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What Is A Counterclaim In An Argumentative Essay

As is often the case, instructional writing terminology can be confusing and there is no consensus as to a common language of instruction. Regarding the essay counterclaim, which words mean exactly what?

Synonyms for the Counterclaim (with or without hyphens): Counterargument, Opposing Claims, Alternate Claims

Synonyms for the Refutation: Rebuttal, Turn

Whichever words are used, most writing teachers would agree that the opposing point of view should be somehow acknowledged and responded to in an argumentative essay.

But here again the academic community is divided: Just what constitutes an essay?

Some writing teachers see all writing as argumentative including essays, research papers, lab reports, you name it. After all, even the most objective evidence must be evaluated through the lenses of inherently biased writers who attempts to inform, impact, or convince their audiences.

The highly regarded Writing Center resources developed by professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seem to adopt this position: What is an argument? In academic writing, an argument is usually a main idea, often called a “claim” or “thesis statement,” backed up with evidence that supports the idea” http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/argument/.

Another group of resources often used by writing teachers includes The Online Writing Center (OWL) at Purdue University. These professors differentiate argumentative essays from expository essays, but only in terms of the scope of research. Following is their explanation: “Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/685/05/.

Common Core State Standards

However, the writers of the Common Core State Standards do see a division in purpose and point of view for the purposes of essay instruction and so have separate Standards for the argumentative essay (W. 1.0) and the informational-explanatory essay (W. 2.0). Whether the separate Standards were created as practical measures to reflect the maturity of Kꟷ12 students or as a position on the rules and roles of different rhetorical types I do not know.

Following are the Common Core State Writing Standards for the argumentative essay counterclaim:

No counterclaim is included until seventh grade. Additions to the seventh grade and subsequent Standards have been boldfaced by this author.

Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

Some of the above points adapted from the Harvard Writing Center. In addition to What is the Essay Counterclaim, writing teachers may also be interested in these related articles: Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames, Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim, and Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Purchase the author’sTeaching Essay Strategies to get 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions. 

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Organizing Your Argument


These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.

Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2017-06-19 09:33:00

How can I effectively present my argument?

Use an organizational structure that arranges the argument in a way that will make sense to the reader. The Toulmin Method of logic is a common and easy to use formula for organizing an argument.

The basic format for the Toulmin Method is as follows.

Claim: The overall thesis the writer will argue for.

Data: Evidence gathered to support the claim.

Warrant (also referred to as a bridge): Explanation of why or how the data supports the claim, the underlying assumption that connects your data to your claim.

Backing (also referred to as the foundation): Additional logic or reasoning that may be necessary to support the warrant.

Counterclaim: A claim that negates or disagrees with the thesis/claim.

Rebuttal: Evidence that negates or disagrees with the counterclaim.

Including a well-thought-out warrant or bridge is essential to writing a good argumentative essay or paper. If you present data to your audience without explaining how it supports your thesis your readers may not make a connection between the two or they may draw different conclusions.

Don't avoid the opposing side of an argument. Instead, include the opposing side as a counterclaim. Find out what the other side is saying and respond to it within your own argument. This is important so that the audience is not swayed by weak, but unrefuted, arguments. Including counterclaims allows you to find common ground with more of your readers. It also makes you look more credible because you appear to be knowledgeable about the entirety of the debate rather than just being biased or uninformed. You may want to include several counterclaims to show that you have thoroughly researched the topic.


Claim: Hybrid cars are an effective strategy to fight pollution.

Data1: Driving a private car is a typical citizen's most air polluting activity.

Warrant 1: Because cars are the largest source of private, as opposed to industry produced, air pollution, switching to hybrid cars should have an impact on fighting pollution.

Data 2: Each vehicle produced is going to stay on the road for roughly 12 to 15 years.

Warrant 2: Cars generally have a long lifespan, meaning that a decision to switch to a hybrid car will make a long-term impact on pollution levels.

Data 3: Hybrid cars combine a gasoline engine with a battery-powered electric motor.

Warrant 3: This combination of technologies means that less pollution is produced. According to ineedtoknow.org "the hybrid engine of the Prius, made by Toyota, produces 90 percent fewer harmful emissions than a comparable gasoline engine."

Counterclaim: Instead of focusing on cars, which still encourages a culture of driving even if it cuts down on pollution, the nation should focus on building and encouraging use of mass transit systems.

Rebuttal: While mass transit is an environmentally sound idea that should be encouraged, it is not feasible in many rural and suburban areas, or for people who must commute to work; thus hybrid cars are a better solution for much of the nation's population.

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