Rebuttal in the form of a letter to the editor

Evaluate one of the speeches you heard about a plan to erect a statue honoring the pioneers. Choose the speech you disagree with, and write a two- or three-paragraph rebuttal in the form of a letter to the editor.

Your assignment should include the following elements:

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A two- or three-paragraph letter to the editor explaining your disagreement with one of the speeches you read
A precise claim related to the statue of the pioneers
A fair and well-developed response to a counterclaim

Ask yourself these questions as you revise:

Did I take a clear position on the issue?
Did I introduce a counterclaim that shows my understanding of my opponent’s argument?
Did I respond to that argument fairly and thoroughly?
Did I consider my opponent’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases as I developed my ideas? Use this rubric to determine how well you’re meeting the criteria for the assignment.

Speech in Favor of Building a Monument

Phoenix. Portland. Salt Lake City. Des Moines. What do all of these cities have in common? They wouldn’t exist today without the bravery and hard work of the Americans who looked out upon the empty lands west of the Mississippi and said, “We can build a new home there.”

Some settlers came west for the promise of wealth, while others came to live freely away from the constraints of civilization. All came because they knew a better life awaited them, because they knew America would become a great nation someday.

I, Congressman Smith, ask that you support Proposition 17 to build a bronze statue on the lawn of the state capitol as a monument to these courageous pioneers so that we might never forget how they overcame hardships for our future.

It’s true that some of the voters in my district oppose Proposition 17. They argue that American Indians suffered as a result of westward expansion. True enough, but I ask you, what great endeavor in American history has ever been achieved without great pain?

We Americans inherently understand that to overcome a challenge, sacrifices must be made. And so, my proposed monument to the pioneers is a much a shrine to the concept of sacrifice as it is to the settlers themselves. Vote yes on Proposition 17.

When you take a stand against one of them, it doesn’t mean you agree with everything the other one said. Your stance must be clear, but it may include qualifications if you wish. Back it up with a brief, logical argument.

Your claim might look like one of these:

After you state and support your claim, you need to present a counterclaim — your opponent’s viewpoint — and explain why it is wrong.

Including a counterclaim makes your argument more trustworthy. It shows that you made the effort to understand your opponent’s argument. A lot of people don’t bother to do this; they just pretend that their argument is the only smart idea.

A counterclaim argument is meant to change minds. It’s for people who are undecided or who hold the opposing view but are open to hearing other ideas.

Anticipate Your Audience

As you write, keep in mind that your goal is to convince people — not to please people who already agree with you. Your audience for this assignment is a general group of newspaper readers. Try to imagine how they might think. As you do so, focus in particular on the members of your audience who disagree with you. Consider the following:

Knowledge level

Share knowledge your opponent may not have. Be clear and respectful.

Possible biases

Gently challenge any preconceived ideas your opponent may have.

Concerns and values

Be sensitive to your opponent’s beliefs and find common ground.

People with different concerns and values often still have a lot in common. Most people value fairness, freedom, security, and loyalty, for example. Your goal is to find that common ground and work from there.

When you make a counterclaim, you need to think about your opponent’s point of view. This is a lot like anticipating your audience: You need to look at your opponent’s speech for clues about his knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases. Acknowledge this point of view in your rebuttal to show that you are being fair. Avoid insulting or offending your opponent, and mention any common ground between you.

After that, you can refute your opponent’s argument. Be sure to argue against the ideas, not the person.

When you evaluate your opponent’s supporting points, look closely at these elements:

Reasoning

 

Is it logical or flawed? Is there convincing evidence?

 

Rhetoric

 

What appeals are used? Are they convincing?

 

Assumptions

 

What problems do you see in the premises behind your opponent’s argument?

 

Links between ideas

 

Are supporting points built on faulty rhetoric, reasoning, or assumptions?

 

As you frame your rebuttal, use these terms and concepts to show why your opponent’s argument is flawed. If you find that some parts of the argument are good, you can mention them too. This shows that you are being fair. However, make sure that the flaws are the main focus.

Your rebuttal also needs to consider your opponent’s language:

Emphasis

 

What ideas are emphasized? Are any important points of view left out?

 

Word choice

 

What attitude does this speaker show toward the subject? Is he respectful to the audience — including opponents?

 

Emphasis

 

Which specific words signal problems with the tone or emphasis?

You’ve been taught to consider your opponent’s point of view in your argument. If your opponent does not use the same courtesy, you will find evidence of that in the language. That is an important flaw to point out.

It’s time to put all of this together and write a two- or three-paragraph rebuttal that evaluates your opponent’s point of view, argumentation, and language.

Your assignment is a letter to the editor, which is a note on an issue that gets printed in a newspaper. These notes are not full essays.

Your letter does not need a long introduction or conclusion. Just state your claim, back it up with your reasoning, and develop the counterclaim and rebuttal. At the end, a single concluding sentence is enough

 

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