So, you’re laboring over a killer argumentative essay — and you want to make absolutely sure that you have all your bases covered? Your essay absolutely needs at least one counterclaim with a rebuttal if you are determined to make it the best it can be.
Unless you are already an experiences essayist, however, it can prove tough to write a solid counterclaim. Watch and learn — with this guide, you’ll get ready to write a powerful counterclaim in no time!
Essay Counterclaim: The Basics
The “too long; didn’t read” version is as follows — a counterclaim is a rhetorical tool used in essay writing. You present a viewpoint for which you are not arguing in a counterclaim, and then proceed to refute it; explaining why people should disagree with the opposing argument and agree with you, instead.
As you’re writing your essay, you will inevitably make various claims. Claims can be defined as debatable statements — the views for which you are arguing in your essay. Your thesis statement will be the main, overarching, claim you make in your essay, and this can be followed by multiple further claims in favor of your argument.
Let’s see this in action:
- Thesis: “Unleashed dogs are a serious public health concern in Masonville. Policy must be amended to make it mandatory for all dogs to be leashed, at all times, and fines must be imposed on those who fail to comply.”
- Claim: “Unleashed dogs have decimated the local deer population.”
- Claim: “5 children and an elderly person have sustained serious dog bites that required medical attention in the last three years.”
- Claim: “Data from other jurisdictions shows that imposing penalties for unleashed dogs reduces incidents with dogs immensely.”
If your essay looks something like this, you’re building a compelling case. You have defined your viewpoint, offered arguments that lead to a conclusion, and you have also shared data that your proposed solution could work.
To truly make a convincing argument, you have to show that you understand the subject matter you are tackling deeply — something that inevitably includes listening to the opposing side in the argument.
That is where your counterclaim comes in. A counterclaim can be defined as a claim that directly opposes yours.
If your reaction is “Wait, what!? I have to argue against myself?” right now, hold on. There are multiple strong reasons to include a counterclaim in your essay. Here’s a look:
- By including a counterclaim, or indeed multiple, you show that you don’t have tunnel vision. You have also considered the other side.
- Readers who support the other side of the argument will likely react with a “Yes, that’s right!”. This has the effect of making them feel heard, which in turn makes them more open to listening to you.
- After all that, you can — finally — respectfully and artfully refute the counterclaim. You understand the opposing viewpoint and you have deeply considered its merits, but you disagree. Lay out why, and why those who previously agreed with the opposing argument might want to consider coming over to your side, instead.
Let’s see that in action again:
Many dog owners claim that leashing dogs robs them of the ability to run around and have fun — something they consider integral to their dogs’ health and wellbeing. While it is certainly true that dogs need exercise, long leashes allow for plenty of freedom of movement. Dog parks, where dogs could run free, are another possible solution in this case.
Claim vs Counterclaim: What Is the Difference?
The difference between a claim and a counterclaim can best be summed up by saying that a claim is used to argue the position you are defending in your essay, while a counterclaim takes the opposing viewpoint. A counterclaim is an argument against your argument, in other words.
That is not the only difference between the two. To make an effective claim, a writer simply has to:
- Make the claim.
- Provide evidence or logical arguments supporting the claim.
- Where desired, follow this with rhetorical tools such as appeals to emotion or logic to further convince the audience.
A counterclaim requires more elements:
- The counterclaim itself — which states an opposing argument.
- Evidence that people in fact hold this view is very much welcomed; to make a good counterclaim, you cannot simply lay out positions that are almost never taken.
- An explanation as to why people may hold this view.
- Finally, a rebuttal, in which you explain why the counterclaim is weak, and your original position is correct.
How to Write an Effective Counterclaim: Step-by-Step
Writing an effective counterclaim — or even several, as you may be called to do in longer essays — can be challenging. That is particularly true if you fervently believe in the argument you are making, and have a hard time understanding how anyone could disagree with it.
However, it is important to remain as objective as possible as you craft a counterclaim for your essay. Here is a look at the process you may use to decide on a good counterclaim.
