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Getting Smarter through Language

Intermediate Reading Course. Section 4: Reading Critically

Argument and Counter-Argument

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Testing the Author’s Claims

As a critical reader, it is important to evaluate arguments against possible counterarguments when reading. Proposing counterarguments enables you to identify strengths and weaknesses in the writer’s arguments and to evaluate the evidence presented.



Counterarguments are the alternative perspectives or opposing viewpoints or alternative perspectives to the argument the writer presented in a text. Counterarguments enable you, the reader, to challenge the writer’s position and consider different ways to think about the topic or other possible conclusions.

Writers themselves often include possible counterarguments when making claims or presenting conclusions. They do so in order to reject or refute counterarguments that their readers might come up with. In that sense, writers are preemptive; writers deal with counterarguments before their readers can use them to weaken the point the writers are trying to make. Nonetheless, as a critical reader, you should come up with your own counterarguments to make sure the writer has presented a strong argument.

Why Propose Counterarguments?

You should note that you do think of counterarguments simply to think critically and “test” the writer’s idea; the goal is not to simply “prove the writer wrong.”

Coming up with counterarguments when reading helps approach the information analytically and critically. When you examine different possible perspectives, you can identify strengths and weaknesses in the arguments writers presented in the text. You can then evaluate the evidence and reasoning the writers used to support their claims.

By using this process, you can rest assured that you were careful when you accepted or rejected the writer’s ideas.

Sample argument and possible counterarguments

Argument 1
As people age, they should learn a new language to keep their minds active.

 As people age, they should learn a new language to keep their minds active. Learning a language involves cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. As you learn a language, your brain processes and analyzes new information, which helps to create new neural connections and strengthen existing ones. In turn, this process enhances cognitive function and slows down the natural decline in brain activity that comes with aging. As an added bonus, learning a new language exposes you to new cultures and ways of thinking, so your mind stays engaged. As your command of the new language improves, you experience a sense of satisfaction and your confidence and self-esteem increase, which result in improved mental health.

Possible Counterarguments
  • Learning a language can be expensive and time-consuming, which makes it difficult for people with limited financial and personal resources.
  • As people age, it tends to get more difficult to learn a language. Rather than boosting your confidence and self-esteem , you may actually experience frustration and a sense of failure, which could negatively affect your mental health and wellbeing.
  • For older people already experiencing cognitive decline, learning a language could be too difficult.
  • There are other, less expensive and time-consuming activities that keep your brain active such as doing puzzles, playing word games, doing puzzles, socializing, or engaging in physical exercise.
Argument 2

 Earning a college degree is one of the most valuable investments you can make in yourself. By going to college, you develop critical thinking and other skills that are critical to be successful in today's job market. College graduates are more likely to get higher-paying jobs than those without a degree. Moreover, a college education creates opportunities to engage with other students and with experienced professors; as a result, you expand your worldview and develop socialization skills useful in any career. Investing your own education also gives you a sense of personal fulfillment, which you will carry with you throughout your professional career.

Possible Counterarguments
  • Many people end up with student loan debt, which may take years to pay off. This makes a college education a risky investment.
  • If people are interested in careers that do not require a college degree, earning a college degree may delay starting their careers.
  • Going to college does not provide on-the-job experience, which many employers require.

Disclaimer: The above paragraphs are used as examples only. Their inclusion on this page does not constitute an endorsement or approval of the ideas in the paragraphs or in the counterarguments.

Strategies to Come Up with Counterarguments

Reading critically is a skill you must develop over time. The more read, analyze, evaluate information presented in writing, the better you become at coming up with and testing counterarguments. Having background knowledge of the topic also makes it easier to read about it critically. As you develop your reading skills, you can use certain strategies.

How to propose and test counterarguments

Make sure you understand the writer’s main point and how the evidence the writer uses to support it. You cannot counterargue if you do not understand the information.

Evaluate the writer’s biases. If you detect biases, challenge them by finding counterarguments that another writer would make if the writer had no bias or an opposing bias.

Evaluate the source and the evidence presented. Is the evidence accurate, sufficient, and relevant?

  • Is the evidence inaccurate? If so, you should consider rejecting the writer’s premises and conclusions.
  • Is the evidence only partly accurate? Does it exclude important information? What would the argument be if it included more information?
  • Similarly, what information do you suspect the writer may have excluded? Propose counterarguments that would include possible missing pieces of information.
  • Is the evidence insufficient? If so, you should propose counterarguments that include the pieces of evidence the writer may have excluded from the argument.
  • Is the evidence irrelevant? If so, you may consider rejecting the writer’s conclusions.
  • Similarly, what relevant pieces of information do you suspect the writer may have excluded? Propose counterarguments that would include other pieces of relevant evidence.
  • Are there other possible conclusions based on the same evidence? Think of other ways you could explain the information or other logical conclusions you can draw from what the writer presented.

Note. You may read a paragraph and come up with counterarguments. Be sure to read everything else as the writer may address your counterarguments somewhere else in the text.

Consider different perspectives or viewpoints. Propose arguments that people would make if they have a different perspective or viewpoint.

Based on what you already know about the topic, propose alternative ideas, solutions, conclusions, and so on.

Up Next: Going beyond the Written Text

Go to the next lesson to learn about going beyond the written text when reading.

Congratulations on completing the Reading Critically section!

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