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August 10, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Critical thinking for debate–a toolkit for winning

I would suggest the following 34 tools or tactics for being a good debater:
1) Re-framing discussions
2) Getting to the heart of the matter (the nexus question as one debate scholar is noted for saying)
3) Prioritizing (Comparison & Contrast)

4) Defining terms

5) Analogies & metaphors

6) Case studies, examples, and history (ideally multiple forms of truth are best–your argument can reflect diverse perspectives & be multi-disciplinary)

7) Research, science, & data

8) Logical syllogisms (or more simply if-then statements)

9) Determining & assessing root causes

10) Determining & assessing risk (on both sides)

11) What constitutes proof? What constitutes the most credible type of proof?

12) What constitutes value? What are we trying to achieve? What is paramount?

13) Examining assumptions or the limits of arguments (on both sides)–think about this before your discussion.

14) Examining opportunity cost in terms of policy but also the discussion (SWOT does this a bit)

15) Ball parking–defining the criteria where all roads lead to your position

16) Pre-empting. This is answering your opponents argument before they make it. (this can be dangerous)

17) Framing your opponents

18) Learning & specifying what your opponent advocates

19) Creating agreements on core issues if possible (this way you narrow the discussion)

20) Brainstorming possible alternatives (what debaters often call counterplans). This is also really important in negotiations.

21) What is your distinction or nuance? (using contrast is super-key in debate). This along with alternatives is the way you get around saying the exact opposite of what your opponent says.

22) Know your opponents case–or the possible directions it could take.
23) Big picture. Understanding the connections (relationships & inter-relationships). This can also be important in terms of creating your over-arching narrative or theme or framing of the discussion and your case for it or against it. This relates pretty directly to the nexus question & the possible shapes it could take

24) Reflection & attention. Allow your ideas to incubate. Constantly refine (aka kaizen improvement based on research, discussion, & feedback)

25) Clearly identify your strengths and weaknesses as well as your opponents strengths and weaknesses.

26) Context that the debate considers (consider the whole scene–not just isolated or abstracted). This is also a question of framing of proof and what the ultimate problem is.

27) Thinking both/and

28) Think on a continuum–not just in polar terms.

29) Even-if. Even if you win that…..we will still win that. It can serve as a form of internal prioritization (or creating extra fire-walls).

30) “Imagine a world in which…..” is a thought experiment of sorts.
31) Identify generalizations & unpack them. Do this on both sides of the issue.

32) Be clear about the constraints or limitations of your argument. This is argument 101 by Stephen Toulmin.

33) Select the most credible for your proof & compare the relative credibility on each side. This is persuasion 101 from Aristotle.

34) Arguably you could study logical fallacies & human biases–but there are usually just a couple that are handy. The process of learning to identify the argument is probably more useful than the fallacies themselves.

Here is a quick summary of the 7 most important:
1) Proof (why or reason)
2) Priorities (i.e. values & objectives)
3) Research (think creatively here. follow the footnotes that seem most important)
4) What is your distinction (or nuance)
5) Thinking through the options (brainstorming with reflection)
6) Always think of the nexus question will be–what is the end game.
7) Alternatives & counterplans (this is arguably most useful for the “negative”)–but can be helpful for answering questions raised by the negative.


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