Debate Class: Know Which Arguments You Need to Prioritize

Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
Debate Class: Know Which Arguments You Need to Prioritize

They say that it takes two to tango. We say that it takes two to debate. Why? Because without your opponents, it’s impossible to build and respond to the most engaging tool in debate: rebuttal.

Rebuttals are one of the most important parts in debate. While they sound straightforward—prove your opponents' arguments are untrue, flawed or unimportant—this can be challenging to do because it’s hard to know what the other teams will say. You need to constantly adjust as the debate unfolds.

In this article, you’ll learn how to prioritize arguments to attack in your rebuttal, four advanced strategies to make the most out of your rebuttal, and how to maximize your chances of winning the debate.

Sometimes you might get lucky, and your opponents will make arguments that are off clash and not relevant, or simply make claims rather than logically prove their arguments. In these cases, your job is simple. All you need to do is to briefly explain why the arguments are off clash or what key links were missing in their argument and voila! You’re done rebutting.

But in many cases, especially if you are debating against strong teams, they’ll have many arguments, and most of them will be relevant. What do you do? There’s not enough time to rebut every argument, so you need to prioritize. There are three main considerations when prioritizing arguments for rebuttal.

Firstly, you should prioritize arguments with large impacts. These can be arguments about harms your opponents claim happened on your side, or benefits that happen on their side. It could be the case that the impacts affect a large group of people or significantly affect a vulnerable minority. For example, if the other side argues millions of unemployed people will find jobs on their side, or that a religious minority will be physically attacked on your side, you should prioritize rebutting these arguments.

Second, you also want to prioritize arguments that are very plausible and the risk of them happening is high. For example, on the motion “This House supports the police using racial profiling to battle terrorism.” The Opposition might argue that ethnic and religious minorities will be targeted and suffer harassment by the police on a daily basis. Since this seems like a very plausible result of the motion, as Government, you should prioritize finding a good answer to this argument and explain why this is not likely and wouldn’t be severe. However, if your opponents present arguments with extreme impacts that are unlikely to occur, a nuclear war happening in the near future for example, you can briefly explain why you think the impact is not likely and shouldn’t have significant value in the debate.

Thirdly, you want to prioritize arguments that directly clash with your arguments. Let’s say you claim that social networks are beneficial for users because they help people socialize. If your opponents claim that social networks isolate people or make them asocial, you want to prioritize rebutting this argument because it directly challenges the logic of your case.

Lastly, you should prioritize arguments that could win you the debate. You’ll need to use your judgment but listen for phrases your opponents might say such as “this argument is enough to win us the debate” or “if we prove this, our opponents can’t win this debate.” You should also pay close attention to any context or framing presented in the round that may make specific arguments round-winning arguments. For example, on the topic, this house would colonize space, GOV says that the most important thing in the debate is humanity’s survival because by 2050, Earth will be uninhabitable, and if they can prove that going into space is the only way to survive, then they will win the round. Notice that in this scenario, you can either rebut the argument, the framing, or both! This might sound something like:

First, Earth becoming uninhabitable depends on things like climate change which we can reduce and adapt to. Second, if anything, trying to colonize space will likely increase climate change and increase the chance of Earth becoming uninhabitable as people invest less in the planet that we are left behind on.

Now that you know which arguments you need to prioritize in your rebuttal, let’s go over four rebuttal strategies to make your rebuttal more effective.

First, don’t rush to try and disprove everything your opponents said and claim that it’s all wrong. Sometimes, it might be beneficial to agree with something your opponents said and use their logic to your advantage. This is actually a powerful weapon if you use it correctly because your opponents have already done the work for you – they have made a claim or proved an argument. The only thing you need to do is add a final explanation of how their argument actually helps your side. For example, in the motion, “This House would abolish standardized testing,” GOV is able to prove that studying for these tests induces high stress for the students. It would be hard for the Opposition to prove these tests are not stressful. Instead, it’s much easier to agree that studying for tests is stressful, but without standardized testing that happens once or twice a year, schools will need to use regular school tests instead as the main evaluation criteria for college admission. Because school tests happen more often, studying for them would be even more stressful.

So far, you’ve learned which arguments you should prioritize in your rebuttal and one advanced strategy you can use when rebutting arguments. Head over to part two of this argument to learn the 3 more rebuttal strategies.

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Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike