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Essay-Writing Tutoring Advice

We Need to Change How We Think of the Rebuttal

Stop asking “how do I write a rebuttal?” and start asking “where are the places in my argument where other perspectives would have a reason to disagree?”

Nearly every academic writing course you will ever take will tell you that a rebuttal is required for a well-supported argumentative essay. But, the moment you take a course that requires you to write without the rigid academic standards of writing courses, that discourse changes entirely around rebuttals.

The Rebuttal is Still Useful

Before you throw out the idea of writing a rebuttal, bear in mind that there’s a method to the madness. They’re a necessary skill to build despite how little how you actively create them after writing courses. 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.

While it’s annoying that different teachers and professors define rebuttal differently, the process of writing a rebuttal is still important. It 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.” Instead, they will talk more about how you should develop a well-defended argument, whatever that means in your case.

A Rebuttal is Confusing and Frustrating

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!). They force you to think even harder when your brain probably already hurts. You’ve done all of the research in service of your own essay and own mini-thesis 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 your existing work. Rather than completing an entirely different set of research, chances are you’ve already done the research you need. Not to mention the amount of thought you’ve put into your topic already. You know how you’re going to argue your thesis, so why not make your argument work for you?

Reframe the Way You Think of a Rebuttal

When you finally finish your writing courses, you’ll take other courses that require writing. Whether it’s a history class or sociology class, you’ll likely have to write long-form essays. 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?”

This way of writing your rebuttal also changes how you think about your essay overall. Rather than considering your essay as the right answer, you realize there are other right answers. In fact, the question you are answering is complex and can be answered in a variety of ways. Furthermore, your response to the question is one super strong answer—that you might not agree with—to a complicated question.

The Ongoing Conversation

The rebuttal trains us to think of our essays as weak. Let’s change that and think of our essays as part of an ongoing conversation, within which there aren’t wrong answers. All answers are simply interesting with their weaknesses. In a world where there are few certainties, it’s easy to see that nuanced answers to complex research questions are easily stronger in some places and weaker in others. Take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of your answer when you write your rebuttal. Once you start to think of your argument as one answer, your rebuttal writes itself.

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