Writing Well

My Way or the Highway: Acknowledging the Opposition

As much as you might like to, you can't ignore the arguments against your opinion. Think of it like the dog next door—you know, the one who barks all night, no matter how much you moan. Sometimes, you just have to take action.

You can deal with the opposition by …

With the barking dog next door, you're on your own.

Start by considering your audience. The more information you have about your readers, the easier it will be for you to anticipate possible opposition. This table lays it all out:

Type of Audience Type of Opposition
neutral likely very little
friendly none
hostile a great deal
unknown up for grabs
Writer's Block

Don't give the same space to the opposition as you do to your points. Devote more space to your argument or place it last in your essays so readers will understand that it's crucial.

There are three main ways that you can deal with the opposition to decrease its force. These methods are …

  1. Show the opposition is wrong.
  2. Show the opposition has some merit, but give a point of your own that is just as convincing.
  3. Show the opposition has merit, but your point is stronger.

Let's look at each strategy in turn.

Method #1: Show the Opposition Is Wrong

The following passage acknowledges the opposition straight away and then sets about disproving it.

 Very few people claim to really like television commercials. Most people say that television commercials are annoying and insulting. The best that people can say about television commercials is that they give us time to get something to eat. But this view is unfair, since TV commercials have many advantages.
oppositionFirst of all, many people claim that television commercials are more misleading than informative. They say that television ads manipulate the truth in order to get people to buy products.
rebuttalWhile it is true that television advertisers use strategies that encourage viewers to buy things, there are strong laws and regulations that ensure truth in advertising.

Effective persuasive writing uses specific support, not vague references to unidentified studies and sources. You can't evaluate “many important experiments” or “recent clinical studies” unless you know how they were undertaken, by whom, and where the results were published.

Method #2: Show the Opposition Has Some Merit, but Your Point Is Just as Good

Here's another paragraph from the same essay. See how the clever writer dealt with the opposition by presenting a point that's equally convincing. Use this technique if you can't come up with a point that's stronger.

opposition Some people complain that television commercials are annoying and even in bad taste. People who complain about the ads do have a valid point.  
 But if the public demanded television commercials that were in good taste, ones that did not manipulate or insult the viewer, we would get better commercials. If enough people wrote to the companies to protest offensive ads, there would be enough pressure to make the commercials better.rebuttal

Method #3: Show the Opposition Has Merit, but Your Point Is Stronger

For a whizbang argument, acknowledge the other side, but rebut with your own point—and make it a real humdinger. Here's how one writer did it:

 Second, television commercials inform viewers of new products such as no-fat snack foods. They also show us new uses for old products. For example, baking soda ads on TV show us how to use the product to take odors out of the refrigerator and carpets, not 
 just for baking. There are some people who say that people can learn about products and services in other ways—through magazine and newspaper ads, for example. To some extent this is true.opposition
rebuttalHowever, a person would have to buy and read many, many newspapers and magazines to get as much information from print as we do from television. Who has time to read all these newspapers and magazines? It is clear that television commercials are a much more efficient way to get information about products. 

Now, time to look at some of the errors that writers make in logic when they construct a persuasive essay. After you read this section, I can rest assured that you'll never make any of these errors. (Promise?)

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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