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Writing 101

Cary Moskovitz
Duke University

Counterarguments & Concessions


In most direct forms of argument, authors make claims and offer support for their claims. Because readers
of scholarly work know that important questions rarely have simple answers, they expect authors to also
consider seriously both contrary points of view (counterarguments) and evidence that runs counter to an
authors claims (Ill call this counterevidence). When the author admits some legitimacy to
counterarguments or counterevidence, we call them concessions.
Novices often mistakenly believe that including counterarguments or concessions weakens their
arguments, thinking that readers will be more inclined to agree with them if they dont reveal these
weaknesses. But in scholarly writing, these elements generally make your argument more compelling.
Why? First, they enhance your ethoshow your readers feel about you as an author; when you seriously
address a counterargument, when you discuss a study or other evidence that runs counter to your claim,
when you explain how your claim doesnt hold for certain situations, and so on, your readers get the sense
that youre knowledgeable about your subject and that youre being straightforward. Second, scholarly
audiences often know something (maybe a good deal) about the subject; as they read, they think of
objections reasons why your claim might not hold. Since you wont be there to answer their objections,
the best you can do is try to anticipate objections and respond to them in your paper.
When novices first try their hands at making these moves in their papers, however, they often miss
the mark: they confuse serious discussion of these elements with perfunctory or disingenuous discussion.
This might show up as straw man counterargumentsthe rebuttal of counterarguments that no one would
seriously make, or as ad homonym attacksresponses that try to discredit the person rather than refute
the argument. While these irresponsible tricks might work for unsophisticated readers, theyre likely to
backfire for more sophisticated audiences.

TEMPLATES FOR COUNTERARGUMENT, CONCESSION AND RESPONSE


Here are some common phrases used to introduce these moves. Use them freely in your own work, and add
to the list as you find others.
Counterarguments

Responses

[some person or group] claims/argues/suggests that

However,

________s argument implies that

Yet

________ interprets these results to mean that

But this interpretation is flawed/questionable

According to [someone], [claim about science]

Yet the bulk of studies on the subject suggest

Critics/supporters of ________ argue that

But what they fail to acknowledge is

Concession

Response

Of course,

But this does not mean

I concede that

Nevertheless,

It is true that

However, it is also true that

It may well be that

In spite of this

Have there been contrary findings? Yes,

But

While we acknowledge that

we should not overlook the fact that

Critics of ____ are right that

but what they fail to recognize is

There are in fact published studies that suggest

Yet these results are contradicted by

It is possible that

But it is more likely that

The results could be interpreted to mean

But a more compelling interpretation is

ELEMENTS OF ACADEMIC ARGUMENT

Writing 101
Cary Moskovitz

Exercise 1: Identifying the moves

In the passage below, try to identify the following with notes in the margin:

claims,

support for claims

counterarguments (or counterevidence)

concessions

responses to counterarguments or concessions

Underline the words that signal the move to the reader.

In 1998, John Colquhoun published an argument against water fluoridation. Newborn and
Horowitz wrote a response to Colquhoun arguing for fluoridation.1 The following passage comes
from that response.

Opponents of water fluoridation often argue that [cavities are] caused


simply by poor nutrition and that a good diet alone can impede dental
decay. Of course, diets that severely restrict sugar intake can limit decay.
The relationship between sugar intake and caries in humans has not been
ignored by supporters of water fluoridation [36]. However, dietary control,
particularly the restriction of sugary foods, is not a practical public health
method for caries prevention, because it can only work on populations that
are institutionalized
Colquhoun's statement that fluoridation is practiced only in America
and in countries under strong American influence is patently false.
Singapore (100 percent fluoridated), Hong Kong (100 percent fluoridated),
Malaysia (44 percent fluoridated) are hardly all under the hegemony of
the United States.

Newbrun, E. and Horowitz, H. Why we have not changed our minds about water fluoridation. Perspectives
in Biology and Medicine. 42:526-30 , 1999.

ELEMENTS OF ACADEMIC ARGUMENT

Writing 101
Cary Moskovitz

Exercise 2: Employing Counterargument, Concession and Response


This exercise is intended to help you learn to employ concessions, counter-arguments and
responses in constructing an argument. I will expect to see you incorporate similar rhetorical
elements in your commentary.

Part A: Draft the elements

I will assign groups to argue for one of the claims listed at the bottom of this page. Using
what you know about the topic, construct the elements listed below on a separate sheet
of paper. (For this exercise its OK to play a bit loose with the facts.)
1. Your main claim (assigned)
2. 1-2 principal items of support for your claim (evidence, reasons, etc.)
3. A counter-argument: a reason/piece of evidence/argument that contradicts your claim and
that you believe is not valid?
a. A response to that counterargument: Why should we not accept the
counterargument?
4. A concession: a reason/piece of evidence/argument that contradicts your claim, but that you
believe has validity.
a. A response to that counterargument: Why should we accept your claim in spite of
your concessions?

Part B: Draft a paragraph using these elements


Combine the elements from Part A into a paragraph into a brief argument for your claim.
Use the elements in the order that seems most effective. Pay attention to wording; in particular,
be sure each move is phrased in a way that makes its rhetorical function clear to a reader (i.e., a
claim should read like a claim; a concession should read like a concession). Your audience is your
classmates.
If your group finishes before the rest of the class, work on refining your prose.

Claims to argue:
1. Duke administrators should formally discourage frequent coffee consumption for
students.
2. Duke administrators should not discourage frequent coffee consumption for students.
3. Drinking coffee is generally healthy for obese individuals.
4. Drinking coffee is generally unhealthy for obese individuals.
5.
6. D