How To Prepare For A Debate

Writing Guides Speech
Mar 21, 2019

Participating in a debate is probably among the most challenging activities in class. It is similar to writing an argumentative essay . But the difference is it involves engaging in public speaking. Apart from requiring you to know the topic well, debating also requires a quick mind, critical thinking, and articulateness. Although being a good debater can be difficult, there are ways to become better at such activities. In this post, we provide guidelines that will help you prepare for a debate effectively and increase your chances of achieving victory. Here are some useful tips in preparing: How to Prepare for A Debate

What is a debate?

A debate can be defined as a structured context in which two sides present arguments supporting their view regarding a given issue. In most cases, the discussion centers on a resolution for a controversial topic and the two sides take differing standpoints. One side takes the position in support of the resolution (affirmative side) and the other side takes the position in opposition to the resolution (opposing or negative side). Adhering to the set rules, each side presents arguments that support their standpoint as well as rebuttals and refutations to counterarguments (Shuster & Meany, 2005).

Formal debates have been a crucial part of life for thousands of years. Ancient societies like the Greeks and the Romans conducted these as part of political discourse (Davies, 2017). Today, they play a vital role in legislative bodies like the Senate and the House of Representatives. Debates are particularly important in the formulation of laws and policies since these are designed to bring out the merits and demerits of resolutions (Wolfson, 2013).

But the importance of these discussions goes beyond politics. They are also crucial in the private sphere, especially in business where decisions need to be based on hard evidence and sound reasoning. Even daily life involves them. Whenever someone considers two or more options, such as when a student thinks about which college must-haves to buy to survive dorm life, a debate occurs.

How To Prepare For A Debate

Because of the vital role they play in daily life, schools have made debates a prominent part of curriculums. If you feel like you need to learn how to become a good debater, then you should definitely follow the steps outlined below.

Step 1: Know Your Topic

Every debate begins with the moderator assigning the topic. There are always two sides in this event: the affirmative position and the opposing or negative position. Regardless of the position assigned to you, you need to know a lot about the topic in order to argue well. Remember that the foundation of good debating is knowledge. Going to this competition without knowing anything about your topic is like writing a research paper without conducting research.

In most cases, the topic will involve a long-standing controversial issue or a recent issue that requires solutions. Political debate topics are quite common. As are other controversial debate topics like drug abuse, the morality of abortion, and end-of-life issues like euthanasia . Once you receive the topic, discuss among your team all the information you know about it. It pays to be aware of general knowledge or simply read various literature if you are a contentious debater. Make sure you evaluate the sources to ensure that they are scholarly since unreliable sources will not give you the knowledge you need to do a debate successfully.

Step 2: Prepare Your Arguments 

Once you have learned enough about the topic, you may proceed to prepare your arguments. Arguments are the points that you advance to defend your position. As you are only at the early stages of preparing for a debate, it’s best to write all of the arguments you can come up with. Apart from listing your arguments individually, you can also conduct brainstorming with your teammates. This will help you avoid redundancies as well as synthesize any related arguments. While you probably will not use all of these arguments due to limitations imposed by the guidelines, being familiar with each and every one of them is still an advantage since this means that you can use any of them if necessary.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Arguments

After familiarizing yourself with your arguments, you will need to evaluate their quality. Note that arguments vary when it comes to strength and usefulness. Since you will not be able to use all your arguments, you need to choose only the most important ones. Evaluating arguments is, therefore, useful because it allows you to identify the arguments that will serve as your key points. How do you go about determining the quality of an argument? Start by looking at the evidence. The most effective arguments are supported by facts, research findings, and scientific data. Looking at the source of the evidence is also a good way to evaluate the quality of the argument. For instance, evidence from journal articles, commentary by experts in the field, and statistical findings are excellent evidence that lends your arguments credence.

Good arguments are also grounded in logical reasoning. While you may be tempted to use arguments that appeal to emotions, avoid them as much as possible or use them sparingly. Emotionally-charged arguments may be successful in eliciting emotional responses, but they seldom get past more critical judges. Emotional appeal can also be easily torn apart by your opponents, especially if they are armed with hard facts. Since the potency of your arguments is most important, continue reading below to ensure that your arguments are flawless. Remember that while there are three modes of persuasion , the most useful are ethos and logos. Meanwhile, pathos should be kept at a minimum.

Step 4: Prepare Your Counterarguments

Learning how to be a better debater, of course, is not complete without preparing your counterarguments. Here are two important tips: first, never underestimate your opponents; second, assume that they are as knowledgeable and prepared as your team. Remember, one of the most effective debating techniques is attacking the arguments of your opponents in order to break them down and discredit them. This means that you should not just review the arguments that your opponents will use, but you should also formulate counterarguments. Similar to your arguments, your counterarguments should also be logical and supported by excellent evidence.

