How To Debate

John Thibault
4 min readOct 21, 2020

Structurally speaking, a debate has five main parts:

1. Summary

2. Position

3. Arguments

4. Rebuttals

5. Conclusion

Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash

Most debates also have rules about their resources. These serve to act as constraints. They are:

  • Time
  • Votes

The purpose of the discussion is to come to a decision about a complex issue or topic. This is important because once you reach a conclusion, you’re free to take action.

So the debate is really a decision process tool.

Let me break down the five main parts.

1. Summary

The summary is like an opening statement or thesis. It is best if it is open-ended and posed as a question.

In the summary, you often pose a question starting with the word “Should… “ i.e., should the US be energy independent? Should Congress audit the Federal Reserve? Should we ban assault weapons? Should bad teachers be fired from our public schools?

You are not trying to build an argument to support your case just yet. At this stage, you’re only asking a question.

The summary usually includes some background or facts to set out the framework for the audience.

2. Position

The position is simple. You either support the thesis (summary), or you oppose it. You are either for it or against it.

Once you know your position, then it is easy to argue. Generally, you will argue on one side of the issue or the other.

3. Arguments

Because people often have not made up their minds, you may find when you speak with someone they argue out of both sides of their mouths. This happens because they either don’t know their position or don’t have the courage of their convictions.

Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, you select one side of an issue, and you advance arguments that support your position.

Arguments are intended to convince your audience that you are right, that they should adopt your position. In that way, you gain support for your central thesis.

John Thibault

Founder, CEO iLobby & Author How to Change a Law, SWAY and The Political Game. Change policy and see around corners.