Workshop: Where to Acknowledge and Respond

In the lessons on Acknowledgement and Response<, you’ve learned that effective writers acknowledge and respond to the concerns that readers are likely to raise, whether those concerns are alternative solutions to the claim they’re offering or objections to a claim<, reason<, or warrant<. Now that you’ve spent time exploring how to acknowledge and respond to your reader’s concerns, you can use this workshop to help you decide where in your argument you want to address those concerns.

The Basic Principle and Workshop Goals<

As they approach an argument, most readers think of questions at predictable places: at the beginning of an argument or the start of various sections of an argument, or as writers list their reasons, for example. Generally, the scope of readers’ objections to an argument will determine where you will want to acknowledge and respond. The more significant the objection or alternative, the more prominent your response will need to be.

There are four common places to acknowledge and respond:

  1. In your introduction
  2. Immediately after your introductory paragraph(s)
  3. In each of a set of paragraphs by using the topic and stress positions<
  4. Immediately before or after a reason, warrant, or piece of evidence that readers might question

Some readers will have questions about your overall argument because they have different views from the ones you hold or because they resist your claim. You should generally acknowledge these types of issues at the beginning of your essay or at the beginning of the section where they come up. Other readers will be surprised by or resistant to particular points in your argument; you should answer these questions at the points they are likely to arise.

In this workshop, we’ll look at the reasons that you might choose each location for your acknowledgment and response, and provide some examples for each location. After looking at the different locations and why you might choose them, you’ll work through a set of questions that will generate an outline of how you can use the acknowledgments and responses that are relevant to your own argument most effectively.

Acknowledge and Respond in Your Introduction<

You can expect that readers already have their own views on your problem. Sometimes there will be common views that almost everyone shares, but that you want to argue against. These readers often have objections to your warrants. If that is the case, acknowledge and respond to those views right away, in your introduction.

When you acknowledge and respond in your introduction, the A&R corresponds to your problem frame<:

  1. Acknowledge the shared view when you establish a common ground at the beginning of the introduction.
  2. Raise the problem or question you have with the shared view in the destabilizing condition.
  3. Respond to the shared view by stating the solution or claim you will develop in your paper.

For example, here is part of an introduction to a paper for an ecology class. The writer introduces his argument as a response to a generally held assumption. In order to make it clear that he knows what readers usually think about his issue, he first acknowledges <this common assumption, raises a problem< about it, and then responds< to it.

Scientists have long assumed that the most economical way to control insect populations is to use insecticides that kill immediately. In fact, most insecticides for use on crops are designed to kill pests on contact. However, these fast-acting insecticides have been shown to promote resistant strains of some of the most troublesome insects, which leads to an “arms race” between ever more hardy insects and ever-more dangerous insecticides. This study shows that slow-acting types of insecticide control populations more effectively than fast-acting types, since insects don’t develop a resistance to “slow burn” insecticides. Only by shifting to slower control methods with longer-lasting results will farmers be able to avoid the endless cycle of insect control regimes that now limit their profits and endanger their communities.

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This writer wants to claim that slow-acting insecticides are better at controlling pests than fast-acting ones. But because he knows that most scientists and farmers trust fast-acting insecticides, he acknowledges their view right away in his introduction. That way, his readers know that his entire argument responds to a belief that many people hold.

Acknowledge and Respond After Your Introduction, Before You Get to Your Own Ideas<

Sometimes you’ll want to make a claim or propose a solution that you know will be controversial. You anticipate that as soon as readers have read the claim in your introduction, they will begin listing objections or simply think that there are better ways to address your problem. In cases like that, it’s best to deal with those concerns right away. That doesn’t mean you need to change your claim. But you should address readers’ issues before their concerns make it impossible for them to give your argument a fair hearing. Acknowledge and respond to their objections or alternatives right after your introduction, before you develop your main ideas any further. By showing your readers that you’ve considered the other possible solutions, you will clear away some possible objections and give them a reason to assess your solution fairly.

For example, the following claim is from the introduction to an essay on public and private education:

With school systems failing across the country, most parents and teachers want to ensure that hardworking students at public high schools can get into the college of their choice. In order to make this happen, more public schools should offer dual-enrollment and advanced placement options for bright students.

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This seems like a reasonable claim. However, this writer knows that some readers already have strong feelings and preferences about other possible solutions to her problem, so she acknowledges< the most common alternative solution and responds< to it in the very next paragraph:

Some researchers have pointed out that students at private high schools have the best chances at getting into college. They suggest that the government offer more incentives for parents to enroll their students in private schools. However, private schools have historically struggled to enroll a diverse population of students…

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It might take a whole paragraph to finish this acknowledgment and response. But now the writer can get on to explaining her own ideas without worrying that her readers are thinking about the advantages of private schools and wondering whether the writer has bothered to consider them.

