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Debate strategies and tactics

Dagobahn Eagle

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Seeing that debating is the kind of conversation I like the most, I thought I'd start a thread where we, the debaters, teach each others skills that will help improve debating skills. Now, I'm not saying I'm a "teacher" or "authorative' when it comes to debating , and, seeing I've lost many debates, I'm not even saying I'm above average at debating (which is one of the reasons why I'm posting this thread;)). I'm not sure of how far this thread will go, but I'll try to get it rolling.



This is a good way to get your points across. Let's say you think that "USA should not invade Iraq because you cannot invade someone because you think they are a threat". You can use as an analogy that (as another member said) "if you suspect a person to be a murderer, you have to get evidence he is one before you arrest him, and then obtain an arrest warrant. You can't just rush in and arrest him if you 'think' he killed two people. Same with Bush. He can't just bomb a country because Saddam 'maybe' has WMDs".


When you use analogies, be sure to use accurate counterparts, and don't exaggerate. For example, don't say that "we can't ban guns because then we'd have to ban everthing that can kill, from pencils to shopping bags".



Heh, not much to say. We're supposed to just ignore those, right:D?


In my opinion, you have two options:

  1. Keep posting as if they hadn't made the post. If they made any worthwile statements, refute those only.
  2. Get him/her/it onto your Ignore List.


But of course, you should make sure the poster really is a troll, and not just another person with a controversial view or attitude.


Stating sources

When you post something that you know is going to be challenged as untrue, try to track down a reliable source backing up your arguments. Scientific American, recognized news websites, or websites belonging to trusted organizations (Red Cross, etc.), are all good sites.


If your source is in a foreign language and you don't want to translate it all, you should at least summarize it to a couple of lines. If a Russian poster states the KpemÄ's web site as a source.. well, it won't help unless you translate it from Russian to English.


Staying on-topic

This is more like a Community Rules lecture, but stay on topic. If someone makes a slightly off-topic comment, you may reply to it, but prefferably only as part of an on-topic post. To avoid confusion, you could mark your off-topic statement with "OT:" or something.


If some point arises in a thread that you feel is off-topic and you really want to discuss it, start a new thread about it.


If anyone else have any strategies, please share them. Also, please comment the posts made by other posters. Well, I hope mine was helpful, now it's your turn:).

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Proof reading, and fixing any incorrect tags.


Make it coherent, use punctuation and paragraphs. If someones eyes start bleeding when they try to read your posts, they will stop reading it.


Some sort of reference if it is needed, when someone pulls your punk card you need some proof that you didn't just make it up. Even it is made up, at least have the proof that someone else made it up, not you.


Absolve yourself of responsibility for incorrect facts, as stated above.


If you are supporting a weak argument, always capitilize on others mistakes. If you have no argument, or stance, one can be created by pointing out others mistakes.


Make sure you are right. If you are not, own up to it, and move on. You'll appear less of a fool for doing so. Let the ship go down, you don't have to be a hero and go down with it.


Discussions are a flowing thing. Adapt to it, or use more persuasive arguments to direct it to where you want to go. Pointing out that the topic has gone off on a tangent is fine if you can bring it back to the point, but just complaining about it is unproductive and only serves to point out your shortcomings in the new tangent.


Subtly directing the discussion off topic is good to do if you find yourself in a tight spot, but the key word is subtle. You will get called on it if the discussion is still very active.


Make an attempt to have an interesting post. Try to make your post pleasant to read, not a chore. Use similes, metaphors, and synonyms. Make them appealing, and ever changing. If your post is repetitive and stagnant, so too is the point of it.


Make sure to pick your fights wisely. If you are aggressive, make sure your use it against those that are passive. Likewise, don't bring a passive argument up against an aggressive debater, you will get creamed and your ideas will go unheaded. This correlates to my previous point of adaptation, no need to unload both barrels if everyone else has a bb gun, and if you're gonna run with the big boys make sure you don't show up wearing panties.



I can think of some more later. Oh, a personal favorite of mine is twisting of usernames to an insult. Not really useful except for pissing people off, but ever so much fun. Example: I know I repeated some of Dago's (a lost cause, as I know he isn't even italian but fun none the less) points, but I just want to put my methods as well.

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Originally posted by mulik

Oh, a personal favorite of mine is twisting of usernames to an insult. Not really useful except for pissing people off, but ever so much fun.


