Debate, in an academic sense, is a disciplined form of arguing toward a person or team of people. A debater must provide a logically structured and reasoned argument concerning a topic with a clear conclusion. The purpose is to persuade the audience that your insight on the topic is the correct way to analyze the topic. Because of the disciplined structure of debate, you must observe many rules and can use a number of techniques while attempting to persuade the audience.
The basic rules of a debate are that individual people form a team around a specific topic. Most likely, the team represents the opinion they are for or against. A speaker is chosen in the debate team who will lead much of the debate. The speaker from one team starts out the debate, usually speaking from the affirmative viewpoint. The affirmative has the advantage of saying what the topic is and then expressing the team opinion. The opposing team speaker, called the negative, then rejects the way the first team presented the topic to the audience and presents its side of the argument.
Both teams need to accept specific ground rules of how the debate will occur. Most of the time this is done before the debate occurs in front of the public. A moderator or group of judges communicates with the teams to make sure each team agrees to the conditions of the debate. The most common condition is time allotted. Some debate teams may want to know beforehand what the topics are so the team can discuss among themselves how they should debate the issues. Moderators or judges can reject such a plea, especially if the moderators or judges want each debate team to show its critical thinking skills by being asked about topics no one on the teams knows about beforehand.
Use the Other Team's Arguments Against Them
To persuade the audience and to minimize the effectiveness of the other team's argument, a debater can use aspects of the other team's argument against them in the debate. For example, when the affirmative goes first, the negative can begin an attack on the logic or conclusion of the affirmative team. This discredits and puts logical holes in the argument of the affirmative team; it can also be an effective technique against the negative team when applied correctly. This technique requires the debater to listen to every premise of the team's argument. If there is a logical fallacy or a counterexample to any premise, any member of a debate team can bring this up when it is that speaker's turn to speak in front of the audience.
Minimize Personal Feelings
Personal opinions are seldom a good tool in a debate. Debate is geared toward objective arguing and rational insight. Using emotional or past experiences to validate a claim is too anecdotal and, if countered, can cause a volatile reaction to the debater that used the emotional experience. Instead, moderators, as part of the ground rules, should stress that all personal opinions or past experiences be removed from the debate floor. If a person is so strongly for or against an issue, it is recommended that person not be part of the debate. Otherwise, civility might decrease during the debate.
Cite Authoritative Material
Although debaters will not have books or computer access in front of them, the better and more often they can cite quality material, the better the chance their team could win the debate. Citing material can be tricky since no source is sacred. Citing the beliefs of ancient Greek philosophers can still warrant counterclaims by the opposing team. However, citing any reference that is deemed an authoritative source, such as a study done by an institute or a historical figure, adds to the persuasion of the debate. However, debaters should be ready for counterclaims based on their sources. For example, a political debate can be challenged by a team if a source is deemed too biased, such as too conservative or liberal, and hence cannot be seen as an authoritative source.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images