Acknowledgment and Response

When building your argument, it is necessary to determine whether your position will be stronger by only focusing on the reasons and evidence that support that position or by also integrating and responding to (whether by wholly refuting or recognizing the merits of) other positions that differ from your own. This decision is one that should be made carefully and only after you have familiarized yourself thoroughly with the topic and the differing opinions on it. If you prematurely decide not to integrate others’ opinions before you sufficiently understand what they are, then you may miss an opportunity to strengthen your own claim by showing the weaknesses of those opinions and to further build your ethos in the process. On the other hand, if you opt to integrate those opinions before you fully understand them, then you may weaken your own position and cause the audience to question your credibility as you muddle through explaining the opposition.

If, once you are knowledgeable about the differing opinions on the topic, you decide to integrate any of them into your own argument, you will need to make sure that you not only acknowledge those opinions but also effectively respond to them. Simply acknowledging them will not help to advance your own argument and can instead stall it; the audience will likely question why the opposition appears in your argument if you do not use it to your advantage, or, worse, may start to question whether the opposition actually presents a better claim than your own.

When the opposing position you want to include in your argument is one for which you cannot see any merits, then your task will be to expose the weaknesses of that position so that you can refute it, maintaining a balanced, appropriate tone while doing so. Be careful that your tone and diction do not project to the reader that you are insulting those who hold the opposing view (e.g., “Any reasonable person could see that X is wrong because…”) or that you are perhaps inaccurately portraying that view. You need your audience to trust that you are honestly representing the opposition to highlight its weaknesses, rather than that you are setting it up to fail through a misleading interpretation. In addition, you must also be careful that in the process of refuting the opposition you do not actually demonstrate that it is stronger than your own claim; this can occur if the reasons and evidence you use in your refutation are weak or if the opposition you have chosen to highlight is a minor point that does not greatly influence your own stance (suggesting that you lack enough reasons and evidence of your own to support your claim but are unwilling and/or unable to successfully refute the stronger opposing views).

Although when making your argument it may be impossible to find any merit in the opposition, in many cases you can find sound reasoning that warrants your recognition. When this occurs, it is worthwhile to consider acknowledging and responding to the opposition alongside presenting your claim since doing so enhances your credibility, showing that you are not so focused on supporting your own position that you are unwilling to recognize the merits of others’ ideas. Using the example from the earlier Counterargument page, the two positions on school bullying are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to agree that educators, parents, and students who are bullied should collaborate both to push for appropriate punishment of those who bully and to develop anti-bullying initiatives to stop bullying from happening in the first place. Thus, a stronger approach to advancing the counterargument may be to acknowledge that although these groups working together to ensure bullying is properly responded to is important, it simply is not enough; only focusing on response after the fact, despite its value to perhaps deterring bullying, obtaining “justice” for those who are bullied, etc., is not sufficient if we are serious about combating the bullying problem.