Further Your Understanding: Refutation and Rebuttal

Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate strategies for rebuttal and refutation of counterargument

Now let’s take a look at examples of rebuttal and refutation and consider how students follow these guidelines to approach counterarguments to their viewpoints. When you write a refutation or a counterargument, aim to do the following:

  1. Accurately represent opposing viewpoints.
  2. Use a respectful, non-incendiary tone.
  3. Use reliable information.
  4. Use qualifying words.

For example, a student named Felix is writing an argument paper on why the university should not have cut funding to the school’s library.

Felix’s arguable thesis reads as follows: Because Northern State University has a mission statement that includes becoming a tier-1 research institution (R1), full funding should be restored to the library to ensure faculty and students have adequate resources for their research agendas.

Felix has done his research, and he knows that a couple of the main counterarguments are that the school needs funds to renovate the student union and to construct a new building for the Engineering Department. Thus, he can anticipate counterarguments and include them in his paper. While Felix cannot prove beyond doubt that the school should use more funding for the library instead of using it to address other needs, he can try to make the case.

Read over Felix’s passage below to see how he strengthens his case, and note the annotations to help you see parts of the formula in action.

Download the PDF of these examples

A passage from Felix's paper showing how he introduces the opposing argument, builds common ground, then offers a rebuttal.

Figure 1. Felix’s essay along with comments pointing out the way he addresses the counterargument. Notice how he uses qualifying language like “highly unlikely” instead of absolutes.

Now let’s take a look at another example:

Janae is also writing her argument paper on why Norfolk State University should not have cut funding to the library. During her research, though, she found evidence that some people on campus feel that the library has been careless with previous funding by mismanaging a $200,000 direct donation. Janae looked closer into the library budget, however, and found that the $200,000 donation was used to establish an emergency account for future years when funding did not meet their anticipated needs. Janae included as a source an editorial from the school newspaper written by a non-library faculty member who argued that since the library squandered $200,000, it should lose funding in favor of the student union and new Engineering building.

See Janae’s example in the passage below, and again, read over the annotations to see how she uses parts of the formula:

A passage from Janae's paper showing her paragraph along with some comments in the sidebar that point out her respectful language.

Figure 2. Janae is respectful, yet direct, in her approach to refuting the claims that the library mismanaged donated funds.

Notice how each student has a different goal and approach, yet they both still use parts of the formula to help them accomplish their rhetorical aims.

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