Academic TOK

TOK Essay: How to Write Claims and Counterclaims

From the TOK mark scheme: “The arguments are clear, coherent… the implications of arguments are considered. There is clear awareness and evaluation of different points of view.” When it comes to the TOK essay, the mark scheme can seem rather broad and general so I hope to share some practical advice regarding how you can write claims and counterclaims in your essay.

What are claims and counterclaims?

Claims or topic sentences as some may call it would refer to the ‘answers’ that you give to your chosen prompt. However, it is good to remember that it is not so black and white. Instead, we should be looking at topic sentences as perspectives on the given prompt. This is where the mark scheme talks about having ‘different points of view’. As such, in your essay, you want to have multiple claims rather than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the given statement. 

In your claim, you can use the keywords to help guide your response. For example, my prompt was to discuss if ‘reliable knowledge can lack certainty’ (N20 Q6). What I did for one of my claims was to start by saying ‘reliable knowledge can lack certainty as we…’ By using the keywords in the prompt, I was sure that my claim was answering the question but also not just completely agreeing with it. I continued the sentence by justifying the claim that I had made.

For each claim that you make, it would be good to find a counterclaim to it. What you are trying to show the marker is that you understand that although what you say may be true, there are still some limitations to it which you are able to highlight. This shows the marker that you do not just stick to one opinion but can see other perspectives. 

One way I like to think about counterclaims is by looking at them as the ‘terms and conditions’ for the original claim. Counterclaims could show certain situations in which the original claim may be false. It could also be you explaining why the original claim is true, but in reality, it cannot be the case because of whatever reason. 

Common issues

One mistake some people make is to either totally agree or disagree with the statement in the prompt. As mentioned earlier, this shows a lack of ‘open-minded’ thinking. It can appear to the marker that you are not able to think critically, being fixated on the same idea.

For any prompt that you get, always ask yourself why would someone say something like this. Most likely, there are reasons for you to agree and disagree with, depending on the situation. It would be best to come up with a claim for and against the respective AOKs (area of knowledge) that you have chosen.

Another mistake you want to avoid when writing counterclaims is to not completely contradict the point that you made in the first case. By doing this, you invalidate the argument you made earlier. It can be confusing to the marker as they would be unsure about the argument you actually agree with.

For example:

Claim: I think that A is B.
Counterclaim: But I also think that B is not A. 

From this pair, the marker will see a complete contradiction. It would be difficult to appreciate the original claim you made, even if you elaborated on it very well. 

Alternatively,

Claim: I think that A is B when C. 
Counterclaim: However, with respect to D, B may not be A.

In this very simple example, just by adding a little bit more qualifications to the claim and counterclaim, I prevent myself from invalidating either argument. It also shows you the importance of language in your TOK essay. You should not be making sweeping statements in order to prevent the marker from doubting anything that you say.

Writing claims and counterclaims is perhaps the most important part of writing the TOK essay. They are anchoring points from which your essay will flow, so refine them before beginning to write the essay. You definitely do not want to finish writing everything only to realise you want to change a claim that you initially made. Wishing you all the best in your TOK journeys!


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