The Art of the Rebuttal

I’m going to let you in on a secret: nearly every academic writing course that you’ve ever taken and will ever take will tell you that rebuttals are required for a well-supported argumentative essay. But, the moment you take a course that requires you to write without the rigid academic standards you see in most writing courses, that discourse changes entirely.

Before you throw out the idea of writing a rebuttal because they’re virtually unheard of as a formal requirement for essays bear in mind that there’s a method to the madness so to speak. Academic writing courses tell you to explicitly include a rebuttal to your main thesis (and usually it’s supposed to come after you’ve stated and defended all of your sub-theses) in your essay for good reason. The practice is annoying because different teachers and professors define rebuttal differently, but the process of writing a rebuttal forces you to look into other perspectives and understand the broader context around your essay. The further you advance in your writing courses the less your teachers and professors will emphasize writing “rebuttals” and the more they will talk about how you should develop a well-defended argument, whatever that means in your case.

Rebuttals are confusing and frustrating because you have to argue someone else’s point as ardently as you would yours and then come back even stronger with another sub-thesis (after you’ve already argued at least two!). I agree; they’re frustrating and force you to think even harder when your brain probably already hurts from all of the research you did to support your other points. But, it doesn’t have to be more work. In fact, it can be (dare I say) fun.

Writing a rebuttal can work with the research and writing you’ve already done because chances are you’ve thought way too much about your topic already and the way that you’re going to argue it, so why not make your argument work for you?

When you finally get to stop taking all of those academic writing courses, you might start taking a history class or sociology class, or digital media class—and you’ll probably have to write long-form essays because essay responses are often required of upper-division courses by their institutions. In these courses, you’ll reframe the way you think about rebuttals from “how the heck do I write from another perspective then prove how it’s wrong?” and start thinking “where are the places in my argument where other perspectives would have a reason to disagree?”

I prefer to think about my essays less as the only right answer to a question and more as one super strong answer (that I don’t necessarily even believe in) to a complicated question. Rather than thinking of your essay as weak or flawed in parts, think about your essay as part of a conversation that has some other interesting answers. Take advantage of those other answers and consider how your main thesis connects to them. Before you know it, you have your rebuttal.