Rebuttals Chapter


The second speech that each team delivers in a Public Forum debate is the Rebuttal, which is how the one side refutes the other side’s Constructive. For new debaters, this is often the most difficult speech, as they need to be able to come up with arguments to what the other side says. Constructive speeches are written out, and later speeches (Summary, Final Focus) use content from early speeches, leaving the Rebuttal as the speech where debaters need to create content “on the fly” against what the other side says.
Although the Rebuttal is difficult for new debaters, new debaters need to be able to give strong rebuttals to make a strong impression on the judge. They also need to be able to think strategically about it and take advantage of any opportunity to insert any new arguments.

Preparing the Rebuttal

There are three  important tasks a debater must complete in order to deliver a strong Rebuttal.
Prepare in advance. Even the most advanced debaters are not going to be able to think of all the answers they need in the middle of the debate; they are going to have to prepare a set of arguments against arguments they can predict the other side making in advance. How do they do this? There are a number of ways. They should start by writing blocks, which are organized pages with lists of answers, that include responses to arguments that they make in their own Constructive speeches. They should also write out answers to arguments they have brainstormed, that are available in other evidence sets they’ve seen sold, and against arguments they hear about at tournaments. If debaters have blocks prepared against all of those arguments (we will talk about how to do that in other essays) they will be able to use a minimal amount of preparation time responding to the arguments they are hearing for the first time in their debates.
Think of what they have that applies. Debaters will not always be able to think of everything they need of ahead of time, so they should think of evidence and arguments they have related to other arguments that apply and use as much logic as possible to think of answers.
Flow. We will discuss flowing in another essay, but the basic idea of flowing is to take notes on the arguments your opponent is making in the debate. If you flow, you will have a good list of the other side’s arguments and you will be able to be sure you address them all.

Generating Responses

As discussed in the essay on Constructive speeches, most contentions have a number of different parts.  Understanding these parts will help debaters respond to the parts, as attacking one of the parts attacks one of the components of the arguments.
Link/no link.  Remember that the link is the connection to the argument. “School uniforms increase academic achievement” is the connection from school uniforms to academic achievement. If debaters argue that school uniforms do not increase academic achievement, that attacks the link.
Link turns. Link turns argue that it is actually the opposite of the link that is true.  For example, if a debater argues that school uniforms reduce academic growth because kids end up missing class time when they get sent to the office for a uniform violation, that is a link turn.
Debaters should always make both no link and link turn arguments so that they have a consistent story — they can argue that uniforms only decrease academic achievement (link turn) and that they don’t increase it (no link). If they only make the, “link turn” argument, the will only have argued for a reason that uniforms decrease academic achievement and will not have provided a reason the uniforms decrease it.
Unique/non-unique. Uniqueness arguments describe the status quo (current world) in relation to the topic. In this case, Pro teams will argue that academic achievement is low now and that it needs to be increased. Con teams will argue that everything is okay now and nothing needs to be changed. Ordinarily, the resolution requires the Pro to argue for change, so the Pro will be arguing there is something wrong with the status quo and the Con will be defending the status quo.
Impact/no impact. Remember that impact arguments answer the question of why the argument matters. Why is academic achievement good? Does it boost personal growth? Lifetime earnings? Will a well-educated population strengthen the economy?
No impact arguments contend that the impact doesn’t really matter. Teams may argue that small changes in academic achievement do not impact a person’s lifetime earnings or personal satisfaction. They may also argue that a strong economy only benefits a large number of wealth people, as economic gains tend to be distributed toward the top.c
Impact turns. Impact turns argue that we think is good is actually bad. For example, we generally think economic growth is good, but a growing economy could increase air pollution, as demand for energy grows during periods of economic growth and increasing energy production, particularly coal and oil, increases pollution risks.
When arguing impact turns, debaters should also make no impact arguments.  This way they can say, for example, that economic growth is not good, it is only bad. If they just make the impact turn argument without the no impact argument, they will have only established one reason it is bad and not denied that it can also be good.
While both link turn and impact turn arguments are good on their own merits, it is critical that debaters do not make both of these on the same argument in the same debate. If debaters make both a link turn and and impact turn argument, they will be double turning themselves, and double turns could prove catastrophic.
To help you understand the problem of double turns, let’s think through an example. Imagine the Con team argues that school uniforms hurt academic achievement (link turn) and then argues that economic growth is bad (impact turn). The net of their argument would be, “The Pro team hurts academic achievement, reducing economic growth…and economic growth is bad.”  You should see the problem.
Internal/no internal link.  I left this for the end because there are essentially multiple secondary links, and that is easiest to understand once all these parts are understood. Basically, the idea of the internal link is that there are subsequent links.   Example —

