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opposing

Presenting opposing views fairly

Presenting opposing views fairly is essential to good writing, and demonstrates why an intelligent person might disagree with your argument.

KEY POINTS

A sympathetic presentation explains a position with respect for its goals, values and beliefs.
Don’t set up a “straw man”, or a counterargument that is easy to knock down.
Your argument will be much stronger if you present opposing viewpoints in a sympathetic light.

Presenting opposing views fairly is essential to good writing. Support your balanced outlook by demonstrating that you understand why an intelligent person might disagree with your argument.

You may be tempted to weaken an objection to your argument by turning it into a “straw man,” or a flimsy version of the original point. A straw man argument can make a point overly simplistic, describe an incomplete concept or take a point out of context. You may have heard talk radio hosts and opinion columnists employ this strategy. This tactic, however, results in the unfair labeling of others’ arguments as uninformed, feeble or otherwise unworthy of a considerate response. In truth, the straw man is a well-known tactic, and readers can detect it quite easily. If you shortchange the opposing viewpoint, your readers will suspect that you are trying to compensate for shortcomings in your own argument.

Your argument will be much stronger if you present opposing viewpoints in a sympathetic light. Compare these examples:

Students claim that they cheat on tests because they are too busy to study. In reality, students can find the time to study if they learn time management skills.
Students face many time constraints: between work and family obligations, social responsibilities, sports, clubs and the expectations of professors who all think their class should be the top priority, students can have trouble finding time to study for all of their tests. Some students admit that they see cheating as the only way to reconcile their conflicting obligations. However, students can find the time to study if they work on their time management skills.
The second example presents the argument more sympathetically. It acknowledges that students may face legitimate difficulties as they try to find time to study for all of their classes. Clearly, the second writer has considered this issue from the students’ perspective, and has attempted to find a solution that takes their concerns into account.