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I am tutoring some students in the very basics of writing a 5-paragraph essay to present an argument, in preparation for more advanced academic writing. I am instructing them to include:

  1. An introduction with thesis
  2. Three body paragraphs, each with statements that supporting the thesis and evidence
  3. A conclusion

Sometimes, the students want to present counter-arguments to their thesis. For example, they organized the five paragraphs like this:

  • ¶1 thesis: Dogs make great pets.
  • ¶2 statement: Dogs can make people happy. Examples.
  • ¶3 statement: Dogs can rescue people. Examples.
  • ¶4 statement: However, dogs are not clean. Examples.
  • ¶5 conclusion.

Is it okay to include an entire paragraph based around a counter-example like this. What would be the appropriate place for such a counter-example to appear?

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4 Answers 4

It depends on what the "point" of the essay is, and how it's set up in the intro/thesis.

If the goal of the essay is to argue "dogs make great pets," then there shouldn't be a counter-argument at all.

If the goal is to present both sides of a point, then the intro needs to say that, and I would suggest Para 2 is the Pro, Para 3 is the Con, and maybe Para 4 discusses which is stronger or has more weight. At the moment your two-pro/one-con feels lopsided.

In any case, I would certainly put pro arguments before con arguments, so you're heading in the right direction.

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Is there any way to word the thesis in such a way that it presents both sides of the point? –  Village Nov 1 '13 at 12:41
    
@Village You can just baldly state "Many cultures keep dogs as pets; as with any pet, there are benefits and drawbacks, and it is up to the person to decide if a dog is right for him/her." (or whatever Para 4 is: "some people feel dogs are not worth the effort" or "some people are inseparable from their dogs despite the effort," etc.) –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 1 '13 at 15:16
3  
Addressing obvious counter arguments strengthens the pro case. Also placing Cons immediately before the conclusion gives them more weight, weakening the earlier Pros. This placement could be appropriate for an attempt at a balanced presentation when the writer favors the Pro side. Audience/goals also matter: emboldening supporters, convincing the undecided, seeking mutual respect, weakening the resolve of opponents, and converting opponents (among other goals) can involve different tactics. –  Paul A. Clayton Nov 1 '13 at 17:58
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In my humble opinion, it's a good idea in a persuasive essay to at least acknowledge counter-arguments. If you simply ignore counter-arguments, and a reader is aware of them, his response is likely to be, "Well, he just completely ignored the fact that X."

As Paul Clayton says, if you give the pro, then the con, then with no rebuttal or reply to the con you give your conclusion, it can make the argument look weak or disconnected. It can come across as, "Here is my argument, here is why my argument is flawed, but I'm just going to ignore the flaws and stick to my original thesis." When I am writing a persuasive essay, I don't end with counter-examples. I may end with counter-examples followed by rebuttals. More often, I start with the position I disagree with, then show why it's wrong, then give my conclusion. But there are many ways to structure an essay.

The shorter an essay the less time you're going to spend on rebuttals. In a 5-paragraph essay I might well skip rebuttals as there's just no time to get into them.

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I think there are a couple of equally valid ways that it could be done, depending on how they chose to structure their argument.

  1. Thesis
  2. Supporting Argument
  3. Supporting Example
  4. Counterexample
  5. Conclusion

Is perfectly fine. However I don't see that there is anything wrong with:

  1. Thesis
  2. Supporting Argument
  3. Counterexample
  4. Merciless destruction of counterexample
  5. Conclusion

Or even:

  1. Thesis
  2. Counterexample
  3. Why the counterexample is fair.
  4. Why the original thesis is better.
  5. Conclusion
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Your first and last one don't quite work. "Thesis" is an argument without examples: "Dogs make great pets." So your first one actually runs Thesis, Pro example, Pro example, Con example, Conclusion, which is what the OP posited. Your last one is Thesis, Con example, Con example, Pro example, Conclusion -- same general idea, in reverse order. And your second one is essentially the same as mine, but taking a harsher tone in Para 4. –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 1 '13 at 16:53
    
#2 is what I strive for when doing this kind of writing. The counterexample shouldn't be the last "real" thing they read (intros and conclusions don't count here), and "merciless destruction of counterexample" is spot-on -- bring it up and then show why it's not a concern. –  Monica Cellio Nov 4 '13 at 19:27
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I believe (and notice) that the most effective location is just before the Conclusion, if the alternate opinions are elaborative and has a measure of being the devil's advocate.

However, in abstracts of scientific papers, I notice that alternative opinions or theses are often placed after the declaration of the thesis. That has the intention to, as a respected scientist should, fore-warn readers that the thesis at hand is but one of multiple possibilities, or that the thesis is complementary or supplementary to other opinions - so that the thesis at hand should be taken in consideration with, or compared against, all the other theses mentioned.

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