Essay skills: (1) How to write effective counter-arguments and (2) How to structure your essay (absolute terms)

24 03 2011

Recap:
Dealing with absolute terms

It is usually easier to argue against (disagree with) terms like “always”, “never” and “nothing”. Conversely, it is usually easier to argue for (agree with) terms like “ever”.  In other words, you should always disagree with the absolute stand. This is because the abovementioned approach merely requires you to identify one instance which proves the point. With this in mind, how then do we incorporate good balance in absolute-term essays? After all, a good counter-argument would require us to prove “always” or “never”, or to disprove “ever”!

While there are several ways of incorporating effective counter-arguments into absolute-term essays, perhaps the easiest and most straight-forward one would be to use big, generally true arguments that people commonly put forth in an attempt to argue “always” or “never”.

For example:

There is nothing optimistic about the future of the environment. Do you agree?

Counter-argument
Some people argue that there is nothing optimistic about the future of the environment because globalization has opened up markets and has resulted in an unprecedented increases in the demand for goods. In addition, advances in technology which give rise to more efficient manufacturing processes, coupled with access to cheaper labour in developing countries means that we can now produce goods more cheaply. With further advances, costs of production will only go down. Cheaper prices, in turn, will result in goods being demanded in greater quantities. To meet this demand, we extract more raw materials, fell more trees, burn fossil fuels, fill landfills to capacity – all of which damage our environment. There is no reason for optimism because this process shows no sign of stopping – consumerism continues to rise, and with it, the production of more goods and services that will continue to damage our environment.

This counter-argument works because it does make sense – consumerism had been increasing, globalization continues, we do not expect a drop in demand for goods. However, does it prove that there is nothing optimistic? No, because exceptions exist. And that’s the function of your rebuttal:

Rebuttal
However, where we have consumerism, we also have groups of people that raise awareness above the problems of consumerism – an example is the popular “The story of” videos, which began with “The story of stuff”, and went on to produce “The story of plastic bottles” and other related videos. The fact that people are more aware of the problem and of possible solutions – thanks to the very same force of globalization – is a reason for optimism.

The CA-R Structure [Recommended]

The structure illustrated above (a counter-argument, followed by a rebuttal to show where the exceptions lie) may be repeated for a further two arguments, giving six paragraphs in your main body. Within these six paragraphs, you should have covered a minimum of three aspects or levels, and provided a range of examples for each.

The CA-R1-R2 Structure [Recommended]

Here, the structure follows the one illustrated above, but adds on another level of rebuttals:

Counter argument
(see above)

Rebuttal
However, where we have consumerism, we also have groups of people that raise awareness above the problems of consumerism – an example is the popular “The story of” videos, which began with “The story of stuff”, and went on to produce “The story of plastic bottles” and other related videos. The fact that people are more aware of the problem and of possible solutions – thanks to the very same force of globalization – is a reason for optimism. [Rebuttal 1] In addition, consumers are beginning to request greener products, and even though consumerism persists, at the very least, we are making an attempt to consume greener products, as seen by the trend of companies producing and advertising greener products to cater to the more environmentally conscious consumer. Again, this is reason for optimism. [Rebuttal 2]

The CA-A Structure [possible, but not preferred]

Although the above two structures are recommended, there is another possible method. If you struggle with finding an appropriate rebuttal that deals with the particular counter argument you’ve chosen, you would still meet requirements if you gave an unrelated argument (rather than a rebuttal) after the counter argument.

For example:

Counter-argument
(as above)

Argument
Admittedly, our consumerist culture may make us pessimistic. However, there still exist reasons for optimism because advances in technology have been helping us reduce the damage done to the environment. Such examples include the use of catalytic converters in cars and nuclear technology.

Take-away skills:

1) Use big, generally true arguments (that are commonly used to support the absolute) as your counter-arguments
2) Rebut these by showing where the exceptions to these general rules lie.
3) Conclude by saying that because there are, in fact exceptions to common arguments put forth by opponents, it is not true that there’s nothing optimistic (or whatever the absolute stand is) . There are, in fact, glimmers of home when it comes to the environment.

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8 responses

29 03 2011
Essay structure « read, think, write.

[…] This post illustrated how the CA-R or CA-R1-R2 structure often works best for absolute questions (given the recommendation that one should avoid arguing an absolute stand). […]

14 07 2011
itschartreuse

Is one CA-R or CA-R1-R2 considered one point?
So we are to have 5 paragraphs of CA-R/CA-R1-R2?

14 07 2011
Adrienne de Souza

Short answer – yes. However, you should always choose the paragraph structure that works best for each paragraph – most of the best essays will mix several different paragraph structures in the same essay.

Sent from my iPhone

14 07 2011
itschartreuse

Thanks. So it is right to say that CA-R/CA-R1-R2 are ought to be written in the same paragraph?

In both cases (same or different paragraphs) are we to give examples for CA and R respectively?

22 07 2011
Adrienne de Souza

It really depends on how long your paragraph is. If it’s short, yes, put it all in one paragraph. If it gets too long, you should break it up.

Examples are almost always good to have. Of course, it would look odd if your CAs are exemplified and your Rs aren’t – so in order of priority, I always say that examples in arguments and rebuttals are must-haves, and examples in your CAs are a bonus.

13 01 2012
The double absolute « read, think, write.

[…] an absolute term, because that typically makes for a more convincing essay (explained here and here). However, I used to get stumped by this absolute […]

13 01 2012
(1) The ABSOLUTE question [Analysis of 2000-2010 GCE 'A' Level questions] « read, think, write.

[…] type is highly recommended for those of you who frequently fail your essays, because simply adopting the correct structure for this question type should prevent you from […]

16 09 2012
CuriousBlogger

Reblogged this on my gp journal.

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