- Deciding Where to Place Your Counterclaim
It is typically very effective to open your essay with a compelling hook, which may consist of a powerful anecdote, statistics, or a dramatic introduction to a pressing problem. You will then want to introduce your thesis statement, and begin making claims — which you back up with evidence and further arguments.
Your counterclaim, or counter claims, should be placed after this portion of your essay. In short essays, that means it will be somewhere near the end. However, you will want to summarize your main argument succinctly and write a memorable conclusion in the paragraphs that follow your counterclaim paragraph.
- Deciding How Long Your Counterclaim Should Be
The length of a counterclaim, and indeed the number of counterclaims you decide to include, depends on the target length of your essay. You will typically require at least a short paragraph to be able to do your counterclaim justice, because you are not simply stating that some people disagree with your argument. You also want to explain why.
In some cases, you will be able to write a short rebuttal in the same paragraph. In others, you may choose to refute the counterclaim in the next paragraph.
- Researching Opposing Viewpoints
To write an effective counterclaim, it is important to understand the arguments that may be used to oppose your claims. Don’t simply turn your claim or thesis statement on its head, but research why people disagree with the argument you are making, and on what basis. Where possible, try to find out how common the view you are portraying in your counterclaim is.
- Presenting the Opposing Viewpoint Fairly
Once you immerse yourself in the types of arguments people who disagree with your thesis make, and truly understand where they are coming from, you are ready to craft a good counterclaim. Try this exercise first. Imagine what you would write if you sincerely held the opposing view, and then go ahead and do it.
- Writing Your Counterclaim Paragraph
Before presenting the counterclaim, you will need to introduce the fact that you will be doing this by making a smooth transition in your writing. Good ways to start your counterclaim paragraph include:
- “Critics have argued that…”
- “Some people may conclude that”
- “On the other side of the argument, people are concerned that…”
- “The opposing viewpoint states that…”
Once you have stated the alternative view, go ahead and describe why that view is held. Present evidence.
You can now either start a new paragraph to write a rebuttal, or — if you can keep it short — do so in the same paragraph.
A rebuttal can include:
- Reasons why the opposing view you presented in your counterclaim is weak or false.
- An acknowledgment that the views presented in the counterclaim have merit, but there is a solution that would render the concerns the opposing side has baseless.
- An explanation that the views presented in the counterclaim are exceedingly rare, or the benefits of your argument outweigh the risks the counterclaim sets forth.
Additional Tips on Writing a Counterclaim
If you have followed along so far, you are almost ready to make a very effective counterclaim, complete with a refutation. You may even have penned a draft. So far, so good, but you do have some additional things to watch out for as you write your counterclaim:
- Be objective in the language you use. Do not state that you disagree with the counterclaim, or argue that some people “erroneously believe that…”, for example. Simply present the counterclaim as an alternative opinion.
- Be fair. Do not caricature the viewpoint you are presenting in your counterclaim. Do not use condescending language. When you share the opposing argument, do so using words that those who hold that view may, in fact, use.
- Don’t forget to include evidence. Your evidence can demonstrate that a significant percentage of people hold the view you address in your counterclaim, and it should also, where possible, back up the counterclaim. In the example we used earlier, regarding the benefits of allowing dogs to run around without being leashed, you could look for studies that show that dogs need a certain amount of physical exercise.
- Be fair in your rebuttal, too. The extent to which you do this depends on your aim. If you are writing a high school or college essay, you may simply prefer to throw some hard-hitting verbal punches. If, on the other hand, you are sincerely hoping to convince people who currently hold the alternative opinion you just described that you are right, you will have to be more careful. Validate their underlying concerns or values, and explain why your argument works within that context.
Does every essay need a counterclaim?
No. There are many kinds of essays. An expository essay, for instance, simply explores a topic, and will not need a counterclaim. A narrative essay shares the writer’s personal experience, and will not require a counterclaim. Counterclaims have an important place in argumentative essays, which require the writer to demonstrate that they understand the topic thoroughly and have considered all sides.
How many counterclaims should I include?
If you make multiple claims, you may choose to write a counterclaim for each of them. Depending on the length of your essay, you may even decide to include multiple counterclaims for each claim.