Personally, I try to avoid twisting usernames very often since, as Mulik pointed out, it can piss people off. Then they lose sight of the topic at hand :D


I also advise that, before debating one side of an argument, you first try to support the opposition's point. What arguments might you use if you were attempting to support the counter-idea to your topic? What arguments have others used in the past (counter-arguments)? Then begin to sort out your counter-counter arguments.


Much like chess, a good debator is thinking a few "moves" ahead.

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A pet peeve of mine, but...


Dont make an argument in one thread, have that argument get totally smashed, and then run and make the same argument in a thread with a similar topic. It didnt work once, it's not going to work the second time you try it. Knock it off already.



As has been stated before, admit if you are wrong. Really, it's ok, nobody is going to come to your house and break your knees or feed you animal feces. Personally, I have more respect and admiration for people who can own up to their own mistakes and say "Hey, you were right, I was wrong."


DONT DONT DONT IGNORE PEOPLE (unless they're trolls). There's a few people here that remember why I hate this. If you dont agree with someones argument, that's totally okay. But refute the argument. Dont say "I dont agree with what you're saying at all, so I'm just going to ignore you." This makes me hopping mad. Disagreement is good when people are willing to sit down and examine why they disagree. It fosters enlightenment. But simply ignoring someone... Arrrrgh!


Dont load your debate. If you start a debate with a poll that goes like...


A) I think Bush is a scum sucking wastebag.


B) I'm an idiot, I like Bush.


....you're asking for trouble. When you start a debate, try to stay neutral when presenting the question. You can jump in later with your own opinion, but present the question in a neutral fashion.


I think this should be a sticky thread....

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Expression is everything


It won't matter if you've got the greatest argument in your head all laid out perfectly understandable - if you can't present it in text so other people know what you mean, then it wont help you one bit.


A good way to express yourself is through examples and analogies, as Dago said. It also helps if you use paragraphs, write your points in short, easily digestable snippets, and save the explanation for the long ones, so people can see where you stand and read more if they're interested.


When arguing something, you have make up your mind if you're just in it to make the other person agree with you, if you haven't made your mind up on the issue yet or if you're just looking to stir sh*t up, with an opinion contrary to the norm.


Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with any stances. Just make sure which tricks you're using.


Don't shadowbox: It's the art of reducing your opponents arguments and take on things down to something silly and more manageable.

Example: If someone says the're against abortion, by "shadowboxing" I could say that they're against it because they feel the fetus' "soul" should be protected. But in reality, their opinion is more nuanced than that - actually they meant that every invididual should have the chance to live on their own.


That's something you must not do - present the oppositions arguments as something simpler and more unnuanced than they are in reality. Of course, this goes hand in hand with putting words in people's mouths as well. Be wary of these subtle tricks and point them out.


As Munik said, it's alright to point out the flaws in other's argumentation, but I feel this should only be used as a way of getting more information from them, and help them. If you know that you're supporting a weak stance, then admit you're wrong dammit. There's no point arguing something fervently that you don't believe in yourself, but playing the devil's advocate to provoke the opposition can be healthy from time to time.


Think your argumentation through. Look at the logical conclusions of it - don't just stop where the point you're making ends.


(More later)

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Good points, especially the one about biased polls. I really REALLY hate biased polls. :mad:


I got one thing to add though: Never use the "Hitler card". :D


It's a widely known fact that the longer the debate goes on (the topic makes no difference), the more likely it is for someone to pull out the Hitler card. A long enough debate means that the probability of someone resorting to "Hitler" becomes 100%.


And at that point the discussion becomes irrational and worthless. :)

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Check your analogies. Often, all too often, analogies become a means of shadowboxing, even if it was not intended. The best example of this that I can come up with right now is the "tornado in junkyard" analogy used by Creationists ("how probable is it that a tornado in a junkyard will assemble a completely functional washing machine?"). This is gross shadowboxing, but at first glance, it may seem relatively innocious.


Be aware of your confirmation bias. Try to counteract it.


Originally posted by Luc Solar

A long enough debate means that the probability of someone resorting to "Hitler" becomes 100%.


And at that point the discussion becomes irrational and worthless. :)


I relatively often find myself doing that... Basically because he's become the end-of-level-bad-guy in Western Europe and North America. If you want to depict something as monolithically evil, you compare it to Hitler. Good metafor, if backed by sound reasoning, or if you are trying to impress on someone that a group/person doesn't like another group/person (eg.: "Communists view Capitalism as being little different from Nazism, and the Capitalist as little different from Hitler", which is perfectly correct, I'm sure we can all agree). But perhaps that's not what you meant?

