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How do I find an opposing viewpoint for my essay?
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Why include opposing or alternative viewpoints? Won't that weaken my argument?
Often, we are tempted to only look for information that supports what we already believe, and we think that providing lots of viewpoints that agree with our point of view will make our argument more believable. But in most types of argumentation, it can actually strengthen your argument to include information from the opposing side. And sometimes it's not so black and white of an issue that the other viewpoints aren't 100% opposed; they may just be proposing a different cause or solution. For instance, if you are arguing that we the US needs to put an end to police brutality, you may not find many people who make a strong argument that police brutality should continue. Perhaps they just don't believe that it is racially motivated, and you do. Or maybe they think body cameras will solve it, and you think different training is needed too. That is still an alternative viewpoint you can include.
How to include opposing viewpoints
Remember, when you include an opposing or alternative viewpoint, don't just plop it in your argument. Just like any piece of evidence you include, you should make sure to include a transition from your previous point, introduce the opposing/alternative viewpoint, present the opposing/alternative viewpoint (which may be a quote, fact, statistic, paraphrase, or summary of someone else's argument), and then respond to it. Is it valid, and why or why not? If it is valid, what does that mean for your argument? Does it change your understanding of the issue? Your argument will only be stronger if you make it less one-sided and more complex by acknowledging multiple sides of your issue.
So how do I find these opposing or alternative viewpoints?
Here are some hints:
- The Opposing Viewpoints database compiles pro/con viewpoints on many different hot topics in the news. You can use the search bar to search for your topic, or click Browse Issues to browse all the different topics they cover. Once you're in a topic, you can see their selected viewpoints or browse all the viewpoints they include. These viewpoints are often opinion articles published in past newspapers. Just make sure you pay attention to who has written the viewpoint. Often these people have a clear bias or stake in the issue, which may be described in their brief biography. This doesn't mean you can't use their opinion; you can use it as an example of what the other side feels, and make sure to present the context of the position they're coming from.
- Think about whether you are taking more of a liberal (progressive, Democratic, etc.) or conservative (Republican, etc.) point of view, and look for publications that espouse the other political viewpoint. So let's say you think that Colin Kaepernick should be made to stand during the National Anthem at NFL games because he should not use his position to speak for black people, and sitting is disrespectful to the military. This is probably a more conservative point of view, so for opposing viewpoints you might want to look in media outlets that are identified by conservatives as being more liberal, such as the Village Voice, the New York Times, National Public Radio, or Mother Jones. On the other hand, if you believe that Kaepernick should use his privileged position to speak up against the oppression of black people in the US, and that equating criticism of the National Anthem with opposing the military is a false equivalency, you probably align with a more liberal point of view, so try seeing what Fox News, the Drudge Report, Allen B. West, or Glenn Beck are saying on the issue for the opposing point of view.
- Do a search using Albert Plus or a library database on your topic, and use the limiters on the left to narrow your results down to the type of publication you're looking for (newspapers? magazines? scholarly journals? or maybe you're open to anything). Then just scroll through the titles and abstracts and look out for different viewpoints represented. For instance, if your research question is Should professors be required to give trigger warnings for potentially traumatic content? you might compare the viewpoints in "The Trigger Warning Myth" in The New Republic, "Trigger Warnings Are Good for All Students" from Bitch Magazine, and "'Trigger Warnings' Are Easy to Ridicule -- but They Offer a Harbinger of Things to Come from a Generation Raised in a Protective Bubble" from Maclean's.
- Think about the language you are using in your search. Conservatives are likely to use phrases like Obamacare and illegal aliens, whereas liberals are more likely to use language like Affordable Care Act and undocumented immigrants. Try switching up the language you're using to find different viewpoints.
- If you can't find any opposing viewpoints after following these steps, consult a librarian. If there's nothing to argue because everyone already agrees with you, you may want to change your topic, or your angle on your topic, to one that has an argument that's really worth making.
Remember, the world isn't black and white, and an article's argument may not be 100 percent pro or con either. Don't fall into the trap of cherry-picking the strongest quote just to represent the other side; as you really delve into your topic and learn about the history and reasoning behind the different viewpoints, you'll be able to make a more nuanced, educated, and actionable argument yourself.