A coworker who went back to school and is currently taking a composition class asked me a good question today. His assignment is to find an article he disagrees with and write a rebuttal of 350-700 words. But he didn’t really know where to start, and asked me for advice on where to find material for a rebuttal assignment.
I never have problems finding something out there that I disagree with, so I guess he asked the right guy. I can just go to Google News and click on anything and I’ll probably disagree with some of it. I guess journalism school taught me right. If it’s not that easy for you, I have a trick. It’s nearly foolproof.
Two great sources
A trick I learned in college–from a journalism instructor, no less–was to walk over to the library and pick up an issue of Mother Jones or National Review. Mother Jones is liberal and outspoken; National Review is conservative and outspoken. It doesn’t really matter how conservative or liberal you are, there’s a decent chance that Mother Jones is more liberal than you, and National Review is more conservative than you. They’re also both reasonably well thought out. Chances are they will make you consider something you haven’t thought of before.
If you pick up an issue of one and find yourself agreeing with it more than you disagree, then you know you need to pick up the other to find something for your rebuttal assignment. Problem solved. The more you agree with one, the more you’ll disagree with the other.
It’s even easier now. Just go to their web sites and start reading.
Picking the right topic
So how do you pick a topic, once you know where to look?
That’s pretty easy too. Don’t stop at the first article you disagree with. Read until you find an article that makes you want to throw something. In today’s toxic political environment, you probably won’t have to read more than a few articles. But I’m serious. Find something that makes you livid. The more strongly you disagree with something, the easier it will be for you to write a rebuttal, and the more interesting your rebuttal will be. Your passion will be visible in your paper. Don’t be lukewarm. If you barely care, your instructor will barely care too, and it will show in the grade you receive.
Something that the late Rep. Mel Hancock, R-Mo., told me two decades ago seems poignant here. “I don’t care if you’re a flamin’ liberal,” he told me. “Just don’t be a moderate. Believe in something.”
His advice definitely makes you a better writer.
The other thing I would suggest would be to pick a topic that’s not completely obvious. Trust me, your instructor is tired of reading about gun control and abortion. If you can find something that you’re passionate about that your instructor hasn’t thought much about, you’ll fare better.
Tips for formulating your counter-argument
A rebuttal is nothing more than a response to the thing you disagree with. To do that, you formulate a counter-argument and write it out.
If you need ideas for a counter-argument, there’s a decent chance you can find some fodder in the one you agree more with. Then you can search Google News for the topic to find some more sources, much of which will be of a more mainstream, closer to the middle of the road variety. Read what others are saying, come to your own conclusion, and cite other sources to back you up but don’t puppet them. This country has more than enough puppets these days.
The other important thing to remember is to attack the argument, not the author or the publication or the political party. Al Franken once wrote a book called Rush Limbaugh is a Fat, Dumb Idiot or something like that. The title did its job–selling books–but it’s intellectually lazy. Limbaugh’s weight and IQ are irrelevant to the argument when you’re trying to persuade me that he’s wrong. Hopefully the arguments inside the book had more substance than the argument on the cover. Al Franken could get away with that because he was already famous. You and I can’t.
Persuade the reader that the person you disagree with is wrong, and you have a better idea, then share that better idea clearly. You’re more likely to convince the reader that way, and far, far more likely to gain the reader’s respect.