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  • Try not to get overly attached to a point of view just because it's yours. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don't, others will.
  • Arguing the point of some "authority" is a bad idea. They carry little weight in, and of, themselves. "Authorities" have made mistakes in the past and will continue to do so. Better to rely upon experts in their fields.
  • Wherever possible, use independent confirmation of the "facts."
  • If there's a chain of arguments supporting your point of view, every link in the chain must work, not just most of them.
  • Quantify: if what you're arguing/explaining has some measure or numerical quantity attached to it, it stand up to better scrutiny. That which is vague or qualitative is open to many explanations.
  • Qualify: give sources of information, why something is considered factual, or a reason why the source is to be trusted. "It happens all the time" is neither qualitative nor quantitive.
  • Don't take arguments ad hominem, or "to the man." In other words, attack the argument, not the arguer.
  • Avoid Straw Man Caricacturing: the creation of a position to make it easier to attack. Such as, "scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance," which ignores the central Darwinian insight that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn't.


I adapted most of these from Carl Sagan's A Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, which I highly recommend.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Following is my addition to this thread in the form of a sample of the well-used "playing cards" of the debates:


The "I don't understand your analogy" card

Frequently occuring after an analogy has been posted, this card lets its holder take advantage of the fact that analogies are sometimes a bit cryptical and may be misinterpreted. The user pretends to misunderstand the analogy, most often because he or she realises that it proves his argument wrong. An example is a debate thread at a Norwegian newspaper site on the upcoming government ban of smoking in public places:


Smoker: "I can smoke in public places if I want to. I can't annoy people that much."


Anti-smoking: "If a farmer went straight from his farm, with all the animal manure, hay, mud, and dirt, and generally smelled like a stable, and went and sat down by your table, this would greatly annoy you, partly because of the discomfort, partly because the smell could get on you. and that's just an uncomfortable smell. Smoking is uncomfortable and harmful."


This, in my opinion, is a great analogy, but the smoker pretended not to understand it and ridiculed it (or "flamed", in forum jargon). However, a fellow debater saw trough his move and told him to get in line.


The "because blank said so"-card

This card keeps being used in the form of quotes of the constitution, and I think that's a good example. For example, when someone asks if a neo-nazi site should be banned, a user might simply post that "it shouldn't because that's against the constitution". If you tell me why you agree with the constitution it's fine by me, but when you only quote the constitution, it greatly annoys me because you appear to take on some authority's view without question. "He/she/it said it, so it must be right". You may not be saying this, but it appears that way. Consider the following:


I re-post my thread about the tv-show host who burned the US Flag. When asked on why I agree with him getting arrested, instead of giving an argument, I quote §95 (which bans 'deregatory handling of flags', or something like that). Most people, I believe, would simply take that as a sign that I'm hopelessy devoted to my homeland's laws and don't question them, although I mightn't intend to appear that way.


The "it doesn't happen to me"-card

I've seen this a couple of times. A person might argue that, for example, riding a bike without a helmet is okay "because I ride without a helmet, and I got away from an accident unhurt".


This is over-generalization. You think that just because you got away with an accident, you and most others will be safe too. Very few, also, actually knows someone who's gotten hurt because they haven't been wearing a helmet. But statistically, as we all know, it's very unsafe to ride a bike without a helmet and you gain little from not wearing one.


All these cards can be countered by the "reason" and "common sense" cards.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I would say a good rule when debating is to have a mutual respect for one another.


Also, I think others were saying stuff along these lines, attack the argument and not the person. Attacking the person shows [to me anyway] that your argument is weak ie it is a sign of weakness. A desperate person. Normally you will see this behaviour when people start arguing about something completely off topic because of one sentence that was amongst someones writing. Then that becomes the focus rather than the topic.


At uni I have learnt about common fallacies when making arguments and doing critical thinking. These include:


Appeal to emotion/pity


Appeal to tradition EG People should only be married in churches since this is the way it's been done for centuries.


Appeal to power (majority or might is right)


Appeal to Ignorance Based on if you cannot prove that something is false, then it is true - or vice versa


Black and White: Suggests that only two extreme views are possible. EG. Are you evil or are you good.


Pointing to another wrong: Writer does not answer a charge but merely points out some misdeed of the opponent. (Aussies, watch Question Time on the ABC and you will see the poli's do this!)


