21 Argument, Counterargument, & Refutation

In academic writing, we often use an Argument essay structure. Argument essays have these familiar components, just like other types of essays:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body Paragraphs
  3. Conclusion

But Argument essays also contain these particular elements:

  1. Debatable thesis statement in the Introduction
  2. Argument – paragraphs which show support for the author’s thesis (for example: reasons, evidence, data, statistics)
  3. Counterargument – at least one paragraph which explains the opposite point of view
  4. Concession – a sentence or two acknowledging that there could be some truth to the Counterargument
  5. Refutation (also called Rebuttal) – sentences which explain why the Counterargument is not as strong as the original Argument

Consult Introductions & Titles for more on writing debatable thesis statements and Paragraphs ~ Developing Support for more about developing your Argument.

Imagine that you are writing about vaping. After reading several articles and talking with friends about vaping, you decide that you are strongly opposed to it.

Which working thesis statement would be better?

Vaping should be illegal because it can lead to serious health problems.

Many students do not like vaping.

Because the first option provides a debatable position, it is a better starting point for an Argument essay.

Next, you would need to draft several paragraphs to explain your position. These paragraphs could include facts that you learned in your research, such as statistics about vapers’ health problems, the cost of vaping, its effects on youth, its harmful effects on people nearby, and so on, as an appeal to logos. If you have a personal story about the effects of vaping, you might include that as well, either in a Body Paragraph or in your Introduction, as an appeal to pathos.

A strong Argument essay would not be complete with only your reasons in support of your position. You should also include a Counterargument, which will show your readers that you have carefully researched and considered both sides of your topic. This shows that you are taking a measured, scholarly approach to the topic – not an overly-emotional approach, or an approach which considers only one side. This helps to establish your ethos as the author. It shows your readers that you are thinking clearly and deeply about the topic, and your Concession (“this may be true”) acknowledges that you understand other opinions are possible.

Here are some ways to introduce a Counterargument:

  1. Some people believe that vaping is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes.
  2. Critics argue that vaping is safer than conventional cigarettes.
  3. On the other hand, one study has shown that vaping can help people quit smoking cigarettes.

Your paragraph would then go on to explain more about this position; you would give evidence here from your research about the point of view that opposes your own opinion.

Note: if you are having trouble finding a Counterargument, take another look at your thesis statement. Is it debatable? If so, then there will be a Counterargument. If not, perhaps your thesis is just stating an obvious fact or uncontroversial idea. In that case, try doing some more research on your topic, and then revise your thesis.

Here are some ways to begin a Concession and Refutation:

  1. While this may be true for some adults, the risks of vaping for adolescents outweigh its benefits.
  2. Although these critics may have been correct before, new evidence shows that vaping is, in some cases, even more harmful than smoking.
  3. This may have been accurate for adults wishing to quit smoking; however, there are other methods available to help people stop using cigarettes.

Your paragraph would then continue your Refutation by explaining more reasons why the Counterargument is weak. This also serves to explain why your original Argument is strong. This is a good opportunity to prove to your readers that your original Argument is the most worthy, and to persuade them to agree with you.


Activity ~ Practice with Counterarguments, Concessions, and Refutations

A. Examine the following thesis statements with a partner. Is each one debatable?

B. Write  your own Counterargument, Concession, and Refutation for each thesis statement.

Thesis Statements:

  1. Vaping should be illegal because it can lead to serious health problems.
  2. Online classes are a better option than face-to-face classes for college students who have full-time jobs.
  3. Students who engage in cyberbullying should be expelled from school.
  4. Unvaccinated children pose risks to those around them.
  5. Governments should be allowed to regulate internet access within their countries.


Is this chapter:

…too easy, or you would like more detail? Read “Further Your Understanding: Refutation and Rebuttal” from Lumen’s Writing Skills Lab.

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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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