Questions to ask yourself while debating

Have you ever been involved in a debate and wondered how to come up with more ideas? These questions checklists will help you develop the arguments you need at particular times in the run up to, and during, a debate.

Preparation time

The time you spend in the run up to a debate thinking about your ideas (‘prep time’) is absolutely crucial to your success in the debate. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s the most important reason why we should or shouldn’t do this? (e.g is there a problem we want to solve, a link we want to break, a principle we want to uphold?)
  • What are all of the other advantages and disadvantages? (e.g. it’s cheaper, it sends out a strong message, it reduces a harm etc)
  • What are the practicalities (cost, time, staffing, getting agreement, space etc)? (these are particularly good on the opposition for attacking their plan)
  • What are the principles? (equality, human rights, justice, liberty, freedom of choice etc)
  • Who are all of the different people who are affected by this or play a role in it? (police, doctors, government, parents, children, teachers, the poor, developing countries, NGOs, TNCs etc) Is this good or bad for them?
  • Are different countries affected differently? Developing/developed; democracy/dictatorship; religious/secular etc
  • What examples can we think of from the news recently that fit into this?
  • What other examples can we think of? (avoid examples from fictional sources and from your history lessons for the most part)

Generating arguments for the opposition

  • Is the proposal moving us too far/fast in an area without general consensus (moral, political, cultural, technological)?
  • Why now? Why should we move first?
  • What is the current trend?
  • Are there more pressing issues?
  • Should we be dealing with this problem as part of a broader issue?
  • Libertarian: Are freedoms (speech, movement, expression, trade) being infringed?
  • Authoritarian:  Should there be more government regulation?
    Is security at risk?
  • Does the proposal tip the balance too far to one side?  Is one side ignored?
  • What are the international implications?
  • What about accountability?
  • How much will this cost?  Where’s the money coming from?Who will run it? Do they have good track record?


During a debate, rebuttal is the name given to the responses by each team to their opponent’s arguments. It’s an exciting challenge to think on your feet in this way; these questions will help you develop your rebuttal skills.

  • Have they given you enough information in their definition? (e.g it might be relevant where something is going to happen or when or by who or how or for how long or if there are any exceptions)
  • Does their definition make practical sense or can it be attacked on those grounds? (Is it too expensive, infeasible, unpopular etc)

With the next three tactics, even if they have tried to prove these things, it is still often really effective to argue against these attempted proofs.

  • Have they proved the premises of their case? (e.g if they want to solve a problem have they proved that the problem exists, if they want to protect animal rights have they shown that animals have rights to start with etc)
  • Have they proved that their case will achieve what they want it to?(e.g if they are worried about global warming, have they shown that their plan of congestion charging will help?)
  • Have they established all of their logical links? (e.g if they are for censoring rap because of gun crime, have they proved a link between rap and gun crime? If they want healthy eating in schools to combat obesity have they shown the link between the two?)
  • Can I attack their individual arguments – benefits, principles, advantages etc? Or do I need to show that they are irrelevant/insignificant etc?
  • Can I attack their examples? (Either by showing that they are factually wrong or by showing that they are not analogous.)
  • Have they contradicted themselves or anyone else on their side?
  • Have they changed the case either by making it more or less extreme than it was to start with?

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