Prejudging: Use adjectives to try to sway point of view. EG The intelligent and right minded liberals voted against the evil bigots of the right wing. This implies that liberals are intelligent and that right wingers are evil bigots which may not be the case. It is a very weak persuasive strategy.


Card Stacking Writer tampers with the evidence, ommiting only what does not support their view.


Innapropriate humour Used to encourage readers to laugh at or ridicule an issue that deserves serious attention may also ridicule those of the opposing view.


The Red Herring Writer brings irrelevent information that turns readers aside from the issue at hand.


Hasty Generalization EG My boss rejected my proposal, he/she has no respect for the staff.


Personal Attack Instead of attacking the other person's main message or viewpoint, the writer attacks the person.


Lastly, be as unbias as possible in your reasoning. Do not just show things that support your point of view but show why the things that are against your point of view or block you point of view are false.

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  • 2 months later...

Most of these topics have been done at one time or another here in the Senate Chambers; however, I've added one or two.


The reason for the multi-thread is to give a "hub" or place to start, particularly for those that haven't visited the Senate Chambers previously.


The reason for using the Debate Strategies and Tactics thread is that it offers some good information for those engaging in debates and is a nice place for a "Hub of Debate Topics." I'll put a link to this post in my sig at some point to give a little advertisement in other forums ;)


The reason for resurrecting old topics is that there are a lot of newer members (due mostly to the release of Jedi Academy this month) to the Lucas Forums as well as several recent, regular posters of the Senate Chambers that didn't participate in those old debates and discussions.


The reason for not simply bumping the old threads is that new, fresh comments would be better. Also, many participants would be hesitant to post something that was previously said or would be put off by the number of posts that already exist on a topic. This is an opportunity to get in at the beginning!


PseudoScience vs. Science

Creation vs. Evolution

Gun Control

Euthanasia / Assisted Suicide

Government vs. Religion

World Population

Global Warming

Capital Punishment

Genetic Engineering & Cloning Research



Anyone that wants to start one of the topics that don't already have links to is free to do so… I'll put the link from here!

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  • 2 months later...

Been a while since I thought of one, but I saw a post on another thread concerning abortion. It went something like this...


Democrats are evil because they abort babies. They want to kill babies by squishing their brains out!


Dont do this. What I mean is, don't take the extreme negative result of an action and name that as the motivation of the party you are condemning for that. The negative result may very well be the intention (such as murder), but not always. I seriously doubt in that situation.


You get the idea.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm going to link to a thread on spelling from here. I've a feeling that it won't last long as a thread, but the topic and information are relevant.


Spelling and grammar are vital to getting your point across with credibility. Particularly in a culture such as this where you don't have the person's facial and body language to get cues from and reliance on the written word is all you have.


I also think, however, that inflections and other indicators are important to use for this very reason. The use of the italics code as well as that of the bold are useful, particularly in long posts (I've been guilty of one or two of those). They can add emphasis and create topics and headings within the post itself. Underline is good sometimes, but it gets confused with hyperlinks.


Smilies can be easily overdone ;) , but one or two in a post, especially the more conservative ones, are good. This can be especially helpful to change the tone of a post... it's not always easy to detect sarcasm, irony, or humor without hearing the tones and inflections of a voice.


Read the Spelling Discussion for more information.


Perhaps someone in that thread could link to a spellcheck site where one can copy/paste and then check for errors...

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:D There I hope that smiley is tasteful enough for you.


I am a compulsive spell-checker but I have managed not to let it dominate a discussion :p (Is that smiley overdone? ) but since you are stressing spelling, it is "grammar" not "grammer" :D and it is "influence" not "influance"...;)


Of course, being the mod, you can eliminate my excessive smilies :) :8 :o :0


Oh and you forgot to point out that color should be used in moderation ................


Oh, you have made some good points about trying to set the right tone in a message i.e. with emoticons, as recipients of email or readers of posts can misinterpret the subtleties that they would pick up in person...

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Yes... excellent. I was wondering when someone would catch those obvoius obvious demonstrations of what not to do!


That leads us to the wonderful tool known as the "Edit" button! Poof. The evidence is gone.


Just to be clear... I just finished reading a short biography on Kelsey Grammer and didn't use the word "influence" or "influance," in case anyone things that applied to me.


* Darn... that spellchecker didn't catch "things" which should have been "thinks."

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Yes... excellent. I was wondering when someone would catch those obvoius obvious demonstrations of what not to do!


