Part Four of the Miniseries “Improving Your Debating From the Ground Up”

New to this series? Take a look at part one here!

Now that we know the rough order of strength, let’s go through how to address each component (and build strong ones yourself)

These are far and away the most vulnerable part of most arguments. Every time your opponent uses a card or reasoning, they have to use a link to tie that back to their argument. Often, debaters will attempt to avoid this by finding a card to justify their link, like so:


However, that card (in 99% of cases) isn’t intrinsically a perfect connection between points A and B. As a result, more links have to be used to tie this new card in, and the new structure becomes:

And now you have two links to attack! Look for the gaps between cards, because very often cases either leave these blank or fill them with hot air. In either case, they’re generally easy to break, and if you break even one the entire argument falls. Most of your time should be spend attacking these, looking for points where the cards don’t quite add up, or where they address different subgroups–for example, one talking about the Indian Ocean and the other the Atlantic. Discrepancies like these are almost impossible to eliminate, and they’re the death knell for many otherwise solid arguments. If you’re building a case, try to minimize links, and make sure you have validation for the ones you do have in the form of frontlines and additional cards and reasoning. Be prepared for a worst-case scenario where you’ll need to defend your links several layers deep.

As the justification for the claim, warrants are a critical part of any argument. If composed of cards, this can be attacked through many of the same avenues as laid out in the impact section below. However, if it’s reasoning based you can often break their assumptions in the same way you would break links. This makes warrants weaker than claims or impacts, as the inclusion of debater-based reasoning generally weakens arguments relative to cards pulled from professional or academic sources.

The claim is what your opponent is trying to say with their argument. Most of the time, this is difficult to attack, because it relates to the topic fairly well. The reason this is easier to attack than impacts, however, is twofold: if it’s poorly constructed, attacks are easy and devastating; and most debaters don’t spend as much time on these, so it’s less likely they’ll have backup arguments for these.

The most common method of attacking claims is topicality–that is, how well the claim actually relates to the resolution. If the resolution is Resolved: NCAA student athletes ought to be recognized as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act; and your opponents’ claim is that the NCAA student athlete program is good, then that doesn’t really pertain to the resolution. Regardless of the validity of their claim, it doesn’t really affect whether or not student athletes should be recognized as employees, and as such is moot.

Claims are worth prioritizing if you notice a glaring weakness, but otherwise they shouldn’t be the focus of your rebuttal.

This most often comes in the form of a card, and as noted above, these cards are generally hard hitting–that is, after all, their purpose. There are four main avenues of attack on these: credibility, misrepresentation, turns, and impact calculus.

Credibility is what it says on the tin–is the source obviously biased? Did they cite Wikipedia? Does this researcher seem reliable, or are they an undergraduate whose research paper was posted on the internet and found its way into their case? Obviously some of these hypothetical are reaching, but if their source is from a known biased source or if you’ve come across this card before and know the author, this is a valid way to attack a case. Use this avenue of attack sparingly, judges tend to hate the back and forth of “What’s your source for that card?”.

Misrepresentation relies on you having the same card, and as such works best on stock impacts. If the opponent cites part of a card, but leaves out qualifiers (such as this “might” lead to global warming), you can use this to neuter their impacts. This method relies on the fact that the card your opponents are using won’t always be unequivocally in support of their case (in fact, most reliable sources hedge their conclusions). This hedging can be used to mitigate an impact, by pointing out that even their own source thinks that their card is the “worst case scenario”, etc. The best way to take advantage of this is to be well-read, and know stock sources before round.

Turns are the holy grail of a rebuttal speech. A turn is when you can show that the impact your opponent is discussing is better solved for under your side–for instance, if their impact is the negative consequences of biodiversity loss, a turn would show that you preserve biodiversity better than your opponent. These are very situational, but in general look for points where you and your opponent have similar impacts, and see if you can link your warrant more effectively to their impact than they can.

Impact Calculus is the most common method for dealing with impacts, and essentially consists of weighing your impacts against your opponents’ in an attempt to show why yours are more important. Most debates come down to impact calculus at some point, but this should be a last resort; cutting off an opponents’ argument from their impact is inherently more effective than weighing it against yours. Impact calculus has nine major facets, each of which will be addressed in greater detail below: Probability, Scope, Magnitude, Timeframe, Root Cause, Reversibility, Inclusivity, Brightline, and Prerequisite.

  • Probability
    How likely it is that an impact will occur. If your impact is more likely to occur than your opponents’, all other factors being equal yours should be considered more important due to the higher likelihood of it happening.
  • Scope
    How wide-ranging is your impact? Does it affect a small suburb of Pittsburgh, a whole state, a region, a continent, etc.? The wider the scope, the more people that are affected, and the more weight your impact has.
  • Magnitude
    How earth-shattering an impact is. Nuclear war has a massive magnitude, because the effects drastically change life on earth as we know it. A .02% dip in the GDP of Germany has a much smaller magnitude, because the outcome is a much less drastic effect.
  • Timeframe
    When is the impact going to occur? Job loss tomorrow is more critical than job losses in 20 years. Ideally, your impacts should occur sooner than those of your opponent, because that means yours have to be addressed first.
  • Root Cause
    Does the impact deal with the root cause of a problem? For instance, if there was an overabundance of stray dogs Chicago this year, and your opponents’ impact is that encouraging adoption will reduce stray dogs, this is technically true–but it doesn’t solve the root cause of the problem. Stray dogs will continue to breed, and eventually adoption will be saturated. Your opponents are putting a band-aid on a bullet wound, and kicking the problem down the road for future generations.
  • Reversibility
    Can this impact be reversed? If the impact is something like job loss, this can be fixed in the long run. On the other hand, death is a permanent impact (and even trying to reverse it might cost you an arm and a leg). Thus, if faced with death versus job loss, death is the greater impact every time.
  • Inclusivity
    Does your impact include theirs? This is similar to root cause, but involves directly comparing your impact to theirs. Looking back to the stray dog example, if your impact was that encouraging spaying and neutering dogs cuts down on population growth, this would also improve adoption rates, because spayed and neutered dogs are more likely to be adopted. Thus, you improve upon their impact with yours and there’s no reason not to prefer yours.
  • Brightline
    What is the triggering event that causes your opponents’ impacts to occur? If they claim that rising ocean temperatures will cause “upwards of $100 billion in economic damages”, what average temperature increase is required to cause these damages? Is it a linear scale, or exponential? In essence, do they specify when their impact will occur, and what the triggering event is?
  • Prerequisite
    Also relates to inclusivity and root cause. Does their impact rely on something else happening first, and does one of your impacts cause that prerequisite to happen/not happen? For example, if your opponents are claiming that they can solve an economic recession caused in part by a housing bubble, and your impact is that you are the only path to solving the housing bubble, your impact is more important because they can’t solve the recession without going through your path to stem the bubble.

Although impacts tend to be very strong, they are absolutely critical to address, as they are what the debate will boil down to 99% of the time.  Attack links, warrants and claims to cut them off when possible, as cutting off an impact is almost always more effective than mitigating it in some way, shape, or form. Failing a cutoff, however, the techniques above are what you should focus on to outweigh your opponents’ impacts.

Categories: Debate


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