Definition of Rebuttal
Strictly interpreted, “rebuttal” refers to an attempt to disapprove, contradict, or argue to overcome an opposing reasoning or evidence, by introducing another reasoning and evidence to destroy the effect of the previous one. Rebuttal is a literary technique in which a speaker or writer uses argument, and presents reasoning or evidence intended to undermine or weaken the claim of an opponent.
Features of Rebuttal
There are many features of an effective rebuttal. First, rebuttal states the opposing side’s position without any distortion. Secondly, the writers use quotations with accuracy and fidelity. Thirdly, this technique makes use of professional tone with rationality and courtesy, as it does not allow ridiculing to make points. Finally, rebuttal is often constructively critical, as readers bristle if they encounter extreme negativity.
Examples of Rebuttal in Literature
Example #1: The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine (By Dave DeWitt)
“A writer in your paper comforts himself, and the India Company, with the fancy that the Americans, should they resolve to drink no more tea, can by no means keep that resolution, their Indian corn not affording ‘an agreeable, or easy digestible breakfast.’ Pray let me, an American, inform the gentleman, who seems quite ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world; that its green ears roasted are a delicacy beyond expression; that samp, hominy, succatash, and nokehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties; and that a johny, or hoe-cake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin.”
Benjamin Franklin has written this succinct rebuttal in response to Vindex Patriae, who was a correspondent to Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser. This correspondent had ridiculed corn.
Example #2: Fahrenheit 451 (By Ray Bradbury)
There are many instances of rebuttal in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. A very notable example is the argument between Beatty and Montag. Beatty uses quotes from prominent intellectuals and authors, including Alexander Pope and Sir Philip Sidney. Beatty, thereby, makes an argument that books are just a source of debate and controversy, because we often see whatever mentioned in one book is contradicted in another. This situation becomes ironic as Beatty’s job is to burn the outlawed books, and he is skillful and well informed of literary works. With it, he is also capable of debating and arguing based on literary knowledge.
Example #3: Editorial Rebuttal in The Washington Post (By Eugene Joseph Dionne)
Eugene Joseph Dionne, an editorial writer, provides a good instance of rebuttal in The Washington Post. Before the 2003 Iraqi invasion, some people were of the opinion that those who opposed this invasion were unpatriotic, because in this way they would oppose the American president. Dionne had rejected this suggestion, arguing that, if this was the case, “then Abraham Lincoln was an unpatriotic appeaser for opposing the Mexican War as a young congressman in the 1840s.” Dionne’s counter-argument is a complete rebuttal intended to show a flaw in the original argument.
Example #4: Speech on 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma (By President Barack Obama)
“For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.”
Many critics interpret this speech of President Obama as a finely veiled rebuttal or an argument for conservative critics such as Rudy Giuliani, ex New York City Mayor, who claimed President Obama “doesn’t love America.” While some others believe that Obama’s verbal attack is on Congress, because it was not renewing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Function of Rebuttal
The purpose of using rebuttal is to prove another argument as erroneous and false. It is very common in literature, public affairs, law, and politics, where opponents put forward statements to negate or refute specific arguments against them. In law, rebuttal requires specific rules. The party using rebuttal evidence must confine it solely to the main subject of evidence being rebutted. Whereas, in literary works and politics, rebuttals help writers to defend their points of view, as well as make positive criticisms through argumentation.
This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.
Contributors: Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 04:25:15
In order to present a fair and convincing message, you may need to anticipate, research, and outline some of the common positions (arguments) that dispute your thesis. If the situation (purpose) calls for you to do this, you will present and then refute these other positions in the rebuttal section of your essay.
It is important to consider other positions because in most cases, your primary audience will be fence-sitters. Fence-sitters are people who have not decided which side of the argument to support.
People who are on your side of the argument will not need a lot of information to align with your position. People who are completely against your argument—perhaps for ethical or religious reasons—will probably never align with your position no matter how much information you provide. Therefore, the audience you should consider most important are those people who haven't decided which side of the argument they will support—the fence-sitters.
In many cases, these fence-sitters have not decided which side to align with because they see value in both positions. Therefore, to not consider opposing positions to your own in a fair manner may alienate fence-sitters when they see that you are not addressing their concerns or discussion opposing positions at all.
Organizing your rebuttal section
Following the TTEB method outlined in the Body Paragraph section, forecast all the information that will follow in the rebuttal section and then move point by point through the other positions addressing each one as you go. The outline below, adapted from Seyler's Understanding Argument, is an example of a rebuttal section from a thesis essay.
When you rebut or refute an opposing position, use the following three-part organization:
The opponent’s argument: Usually, you should not assume that your reader has read or remembered the argument you are refuting. Thus, at the beginning of your paragraph, you need to state, accurately and fairly, the main points of the argument you will refute.
Your position: Next, make clear the nature of your disagreement with the argument or position you are refuting. Your position might assert, for example, that a writer has not proved his assertion because he has provided evidence that is outdated, or that the argument is filled with fallacies.
Your refutation: The specifics of your counterargument will depend upon the nature of your disagreement. If you challenge the writer’s evidence, then you must present the more recent evidence. If you challenge assumptions, then you must explain why they do not hold up. If your position is that the piece is filled with fallacies, then you must present and explain each fallacy.