“I’m all about that rebuttal.” English 1020 Breaux


• • • Sometimes, people think that including counterarguments weakens their own argument, but that is not the case.

It’s expected in academic argument/scholarly writing, and it’s an important part of everyday disagreement, as well.

This can, in fact, enhance your ethos—how readers feel about you and how much they trust you. Most readers will respond positively because it makes you seem thoughtful and reasonable.

Classic Academic Argument


Counter Argument

Reasons Reasons

Rebuttal Rogerian Evidence Evidence Evidence

Summarize Other Side

• • • • Must begin with honest acknowledgement of the objections or concerns, i.e. giving a fair summary of their argument Requires restrained tone and careful argument— remain respectful yet firm Avoid summarizing the other side in such a way that you oversimplify it, distort it, or make it sound so ridiculous as if no one could possible have the view (you are then committing the fallacy of “building a straw man”) Avoid attacking the person herself behind the views (because then you are committing the “ad hominem” fallacy) or referring to the other side in loaded, dismissive, deprecating terms

Unfair Summary

• • “In a biased article lacking scientific understanding of biotechnology, natural-foods huckster Lisa Turner parrots the health industry’s party line that genetically altered crops are Frankenstein’s monsters run amok. She ignorantly claims that consumption of biotech foods will lead to worldwide destruction, disease, and death, ignoring the wealth of scientific literature showing that genetically modified foods are safe. Her misinformed attacks are scare tactics aimed at selling consumers on overpriced “health food” products to be purchased at boutique organic-food stores.”

[Notice how Turner is referenced, how it is assumed that she has no good reason for her position or has not done research, the extreme language used, and the adjectives that already show author’s prejudice.]

No one expects you to agree with all points of view, but it damages your credibility when you don’t fairly represent the other side before responding to it with your own views.

Fair Summary

• “In an article appearing in a nutrition magazine, health food advocate Lisa Turner warns readers that much of our food today is genetically modified using gene-level techniques that differ completely from ordinary crossbreeding. She argues that the potential, unforeseen, harmful consequences of genetic engineering offsets the possible benefits of increasing the food supply, reducing the use of pesticides, and boosting the nutritional value of foods. Turner asserts that genetic engineering is an imprecise, untested, unpredictable, irreversible, and also uncontrollable because of animals, insects, and winds.”


• • • Counter-argument may have its own set of claim, reasons, evidence.

They can appear as answers to arguments that have already been stated, or the writer may anticipate the reader’s rebuttal and include answers to possible objections that may be raised.

Phrases that may introduce opposing points of view/concerns and then rebuttal are Some may disagree…, Others may think…, Commonly held opinions are…, Perhaps you’re worried that…, One concern is…, followed by the opposing ideas and then your reasons and evidence for rejecting them.

Rebut Other Side

• • • • A rebuttal (or refutation) explicitly argues that readers’ objections may be invalid or that their concerns are irrelevant Rebut the writer’s stated reasons for his claim Rebut the writer’s unstated/implicit assumptions linking the claim and reasons (what he believes to be true or important) Rebut the writer’s evidence (this may including citing counterexamples, or casting doubt on the representativeness, relevance, recency, credibility, or accuracy of examples/data/quotations/referenced experts)

Example 1

• It is true, word-processors are less expensive than computers. [You

meet the big objection dead on. The concession is your

agreement.] However, we must also consider the cost of servicing and supplies, which are much higher for word-processors than they are for computers, making word processors less expensive only in the short run. Additionally, a computer is capable of many tasks, while a word-processor alone is not. As our business grows, we can easily expand our computer software to meet new needs, such as spreadsheet and desktop publishing capabilities. [Here you show

why your point of view is still the best.]

Here is also your opportunity to actually compare costs; this shows you've really done your job thoroughly.

Example 2

• • • • Now, it may well be argued that universities are already shortchanging their students by stuffing them into huge lecture halls where, unlike at rock concerts or basketball games, the lecturer can’t even be seen on a giant screen in real time. If they’re already short changed with impersonal institutions, what’s the harm in offering canned lecture notes? [Here, Gitlin first states the objection fully and


The amphitheater lecture is indeed, for all but the most engaging professor, a lesser form of instruction, and scarcely to be idealized. Still, Education by Download [actual article he is responding to] misses one of the keys to learning . Education is a meeting of the minds, a process through which the student educes, draws from within, a respond to what the teacher teaches. The very act of taking notes—not reading someone else’s notes, no matter how stellar—is a way of engaging the material, wrestling with it, struggling to comprehend or take issue, but in any case entering the work. The point is to decide, while you are listening, what matters in the presentation. And while I don’t believe that most of life consists of showing up, education does begin with that— with immersing yourself in the activity at hand, listening, thinking, judging, offering active responses. A download is a poor substitute. Explains why the objection is

not valid and what the other side sees as a problem is actually good and important.]

{From Todd Gitlin, “Disappearing Ink”}


• • Claim: “We shouldn’t elect Joe as committee chair because he is too bossy.” The unstated assumption there is that Bossy people make bad committee chairs or that bossy is not a good quality.

• • We could rebut the argument via the stated reason that Joe is too bossy.

“I disagree that Joey is bossy. In fact, Joe is very unbossy. He’s a good listener who’s willing to compromise, and he involves others in decisions. The example you cite for his being difficult isn’t typical. It was a one-time circumstance that doesn’t reflect his normal behavior. [The writer could then provide examples of Joe’s cooperative nature and personal experiences with him.]”


• • • • • Consider why reasonable people may legitimately disagree with you/have a different opinion. Think of opposing viewpoints, objections, and concerns.

Choose the most common or important disagreement (objections) to focus on.

Fairly and objectively summarize the other side’s position/argument.

Figure out what part of the other side’s position you don’t agree with or what part forms the core of the disagreement.

Respond logically with reasons and evidence to the parts you don’t agree with (rebuttal/refutation) or that you found problematic.


• • •

Look for important aspects of the issue that the other person has left out of their argument Challenge the other position if it relies too much on one appeal over others Challenge the other position if it commits any fallacies

Practice with Claim

“Recently, LSU adopted a +/- grade system. SLCC should do the same.”

• • • •

What are possible objections? Try to state them fairly.

Now, intentionally state them unfairly.

Respond to those objections (whether or not you personally agree with the claim). Now, rebut any part of the actual claim above.

“Genetic Modification of Babies”

In small groups, discuss Green’s article.

• • • • •


What is his position on the issue, and why does he feel this way?

Do the fifth and sixth paragraphs set forth your response? If not, what is your response?

Does Green seem to adequately represent the other side/possible objections? If not, what could he do differently, or what problems do you see?

If you are a believer in any of the “biblically derived faiths,” does the comment in paragraph 15 allay doubts you may have about the acceptability of human genetic improvement? As in—does his rebuttal convince you? Could he have made a better rebuttal?

“Genetic Modification of Babies”

In small groups, discuss Hayes’ article.

• • • •


Do you believe that in his first paragraph, Hayes fairly summarizes Green’s essay? If not, why not?

How strong is Hayes’ article as a rebuttal to Green? Does he ignore other good counter-arguments to Green that you would add?

How do you respond to Hayes if you are more in agreement with Green?


• • • Writing Arguments by Ramage, Bean, and


Perspectives on Argument by Wood St. Martin’s Guide to Writing by Axelrod and