Acknowledge and Respond in a Set of Paragraphs Using the Topic and Stress Positions<

Sometimes, you can expect your readers to have several objections to your claim or to know that there are several alternatives that other people have proposed as solutions. If this is the case, you may want to put several paragraphs of acknowledgment and response right after your introduction—one for each objection or alternative your reader might consider.

In fact, some writers develop their entire argument by raising all the alternatives to their claim and showing why each one is not viable, leaving their solution as the only one standing at the end. This form of organizing Acknowledgment and Response is especially helpful in arguments where readers or listeners will be choosing among a pre-determined set of options (think of election speeches, for example, that support one candidate by first attacking the other candidates) or in academic arguments in which you are specifically asked to address a range of possible solutions and argue which is the best.

Suppose, for example, that the writer in our school funding example anticipates that her reader might have other questions about her claim beyond the advantages of private schools. In that case, she can acknowledge< and respond<to them one by one before she gets to her own argument.

Introduction

…With school systems failing across the country, most parents and teachers want to ensure that hardworking students at public high schools can get into the college of their choice. In order to make this happen, more public schools should offer dual-enrollment and advanced placement options for bright students.

Paragraph 1:

Some researchers have pointed out that students at private high schools have the best chances at getting into college. They suggest that the government offer more incentives for parents to enroll their students in private schools. However, private schools have historically struggled to bring in a diverse population of students…

Paragraph 2:

On the other hand, opponents of private schools have suggested equalizing the quality of education by increasing teacher salaries and offering cash bonuses to teachers who work in poorer urban schools. But this solution assumes that local governments have the funds to back these incentives…

Paragraph 3:

Some public schools want to de-emphasize teaching that is aimed at passing standardized tests and achieving high SAT scores. While this option would certainly improve our schools, it is not an idea that can be easily put into action because…

Paragraph 4:

Many parents want to see these schools offering more dual-enrollment and AP options for bright students. If implemented correctly, this option will be the most effective preparation for the college environment because…

<

Here, the writer makes the alternative solutions the focus of each paragraph by placing the alternative in the paragraph’s topic position<, and her own response in the stress position<. If you anticipate that readers may think of objections or alternatives to your claim as soon as you state it in your introduction, you may want to acknowledge and respond to those concerns before you move on to your own ideas.

Acknowledge and Respond Immediately Before or After a Reason, Warrant, or Piece of Evidence That Readers Might Question<

Readers often think of objections or alternatives not to your overall argument but to specific parts of the argument. If you anticipate that readers might disagree with a specific point, mistrust your evidence, or interpret your evidence in a different way, consider acknowledging and responding to those questions before you continue your argument.

For example, here is an excerpt from a paper on the way polls influence elections. In this paragraph, the writer offers evidence from a web site, fivethirtyeight.com, that she knows some of her readers will not trust. So after she presents the evidence, she acknowledges< that its source has been criticized for “skewing its results,” and responds< by explaining why she still thinks it is reliable:

The popular website fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregates many different polling results to create a composite picture of pre-election polls, showed across-the-board gains for Democrats in swing states in the month before the 2006 election. Although critics accused fivethirtyeight.com of skewing its results by weighting polls favoring Republicans less heavily than polls that favored Democrats, the site's predictions in elections prior to 2006 proved to be closer to the actual results than any single major poll. Because this website showed an upswing for Democrats in these states even though some polls did not, we can assume…

<

She might also have acknowledged and responded to the issue before she introduced the evidence itself:

Another key piece of evidence is found on the popular website fivethirtyeight.com, which compiles many different polling results to create a composite picture of pre-election polls. It is true that fivethirtyeight.com has been accused of skewing its results by weighting polls that favor Republicans less heavily, but the site's predictions in elections prior to 2006 proved to be closer to the actual results than any single major poll. In this case, fivethirtyeight.com found across-the-board gains for Democrats in swing states in the month before the 2006 election. Because this website detected this upswing for Democrats even though some polls did not, we can assume…

<

In this case, the question concerns a matter so specific that the writer has to wait to acknowledge and respond until she has introduced the specific material that leads readers to have questions.

When you anticipate that readers might question one of your specific points, acknowledge and respond to their question when you raise that specific point. It’s less helpful to acknowledge these objections too soon, long before your readers think of it, or too late, after you’ve moved on to your next point.

Where to Put Your Acknowledgment and Response<

We’ve seen that there are four places where writers typically acknowledge and respond to the alternative solutions and objections they think their readers might raise:

  1. In the introduction
  2. Immediately after the introductory paragraph(s)
  3. In each of a set of paragraphs by using the topic and stress positions
  4. Immediately before or after a reason, warrant, or piece of evidence that readers might question

Now, we’re going to workshop the writing you’re doing right now to decide which will be the best places for you to acknowledge and respond. We’re going to assume that you have a topic, claim, and probably an outline or list of the evidence and reasons you plan to use. If you don’t yet have those things, this part of the workshop may not be very useful to you.