Link — School uniforms increase academic achievement
Internal link — Academic achievement increases test scores
Internal link (2) — Increased test scores increase college admissions
Internal link (3) — Improved college admissions improves life outcomes
Impact — Improved life outcomes increase life expectancy
Organizing The Rebuttal
The Rebuttal should be directed against the previous constructive. That sounds obvious, but I’ve seen debates where the second Rebuttalist directed at least the majority of their rebuttal against the first Rebuttalist. While it may be wise to spend some time answering some of the first Rebuttal if there is time at the end of the speech, and if responding to some of the Constructive arguments are likely to take more time than what is available in the Summary (the speeches that follow the Rebuttal), the Rebuttal should primarily be directed at the other side’s constructive speech. At best, the second Rebuttalist will want to divide their time equally between responding to the second Rebuttal speech and responding to the Constructive speech.  Of course, the only thing the first Rebuttal speaker can do is respond to the second Custructive speech, as the first rebuttal speaker will not have spoken yet.
There are two different approaches to organizing the Rebuttal speech. The first approach is to simply go point by point through the arguments made in the Constructive speech (hopefully in order). This is certainly one way to be an effective Rebuttal speaker, but another more efficient way is to group the major arguments, usually by Contention or advantage/disadvantage. For example, if the Pro has two primary arguments in support of the claim that school uniforms increase academic achievement and that academic achievement is good, the Rebuttal speaker can make a number of organized responses to each one. They may say , for example, “Group the debate school uniforms increase academic achievement.”
One, academic achievement already high now.
[insert short quote, paraphrase a piece of evidence, or simply offer some explanation and analysis]
Two, school uniforms don’t boost academic achievement.
[insert short quote, paraphrase a piece of evidence, or simply offer some explanation and analysis]
Three, small improvements in academic achievement don’t impact life earnings.
[insert short quote, paraphrase a piece of evidence, or simply offer some explanation and analysis]
You might make additional arguments – these are just sample arguments that you may use in a Rebuttal speech.
As I judge, I prefer this approach because it is more efficient (it doesn’t require constantly referencing the other teams’ arguments) and because it helps keep the flow organized (yes, I realize I flow and that all judges do not flow). But, even for judges who do not flow, it may make sense to ­­have an organized list of arguments, as all judges prefer organized refutation. Also, it will make it easier to extend arguments (particularly dropped arguments!) in Summary and Final Focus.
The second approach to a Rebuttal speech is to go point by point through the Constructive speech. With this approach, the Rebuttal speaker would proceed in the following manner –
“My opponent argued that we need to increase academic achievement, but academic achievement is already high.”
[insert short quote, paraphrase a piece of evidence, or simply offer some explanation and analysis].
And, “My opponent said that school uniforms increase academic achievement, but the evidence that argues this doesn’t account for the fact that students who wear school uniforms are already strong students.”
[insert short quote, paraphrase a piece of evidence, or simply offer some explanation and analysis]
“My opponent then argued that academic achievement is important to life success, but evidence indicates that small changes in academic achievement are irrelevant.”
[insert short quote, paraphrase a piece of evidence, or simply offer some explanation and analysis]
This approach also works and it is a useful way to keep judges focused on particular arguments, but it is inefficient. Why is it inefficient? Because a good portion of the Rebuttalist’s speech time is spent continually referencing the other side’s arguments, leaving lest time for the Rebuttal speaker to make his or her own arguments.
Regardless of which approach to the Rebuttal that you choose, there are a couple of additional considerations to keep in mind.

Additional Considerations

First and last impressions. Remember that the first time you respond to an argument will be the first response the judge hears to your opponent’s arguments, so it is very important that you make your first argument one of your very best arguments. You should also think of ending your responses to a particular contention with your second best argument. This will not only leave a good argument in the judge’s mind, but since you make it last, it will increase the chances that the other team will not respond to it – that they will drop the argument
Clear tag lines. A tag line is a simply summary of your argument. For example, “School uniforms do not increase academic achievement.” Although your argument contain different types of support – evidence, reasoning, multiple warrants (warrants are essentially reasons) – the tag represents a clear and concise statement of your argument. If your judge is flowing, he or she will write down the tag line. And if they are not flowing, the judge will have something clear to remember and something that you can clearly reference in later speeches.
Use offensive arguments. A defensive argument claims that what the other side says is not true, and an offensive argument essentially says that the opposite of what they say is true. An argument that says school uniforms do not increase academic achievement is a defensive argument. An argument says school uniforms waste student’s times and undermine academic achievement is an offensive argument. It is good to make a number of offensive arguments in the Rebuttal because it is very hard for the Summary speaker to cover all of the Rebuttal arguments in two minutes, and dropping an offensive argument is worse than dropping a defensive argument.
Moreover, it makes sense to make offensive arguments at the end of the Rebuttal because debaters are often “top heavy,” meaning that they spend a lot of time answering arguments at the beginning of their speeches and often do not cover/respond to arguments made by their opponents at the end of their speeches. This means that arguments made at the end of the speeches are often “dropped,” and since dropped arguments are considered to be automatically won by the other side, it is great to have an offensive argument dropped by the other side.
Use of evidence. I will write a longer, separate post on using evidence, but for now I will simply highlight that I think that debaters should, at the very least, read the part of the card/source that supports the central claim they are making.
Use prep time. While Rebuttal speakers often try to avoid using preparation time to save it for later speeches, it is important to make sure that you have a strong rebuttal to the other side’s arguments for a number of reasons. One, you want to make an initial strong impression on the judge. Two, you should always answer an argument at the first opportunity or it may be considered to be dropped. Three, if you fail to make strong arguments early, you will struggle with prep time to find arguments that you need to make later.
Allocate argument quality. If you are using the approach I suggest above where you make a list of arguments in response to each contention, be sure to start and end with a very good argument. Why? Because you want to make an strong initial impression with the judge and also end on a good note.
Introduce weighing. We will cover weighing in another essay, but weighing is basically the idea of comparing arguments to establish why one is more important than another. If you introduce this in Rebuttal and the Summary speaker does not respond, you can point out in your Final Focus that you established the weighing early on and that your opponent didn’t respond to it

