How To: Win Debates Even When You’re Behind on Some Issues


When I was judging this last weekend, I found myself repeating the same criticism to teams over and over again. It’s a technique that is particularly important in close debates, because it influences judges to resolve contentious issues in your favor. It will also help you minimize the places you might be losing. Today, I’ll share it with you.


The practice I’m referring to is “if/then” statements. As we’ve previously discussed on the Debate Central blog, it is important for debaters to understand that (in most rounds) you will not be able to win every single issue. Instead, you have to be realistic about what you are losing, and then explain the debate to the judge in a way that convinces them that the issues you are winning are the most important and/or most likely to be true.


One way to do this is by using “if/then” statements. What do I mean by this? I mean evaluating the arguments you are behind on, and then explaining to your judge why even IF you lose them, you THEN still win the debate because of other issues (the ones you’re ahead on).



By setting up a weighing mechanism that favors you, you can win ballots even without winning every part of the flow.


For example:  “Even if they win their global warming impact, you still vote for us because we’re winning what [link] causes [war scenario]. This war will occur quickly because [timeframe argument], whereas global warming will take several more decades before we see their impacts occurring. Moreover, a thermonuclear war will accelerate the warming process, reducing the amount of time we have to respond to that crisis.”


Another example: “Even if you buy that there’s some risk of a link turn, we’re also winning a risk of a link. You should assume the link is more likely to be true because we’re ahead on the uniqueness debate, and uniqueness controls the direction of the link.”


Notice how both of these examples are establishing that you still win, even if you don’t win that argument.


Of course, you should always include more details about the specific arguments of the round than I did. My examples are just illustrations of the way you might structure your “if/then” statements. I also used CX lingo, but the practice of explaining the debate in “if/then” statements is equally valuable for LDers and PFers.


Doing this is particularly important to compensate for places you’re behind on the flow, as well as to resolve areas that are likely to be seen as a wash. You can use “if/then” statements to recover from coverage or strategic blunders (such as in the first example), or to guide the judge on how to make a decision on issues that are extremely close (like the second example). Again, it’s important to recognize that every evenly-matched debate is going to include some of both of these.


You can’t outright win everything. But by strategically leveraging “if/then” arguments, you can still carve out paths to winning the ballot! And that’s what every debater wants to do.


For more information on winning close debates, check out this article.


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4 Responses to How To: Win Debates Even When You’re Behind on Some Issues

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