Where to A&R Worksheet<

Look at your argument outline and ask yourself the following questions. As you do, try to keep in mind very specifically who your particular reader is and what specific interests, beliefs, and principles he or she holds. Some of these questions may not have any answers and some may have several, but you should try to come up with as many answers as you can for each.

  1. To which points of my argument might my reader have objections?
  2. Where in my argument might my reader think that there are alternative solutions that I haven’t mentioned or considered?
  3. Are there any specific reasons or pieces of evidence that seem weak or that aren’t clearly connected to my claim?
  4. Are there specific reasons or pieces of evidence that my reader will need more information or explanation to accept?

If you are working in a workshop group or small study group for this assignment and are having a hard time coming up with possible answers to these questions, you can also have your group members answer these questions. Even if you aren’t working with others, you could still ask a friend or even your instructor to help you with these questions.

Once you have answers to these questions, you need to decide which points are most likely to call for acknowledgment and response, and then where to respond to them.

If you have feedback from more than one person, check to see where their answers overlap: points of overlap mean that those are places where you are especially likely to need to acknowledge and respond. Whether you are looking at just your own answers or answers from a group of people, ask yourself:

  1. Do any of these points pose a significant problem for the solution I’m offering or make me think that I should reconsider my claims?

If any of the alternatives or objections that have been raised seem to undermine or contradict what you’re claiming, you may want to consider rephrasing expanding, or changing the claim. Sometimes, making a list like this will make your realize that there is a better claim or solution that you’d be better off using. However, if you don't think that any of the possible alternatives or objections mean that you should change your claim, ask yourself:

  1. Which of these points seems the most likely to be raised by my particular readers?

You don’t always have to deal with all of the possible issues that your readers might raise but it is important to address the most significant ones. There are several ways of deciding which issues those are: you can try to decide on your own, but a better option is to talk through it with your workshopping group, instructor, or anyone who might be a potential reader for your argument (either an expert in the field or someone who is a member of the general audience you are addressing—this will depend on the kind of argument or paper you are writing.)

Once you’ve decided which issues your readers might raise that you want to address, ask yourself the following questions about each issue. If you don’t feel that you have enough information to answer the question, consult your instructor, your workshopping group, or someone else who is a likely reader for your argument until your are confident in your answer.

  1. Is the issue a fairly broad one that represents the consensus of many of my readers?
  2. Is the issue a single significant but specific alternative or objection to my main claim that can be dealt with in a single paragraph?
  3. Does this issue raise a set of alternatives or objections that might require addressing at some length or in detail? Or, are there several alternative solutions that should all be addressed separately?
  4. Is this issue only associated with a part of my argument, such as a reason, piece of evidence, sub-claim, or warrant?

You may have noticed that the questions we just asked each corresponded to the places to acknowledge and respond. That’s because a “yes” answer corresponds with the place in the argument where it goes best:

If you answered yes to the question Your A&R (probably) goes here
Is the issue a fairly broad one that represents the consensus of many of my readers? In the introduction
Is the issue a single significant but specific alternative or objection to my main claim that can be dealt with in a single paragraph? Immediately after the introductory paragraph(s)
Does this issue raise a set of alternatives or objections that might require addressing at some length or in detail? OR, are there several alternative solutions that should all be addressed separately? In each of a set of paragraphs by using the topic and stress positions
Is this issue only associated with a part of my argument, such as a reason, piece of evidence, sub-claim, or warrant? Immediately before or after the piece of evidence, reason, warrant, or subclaim that the reader might question

This should give you a guide to where and how you will want to acknowledge and respond to your readers concerns in your paper. There are also a few possible results that might mean that you need to rethink how you are organizing your argument or framing your claim: if you have answered “yes” to questions 1 or 3 for several different issues, you may need to think about whether your claim can truly be supported by the reasons and evidence you are offering, and whether what you are trying to prove can be proved in the amount of space you have. For example, two “yes” answers to number three might not be a problem if you are writing a 70 page senior thesis, but in a five page paper, you may not have enough space to address all these alternatives. If you believe that you can sufficiently support your claim, there may be enough alternatives and possible objections that you need to structure your entire paper around acknowledging and responding to alternative and potential suggestions.

Obviously, this isn’t a foolproof guide to acknowledging and responding—although this table and these questions are a good start, there will always be complicated situations or arguments that can’t be solved by a simple table. However, we hope that by going through this workshop you will have gotten some ideas for how to organize your acknowledgment and response.