Step 5: Ready Your Refutations

In order to know how to debate effectively, you should also know how to prepare refutations. As discussed earlier, an effective technique is preparing counterarguments meant to contest your opponents’ arguments. A good debater, however, is aware that opponents will also prepare counterarguments of their own. You must, therefore, prepare for your opponents’ attacks by formulating your refutations.

Anticipate the counterarguments that the other side may use against you, and then come up with effective responses to these. Look for logical fallacies . Failing to refute your opponents’ counterarguments can cost you points. On the other hand, successfully defending your arguments with refutations will not only show the judges that you have prepared for the competition, it will also deal a blow to your opponents’ morale.

Step 6: Prepare Your Cue Cards

At this point, you are required to know your topic and prepare your arguments, counterarguments, and refutations. Remembering these by heart is ideal, but memorizing these can be overwhelming. You are just human, after all, and you are prone to making mistakes. Address this concern by preparing cue cards. Organize your cue cards and refer to them when you are delivering your statements. Just as how cue cards are used in presentations, your cue cards will serve as your guide so that you do not forget anything or stray away from the topic. Do not forget, though, to write legibly; you do not want to lose time squinting at the cards because they are almost unreadable.

Step 7: Master the Rules

Another vital preparation technique is knowing the rules. The concept is simple. Your main task is to convince your audience that your position is correct. But while the concept is simple, the mechanics can be complicated. Rules and guidelines vary depending on the mechanics set by your teacher or your organization. What’s common among them, though, is their rigidity. Rules are strictly implemented because it will be unfair if debaters are allowed to deviate from these. Learning how to prepare for a debate, therefore, should include thoroughly studying these rules. Bear in mind that teams are penalized for breaking rules. The more familiar you are with the rules, the less likely you are to break them while debating.

Step 8: Time Yourself

One of the most important rules of debating is staying within the time limit. Each member is given an opportunity to deliver their arguments and respond to their opponents. The length of time granted to teams varies, but it’s often just a few minutes. For instance, some organizations provide only as few as four to five minutes. Because you have limited time to state your points, you need to manage your time wisely. Learn to debate in a concise and straightforward manner. Avoid being too wordy by using clear and precise language. The time limit is also the reason why you need to choose only your best arguments. Use a stopwatch when practicing so that you can ensure that you deliver everything before you run out of time.

Step 9: Practice Before a Mirror

While evidence-backed arguments are the primary tools you use when debating, your presence and demeanor also count. Debating, after all, is a form of public speaking. You should appear calm and confident while debating. Avoid looking discouraged or defeated when your opponents score points, since showing your emotions will only encourage the other side to concentrate their efforts on weakening your morale. Practice before a mirror so that you can observe and improve your body language. Remember that learning to debate is not just a matter of reciting or refuting arguments; it is also about conducting yourself with charisma.

Step 10: Rehearse

Although debaters are given the floor individually, debating is essentially a team effort. As the saying goes, a team is only as strong as its weakest member. You should encourage each other to be excellent debaters. Study tips on debates together and apply them. Do not be afraid to critique each other. Identifying each other’s weaknesses will help you grow together in the long run.

For maximum efficiency, learn how to organize a debate. Then organize one between your teammates. For instance, half the team takes one side while the other takes the opposing side. You may then switch sides later. This tactic will familiarize all of you with both sides of the issue. This will also train you in defending your position as the other side looks for holes in your arguments. Such techniques will fortify your performance in the actual event. Remember that the more you know about both sides of the issue, the greater your chance to win.

Custom Writing Help

Mastering debates takes time. You can practice by studying materials such as lists of best debate topics for students . Joining a debate is a daunting task. But it can also be fulfilling since it expands your knowledge, enhances critical thinking, and improves your rhetorical skills. The tips and techniques discussed will help you prepare for debate competitions. But if you feel that you’re not yet ready, let a professional writer assist you. CustomEssayMeister’s custom writing service lets you place orders for write-ups that you can use in debating. Just let us know what you need and we’ll get it done. In fact, you can order other projects like term papers, lab reports , and capstones from us. That’s how flexible our service is.


Davies, I. (2017). Debates in history teaching. Routledge.

Shuster, K. & Meany, J. (2005). Speak out: Debate and public speaking in the middle grades . IDEA.

Wolfson, J. A. (2013). The great debate: A handbook for policy debate and public forum debate. LightningBolt Press.

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