sides: your side, those for private tiger
ownership regulation, along with the opposition, those against.
Ask yourself what argument your opponent would make against your position
Building a strong counterargument takes three steps. First, identify the naysayers. Personifying the
opposition gives the counterargument some context.
You can take it a step further by identifying a specific person who embodies the perspective you’re
trying to represent. For example, your instructor may even have a private tiger they take for walks.
Second, represent objections fairly. A weak counterargument does very little to strengthen your own
This is the distinct difference between crafting a substantial counterargument and building up a straw
man designed to be easily refuted. The straw man is a fallacy that does little to support your own
argument, like if you made the counterargument: “well, you’re basically saying no one can own a pet.”
The straw man you just constructed is not only false, but does very little to improve your argument.
It’s a stronger argument to say that anyone can keep any pet as long as it can be properly cared for and
Last, answer the objections you outlined in the form of a rebuttal. A rebuttal is simply a statement of
why a given point is wrong, in this case, the opposing argument. For example, you could say, “Making
private tiger ownership illegal does not impinge on the rights of citizens to own pets. Tigers are not bred
to be pets. They are wild animals and, given their nature and their strength, they cannot be controlled in
a way that ensures public safety..”
Through this process, acknowledge strong points made by the opposition. This is called making
So, you could make a concession to the opposition by conceding that it is possible to care well for tigers,
keeping them well-fed and in good condition. But then, you add, that does not mean they can be
properly cared for by everyday citizens, or kept from doing harm such as attacking their keepers or the
By acknowledging the opposing view’s argument, you show that you’re open-minded and willing to
challenge your own beliefs. The strongest arguments can make concessions, and use them to more
accurately pick apart where the opposing view is wrong.
If your argument isn’t capable of withstanding well-constructed counterarguments, you may want to
rethink your position. Many students are fearful of acknowledging counterarguments; but, if your
argument is strong enough, you’ll be able to make substantial counterarguments work to your own
And maybe think about adopting a cat… instead of a tiger.
For more information on arguments, check out the handouts on our website at

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

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