From IELTS to University: Counter-Arguments with Cats and Dogs

In this post we’re going to explore inserting critical thinking into argumentative essays, using a simple question about pets. It’s important for students to recognise that incorporating different levels of critical thinking into an essay is vital in achieving high grades.

So, each of the main and opposing arguments below is the topic for a paragraph in an essay.

Cats are always better pets than dogs. Discuss.

Main Argument A: Cats are much quieter than dogs.

Main Argument B: Cats require less time and attention than dogs.

Opposing Argument 1: Dogs can protect owners and property from intruders.   

Opposing Argument 2: Dogs are more friendly than cats, and form stronger relationships with their owners than cats.

Imagine each point is expanded by examples and the use of statistics. Also, notice that each point is a direct response to the question, so that opposing arguments 1 and 2 aren’t responses to main arguments A and B; opposing argument 1 isn’t a counter-argument to main argument A, for instance. This is the most basic level of argumentative essay structure, and is appropriate for an academic IELTS essay. In terms of critical thinking, it shows an ability to identify for and against arguments in relation to an essay question, and is the starting point for a university essay.

Now, compare this structure to the one below:

Cats are always better pets than dogs. Discuss.

Main Argument A: Cats are much quieter than dogs.

Counter Argument 1: Sometimes cats are very noisy, for example when they fight or if they want food.

Main Argument B: Cats require less time and attention than dogs.

Counter Argument 2: Not all types of dogs require the same amount of attention. For example, working or hunting dogs live in buildings outside the house and are treated more like farm animals than pets.

Opposing Argument C: Dogs can protect owners and property from intruders.

Counter Argument 3: Dogs that guard people and property can also attack and injure the owner and members of the family.

Opposing Argument D: Dogs are more friendly than cats, and form stronger relationships with their owners than cats.

Counter Argument 4: The relationship between pets and owners is often more about the personality of the owners, rather than the type of pets. Owners who love and express regular affection for their pets are likely to have strong relationships with both cats and dogs.

So, in this structure we can see the same main and opposing arguments which were used in the first structure, and which are a response to the question. However, in this second structure there is an extra layer of argument added, the four counter-arguments, each of which offers a critical response to the main or opposing argument it is paired with, rather than to the essay question. What’s important here is that the writer is showing that they can acknowledge the weakness in their own arguments – this is a higher level of critical thinking and demonstrating it is one way to start scoring much higher marks for essay writing. Equally, these kinds of counter-arguments are very useful to return to in the conclusion: selecting one as the most significant or interesting, and justifying its selection, is another way to insert more critical thinking into the essay.

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