Healthcare Counter Arguments In Research Papers

Argument in Research Papers and Other Essays

When we speak of arguments in research papers, we aren't talking about emotional arguments, as when people get angry and disagree with each other. We are talking about a reason or set of reasons presented to support an assertion. Emotion and ideology should have no place in a research paper.

Arguments, in the scholarly, academic sense of the word, allow you to debate ideas. An argumentative research paper or essay needs to support your stand (thesis = claim/conclusion) on an issue. Your stand should be something that reasonable people can agree or disagree with. An argumentative research paper is analytical, and it uses information as evidence to support its point, much as a lawyer uses evidence to make his or her case and anticipates what opposing council will do to try to make his or her case.  You need to imagine opposing viewpoints, anticipate them, and produce enough good evidence to persuade people who may initially have disagreed with you.


An argument is a deliberate attempt to move beyond just making an assertion. When offering an argument, you are offering a series of related statements that represent an attempt to support that assertion — to give others good reasons to believe that what you are asserting is true rather than false. Relying on logic and the honest gathering of evidence is crucial. You should avoid emotional appeals and fallacious reasoning (like weak analogies, red herrings, false dichotomies, and straw person arguments), and you should not ignore or suppress evidence that undermines your own case.

Another aspect of understanding arguments is to examine the parts. An argument can be broken down into three major components: premises, inferences, and a conclusion. Premises are statements of (assumed) fact that are supposed to set forth the reasons and evidence for believing a claim. The claim, in turn, is the conclusion: what you are trying to prove with the rest of your argument. Inferences are the reasoning parts of an argument. Conclusions are a type of inference, but always the final inference. Usually an argument will be complicated enough to require inferences linking the premises with the final conclusion.

An argument paper must contain four basic elements:

  • The conclusion of your argument, also called the claim, or the position that you put forth.
  • The evidence that supports your claim.
  • Definitions of the important terms that you use, so that you and your audience share an understanding of the terms that you use when you present your claim and your evidence.
  • Consideration of counter-arguments, or opposing claims, to show your reader why these are weak and your claim is strong, or even to show that they may be strong, but yours are stronger.

Here is some advice to consider when dealing with opposing arguments:

  • What are the most important opposing arguments? What concessions can I make and still support my own argument?
  • What evidence do I have to support my own argument? How does that evidence compare with that used by people with opposing viewpoints?
  • What are possible misunderstandings of my own argument that I need to anticipate in order to clarify my argument?
  • Are the opposing arguments good enough to make me reconsider some or all of my own claims?  Have I learned something unexpected, and am I intellectually honest and brave enough to reconsider my original position and revise my own thesis?

When you write an academic essay, you make an argument: you propose a thesis and offer some reasoning, using evidence, that suggests why the thesis is true. When you counter-argue, you consider a possible argument against your thesis or some aspect of your reasoning. This is a good way to test your ideas when drafting, while you still have time to revise them. And in the finished essay, it can be a persuasive and (in both senses of the word) disarming tactic. It allows you to anticipate doubts and pre-empt objections that a skeptical reader might have; it presents you as the kind of person who weighs alternatives before arguing for one, who confronts difficulties instead of sweeping them under the rug, who is more interested in discovering the truth than winning a point.

Not every objection is worth entertaining, of course, and you shouldn't include one just to include one. But some imagining of other views, or of resistance to one's own, occurs in most good essays. And instructors are glad to encounter counterargument in student papers, even if they haven't specifically asked for it.

The Turn Against

Counterargument in an essay has two stages: you turn against your argument to challenge it and then you turn back to re-affirm it. You first imagine a skeptical reader, or cite an actual source, who might resist your argument by pointing out

  • a problem with your demonstration, e.g., that a different conclusion could be drawn from the same facts, a key assumption is unwarranted, a key term is used unfairly, certain evidence is ignored or played down;
  • one or more disadvantages or practical drawbacks to what you propose;
  • an alternative explanation or proposal that makes more sense.

You introduce this turn against with a phrase like One might object here that... or It might seem that... or It's true that... or Admittedly,... or Of course,... or with an anticipated challenging question: But how...? or But why...? or But isn't this just...? or But if this is so, what about...? Then you state the case against yourself as briefly but as clearly and forcefully as you can, pointing to evidence where possible. (An obviously feeble or perfunctory counterargument does more harm than good.)

The Turn Back

Your return to your own argument—which you announce with a but, yet, however, nevertheless or still—must likewise involve careful reasoning, not a flippant (or nervous) dismissal. In reasoning about the proposed counterargument, you may

  • refute it, showing why it is mistaken—an apparent but not real problem;
  • acknowledge its validity or plausibility, but suggest why on balance it's relatively less important or less likely than what you propose, and thus doesn't overturn it;
  • concede its force and complicate your idea accordingly—restate your thesis in a more exact, qualified, or nuanced way that takes account of the objection, or start a new section in which you consider your topic in light of it. This will work if the counterargument concerns only an aspect of your argument; if it undermines your whole case, you need a new thesis.

Where to Put a Counterargument

Counterargument can appear anywhere in the essay, but it most commonly appears

  • as part of your introduction—before you propose your thesis—where the existence of a different view is the motive for your essay, the reason it needs writing;
  • as a section or paragraph just after your introduction, in which you lay out the expected reaction or standard position before turning away to develop your own;
  • as a quick move within a paragraph, where you imagine a counterargument not to your main idea but to the sub-idea that the paragraph is arguing or is about to argue;
  • as a section or paragraph just before the conclusion of your essay, in which you imagine what someone might object to what you have argued.

But watch that you don't overdo it. A turn into counterargument here and there will sharpen and energize your essay, but too many such turns will have the reverse effect by obscuring your main idea or suggesting that you're ambivalent.

Counterargument in Pre-Writing and Revising

Good thinking constantly questions itself, as Socrates observed long ago. But at some point in the process of composing an essay, you need to switch off the questioning in your head and make a case. Having such an inner conversation during the drafting stage, however, can help you settle on a case worth making. As you consider possible theses and begin to work on your draft, ask yourself how an intelligent person might plausibly disagree with you or see matters differently. When you can imagine an intelligent disagreement, you have an arguable idea.

And, of course, the disagreeing reader doesn't need to be in your head: if, as you're starting work on an essay, you ask a few people around you what they think of topic X (or of your idea about X) and keep alert for uncongenial remarks in class discussion and in assigned readings, you'll encounter a useful disagreement somewhere. Awareness of this disagreement, however you use it in your essay, will force you to sharpen your own thinking as you compose. If you come to find the counterargument truer than your thesis, consider making it your thesis and turning your original thesis into a counterargument. If you manage to draft an essay without imagining a counterargument, make yourself imagine one before you revise and see if you can integrate it.

Copyright 1999, Gordon Harvey (adapted from The Academic Essay: A Brief Anatomy), for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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