Straw Man Arguments - What Are They & How To Respond?

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
Straw Man Arguments - What Are They & How To Respond?

What is a Straw Man argument?

Have you ever been in a debate with a team where, instead of addressing your argument directly, they bring up something irrelevant or mischaracterize what you said? If so, you've likely encountered the 'straw man' fallacy. It's an argument technique used to discredit opponents while seemingly winning the debate by misrepresenting their position.

How can students identify and successfully rebut this deceptive tactic? Let’s take a closer look at what a straw man argument is, and how we can effectively challenge it.

Definition of a Straw Man Argument

A straw man argument is a type of fallacy where an person's argument is misrepresented or weakened to make it easier to attack or refute. This tactic is frequently used in political debates, although hopefully less often in competitive BP and WSDC debates - but either way, it is considered unethical and does not add value to the argument. Instead, it lowers the quality of the debate and is a disservice to the participants and audience, as well as damaging credibility with the adjudicators!

If you want to win debates, you should resist the temptation to caricature your opponent's arguments. As was once said, "an argument cannot be considered to have been defeated until it has been expressed in its strongest possible form."

Examples of Straw Man Arguments

One example of a straw man argument would be stating in a debate on "THW abolish the death penalty" that someone who opposes the death penalty is someone who is in favor of letting murderers go free. That isn't necessarily the case; that person might be in favor of long sentences for murderers, but simply against the state having the right to end anyone's life.

Another example might be if you are in Proposition on the motion, "THBT parents should have access to their children's social media passwords". If the opposition claim that you want parents to read every text message that a child sends and receives on their phone, or vet every photo they post - that's a straw man argument, because it is not what you are arguing.

Both of these straw man fallacy examples are extreme caricatures of your position which are being brought into the debate in an attempt to discredit your broader point.

How to Spot a Straw Man Argument in a debate speech

The most obvious way to spot a straw man argument is to listen closely to your opponent's speech, particularly when they are summarizing your argument prior to rebutting it. If you aren't sure exactly what your teammate said, confirm with them that the opponent is misrepresenting your team's point before calling it out.

Another telltale sign is the use of extreme or exaggerated language from opponents to describe the argument your team made, or removing the nuance from your point by claiming that you made an extreme one. For example, if your argument was clearly comparative ("fewer murders will be committed if the death penalty is used by states") and the opponent makes it sound like it was absolute ("they said that there will be no murders if we use the death penalty!"), that's usually a straw man.

Strategies for Rebutting a Straw Man Argument

Rebutting a straw man argument requires listening to attacks, careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of the original argument.

The first step is to identify the straw man, as explained above. The most important step is the next one; point out the discrepancy to the judge between the actual argument and the distorted version presented by the opposition. You may need to refer to your original notes, which is another reason why good note taking is important during debates!

Remaining calm and focused during the discussion is key, as it will prevent emotional reactions from derailing the conversation. After all, you should remember that your opponent may be guilty of nothing more than a genuine misunderstanding. But by using these strategies, individuals can effectively counter a straw man argument, justify their original point, and steer the debate back on track.


In summary, a straw man argument is a logical fallacy involving the misrepresentation of an individual's or group’s position in order to make it easier to attack. Unfortunately, this kind of tactic is widespread in political debates, advertisements and not unknown in competitive debates. However, by being aware of the straw man argument fallacy, you can actively guard against falling prey to it yourself. Furthermore, if ever confronted with such arguments from others, you will have the knowledge and tools necessary to knock down a strawman swiftly and effectively.

Start Learning For Free  » 

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy