How To Write An Opposing Essay

Rebuttal Sections


This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

Contributors: Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 04:25:15

In order to present a fair and convincing message, you may need to anticipate, research, and outline some of the common positions (arguments) that dispute your thesis. If the situation (purpose) calls for you to do this, you will present and then refute these other positions in the rebuttal section of your essay.

It is important to consider other positions because in most cases, your primary audience will be fence-sitters. Fence-sitters are people who have not decided which side of the argument to support.

People who are on your side of the argument will not need a lot of information to align with your position. People who are completely against your argument—perhaps for ethical or religious reasons—will probably never align with your position no matter how much information you provide. Therefore, the audience you should consider most important are those people who haven't decided which side of the argument they will support—the fence-sitters.

In many cases, these fence-sitters have not decided which side to align with because they see value in both positions. Therefore, to not consider opposing positions to your own in a fair manner may alienate fence-sitters when they see that you are not addressing their concerns or discussion opposing positions at all.

Organizing your rebuttal section

Following the TTEB method outlined in the Body Paragraph section, forecast all the information that will follow in the rebuttal section and then move point by point through the other positions addressing each one as you go. The outline below, adapted from Seyler's Understanding Argument, is an example of a rebuttal section from a thesis essay.

When you rebut or refute an opposing position, use the following three-part organization:

The opponent’s argument: Usually, you should not assume that your reader has read or remembered the argument you are refuting. Thus, at the beginning of your paragraph, you need to state, accurately and fairly, the main points of the argument you will refute.

Your position: Next, make clear the nature of your disagreement with the argument or position you are refuting. Your position might assert, for example, that a writer has not proved his assertion because he has provided evidence that is outdated, or that the argument is filled with fallacies.

Your refutation: The specifics of your counterargument will depend upon the nature of your disagreement. If you challenge the writer’s evidence, then you must present the more recent evidence. If you challenge assumptions, then you must explain why they do not hold up. If your position is that the piece is filled with fallacies, then you must present and explain each fallacy.

A persuasive essay is difficult enough to write, but what if you are assigned to discuss or prove a point of view you don’t agree with? How can you effectively debate controversial issues you do not support? Will your biases negatively affect your research? Here are some tips on how to write a research paper or term paper that presents a viewpoint that is not your own. Also check out Questia’s tutorial on Using the Library to research opposing viewpoints you can debate.

Kathleen McMurdo discussed the theory of writing persuasive essays in Structured Writing II: Using Inspiration Software to Teach Essay Development. “The purpose of the persuasive essay is to present a definite opinion about a controversial issue and persuade the reader to feel likewise about the subject,” she explained. “Writers must clearly explain their opinions in positive terms and include compelling facts and reasons to support that point of view. The persuasive essay speaks with confidence, clarity, and sincerity.”

Why bother with the opposing view?

Why should you even bother to participate in perpetuating the viewpoint of a person or organization you disagree with? What good will that do? Actually, quite a bit. According to Butte College’s tip sheet “Writing a persuasive essay”: “This may be challenging, but it is also rewarding. Learning to be persuasive on a subject you yourself do not support wholeheartedly is a valuable life skill–think of marketing, legal, education, and human resources professions, for example. When you practice looking at an issue from many sides, you may find that you have learned something.”

Some topics, such as gay rights, abortion and climate change, can really rile people up, and it might be difficult to write about opposing views on these subjects. When writing a persuasive essay with a viewpoint you do endorse, you are asked to consider the opposing view so you can counter it with evidence and answer questions that readers might have.

Research the other viewpoint

For an argument you don’t agree with, you must first do some research. If you truly do not understand what makes the other side tick, try these steps:

  • Join a discussion group or public meeting and take notes
  • Read local newspapers
  • Watch YouTube lectures or speeches
  • Read books and magazine articles on the subject
  • Familiarize yourself on the opposing viewpoint’s key issues and points of contention

Once you have gathered information, opinions and feelings about their side of the argument, ask a friend to do some role-playing with you. You can debate your “new” viewpoint and make a convincing discussion. Include the highlights of this debate in your paper.

Be respectful and factual

When writing your paper, above all, be respectful. Don’t denigrate the viewpoint you disagree with even as you are writing a paper trying to defend it. The lesson is to listen and understand the other side, not to refute it.

The following advice was offered in Bellevue College writing lab’s advice on “Writing a persuasive essay“: “Be pleasant. Nobody wants to agree with a nasty person. Rely on a calm, logical presentation of facts to deliver your point. Persuasion often involves emotion, but be careful that your argument relies more on facts than on feelings.” Use statistics, and study findings, examples and quotations from leading figures in the movement to back up your argument.

Present the opposing view

In a typical persuasive essay, you would include a section acknowledging the opposing viewpoint, weighing the evidence, then refuting the opposing side why explaining why your side is more credible or beneficial. This might be difficult if you already don’t believe the side you are trying to defend.

Nevertheless, it will give you a chance to analyze your true beliefs and find the flaws in them. Think about the questions you might have: Are there any illogical or overly emotional viewpoints that you can’t back up with facts? What are the weaknesses in your argument? The answers to these questions can be included in your paper.

How do you think you would fare writing an essay on a viewpoint you don’t agree with?

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