Well you are a good sport. This is a classic example where someone could take offense. I generally would not point out spelling errors, as no-one likes to be corrected in front of the whole group. Sometimes spelling errors are typos. It was just really funny in this case....



Just to be clear... I just finished reading a short biography on Kelsey Grammer and didn't use the word "influence" or "influance," in case anyone things that applied to me.


And that Kelsey Grammer could cause you to lose points on an important paper.... :p


* Darn... that spellchecker didn't catch "things" which should have been "thinks."


Yes there is that about a machine spellchecker...



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  • 8 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Just a thought: I've seen elsewhere people used html style tags to show what would usually be expressed by a tone of voice (ex: <sarcasm></sarcasm>) It does come in handy to prevent misinterpretations, and allows you to add another dimension to your argument that is normally lost due to the fact that this is text.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Debating with ingorance.


When I am debating with my "friends" about Bush, they always use ignorant biggoted remarks.


Like debating over the war, I mention how many civilians have been killed since then. They always reply with "I hate all those blank blank bleeps. All those mother blanks need to die.


Is there a way to debate with ignorance? I think the only words they can say are "jew" "fag" "rag head" and "nigger".

Sorry if I offended anyone. just giving the idea of their iq level.


I was wandering if there are any debating strategies to counter this.

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  • 6 months later...

"Monitored debate"

This is a useful tool, although it's slightly tiresome if the thread gets to long. It requires some commitment, too.


Basically, let's say you're starting a thread on abortion, which you fear will become one of those 1,000+ post threads which just go around in circles with the same arguments being used over and over.


So in your first post, you make four lists: Facts, articles, for and against. Into those lists you will put every argument stated, and colour-code it due to its in-thread status.


Facts: Green if fact, greyed-out if disproven. (This list is for reference).

Links: Greyed-out if broken link. (Again, for reference).

For/Against: Green: Accepted; Red: Refuted; Greyed-out: Invalid/irrelevant. Black: Being debated.





Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed: Link



Save Terri: Web site devoted to keeping Terri alive: Link



  • Terri could not be saved by today's doctors. Dagobahn Eagle



  • Terri could still hear, feel, and smell. IG-64


The three major drawbacks are that a biased thread started may tend to wrongfully classify arguments; that he/she may just grow tired of the whole thing and stop updating the list (which, I imagine, will lead to more re-posting of ideas because people assume that they have not yet been brought in as they're not present on the list.); and that a lot of people would probably ignore the list anyway.


Make it clear who you are quoting and talking to.



All too often in threads someone answer something only to hear "WTF I wasnt talking to you!" or something to the like. Also, it's hard to know what you're talking about if you're quoting something vague from way back and only adding "nope" or "Amen" as an answer.


Don't make a quote saying

That's idiocy


, which they aren't.


When quoting, using "(...)" to show you've left out text and "[]" to show you've changed something can go a long way. Make the quote coherent and a complete sentence. But just make sure that you don't change its meaning when you edit it to fit your post!


Second off, don't make answers like "I know" or "Amen" or "No, we won't". If someone walks in on that thread and sees that, they'll have no clue as to what's going on.


Last of all, as I said, make it clear who you're talking to. Starting your reply with the person's name is never a bad thing.



Foot notes



If you don't want to litter your post with sources, use foot notes ("*", "†", "‡", "**", and so on) and then post your quotes by the matching foot note at the end of the post.


That's all from me.


"Post script":


I was wandering if there are any debating strategies to counter this.

With respect, it's "wondering". "Wandering" means to walk far or "to wander". Just thought I'd point that out as it's growing on the Web for some reason.


I guess the best response you can make is get new friends, like Shock said. Advicing them to grow up would help, too.


Dagobahn Eagle

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  • 2 weeks later...

Couple of more things:


Commonly mis-spelled names:

These names and terms have been accepted as one-word names even by dictionaries, but are nevertheless spelled correctly the following way:


Viet Nam

Viet Cong

Hong Kong

Bangla Desh


Two terms of debate:

Ad hominem: Attacking the messenger instead of the message (link).

Argumentum ad ignorantiam: Believing something exists because it can not be proven it doesn't; "God exists as you can't prove he does not exist".


Please correct me if I'm wrong, I don't speak Latin;) .


Lastly, if a thread has reached 500 posts or something, don't join it. You will have no way to know if what you "add" to the debate by stating your points has not been said before. If you join a long debate, at least join the discussion as it is at the point where you join. Don't go "I haven't read this whole thread, but I wanted to state my views...".

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