Advanced Tips for Rebuttal Speakers

The basic job of the Rebuttal speaker is to respond to the Constructive speeches in the ways that have been described.

Debaters with more experience, should consider these additional suggestions.

Prioritize offense. Offensive arguments are link turns and impact turns. Why? Because these arguments show that it is bad to support the other side’s argument, not just that the argument isn’t as great as the other side says it is.  If these arguments are dropped by the other side, the arguments essentially become voting issues against the other side’s argument.
Read an add-on. An add-on is essentially an additional mini-contention that is read in the Rebuttal. In the context, of school uniforms, imagine that a Pro team argued school uniforms are good because they increase academic achievement and increase school discipline. In the Rebuttal, they may read an “add-on” that says that school uniforms save families money and that saving money is good. It is best to “hide” this argument among others, but if you do there is a good chance the other team will drop it.
Take time to explain arguments. Summary and Final Focus speeches are only two minutes long, so there will not be much time to provide much additional explanation in these later speeches. It is critical to make any explanation you think needs to be made in these speeches.
Think about where the debate is going. Most teams read two contentions, but they only extend one of the contentions at the end of the debate, trying to win the debate on that one contention. Before you give your Rebuttal, try to think ahead to figure out what contention they will likely try to win the debate on. You should put more answers on the contention you think they will most likely go for.
How do you know what they will likely go for? It can be tricky, but ask yourself — What argument is stronger? What argument have they gone for in other debates (if you can figure that out)?

Unique Tips for the Second Rebuttal Speaker.

The job of both Rebuttal speakers is to respond to the Constructive, but there are a few unique opportunities that are available to the second Rebuttal speaker.
Address some of the other side’s rebuttal. Although most of the Rebuttal time should be spent respond to the other side’s Constructive speech, second Rebuttal speaker should spend a bit of their speech (the last 45 seconds to one minute) responding to the first rebuttal, simply because Summary speeches are really just too short and there isn’t a lot of time to cover arguments.
Think of your Rebuttal as an opportunity to extend a contention. Don’t just think of your rebuttal as respond to the other side’s contention or the other side’s responses to your arguments. When you are doing the second rebuttal, plan on extending one of your contentions, write up an overview with impact calculus (magnitude, time-frame, probability, scope, reversability) and prepare answers to “frontlines” to respond to answers.
Employ a lot of offense.  Second rebuttal speakers should prioritize using offensive and defensive arguments to respond to contentions, as it is very difficult for Summary speakers to have time in a two minute Summary to respond to all of these arguments.
Minimize prep time usage. The first Rebuttal is difficult because it comes right after the second constructive. The second, rebuttal, however, is supposed to respond to the first constructive, which is the first speech in the debate. By the time the second rebuttal goes, there will have been a second constructive speech (given by one’s own teammate), a crossfire, and a first rebuttal. With the exception of preparing answers to the first rebuttalist’s points, there should be minimal need for prep time.

The use of offense could (maybe should) include a potential add-on.


I think that the Rebuttal speech is the hardest speech in the debate for new debaters, but if debaters prepare in advance and flow, they will be able to deliver strong rebuttals. Those rebuttals will be even stronger if they are well-organized, are supported by evidence, and include offensive arguments. If debaters can initiate weighing, they can gain a strong upper hand over their opponents.

Debate Vocabulary

Link — The initial connection from the topic to the argument
Link turn — Saying that the opposite of the link will happen
Internal link — The connection from the link to the next argument
Uniqueness — The state of the world as of now
Impact — The consequence, why it matters
Impact turn — The opposite of the impact; it’s why we think what is good is actually bad
Add-On  An add-on is essentially an additional mini contention that is read in the Rebuttal speech
Blocks.  Blocks are responses to particular contentions.
Drop. A team that doesn’t respond to an argument is considered to have dropped the argument.
Frontlines.  Frontlines are arguments written to respond to the arguments in the blocks (the arguments made in responses to contentions).
Double turn — A double turn is when a link turn and impact turn are read.
Offensive arguments — Link turns and impact turns are offensive arguments

General Vocabulary

Life expectancy — How long a person expected to live
Status quo — The world as it exists now