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I had finally done it. I had concocted the perfect case, the unstoppable juggernaut that will surely strike fear into the hearts of all who face it. The applications were poignant. The rhetoric was nigh-on legendary. The framework was brilliant. This might have been the moment I had peaked as a debater. Then it happened.
Like darts, the rebuttals came. Sniping out of the trees, knocking away at my hand-picked infantry like a bowling ball at pins. How could this be so? I thought of everything in case construction. I made good arguments in the rebuttals. But my opponent’s case stood strong at the end of the round, and I lay confused and defeated. Afterwards, I realized that the problem wasn’t my ideas, my strategy, or even my case. It was my follow-through.
My arguments then – and your arguments now – need a thesis. This all has to do with strategic round vision and a proper idea of what your ultimate goal is in the round. Arguments get a thesis based on the direction in which you point them during your argumentation. If you point your arguments nowhere, they will go nowhere. Your arguments need to be pointed in similar directions if you want to garner victory. Let’s borrow the illustration of a bridge for a moment.
A bridge over a wide gap can be supported in a number of ways. One such way is trusses. Trusses distribute the weight of a bridge across multiple points of pressure, ensuring that there is no point that is significantly weaker than another. In the same fashion, your arguments should serve as trusses bound by a handful of connected theses. Many of your arguments can and should have the same impact, even if that argument is just that the case or a particular part of it does not stand in the round. If we are not doing this extra work and our opponent is, then the judge can be forgiven for thinking they have a more coherent rebuttal than we do.
All is not lost, however. We are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of last round. Take the extra step with your rebutting argument, and see where it connects in the context of the round. Sure, it connects to a particular argument on the flow, but where does it fit in a more general sense? Does it build up your case? Does it attack the framework? Perhaps it discredits your opponent’s credibility in the round, or even completely severs them from access to certain impacts. If you have multiple rebuttal arguments that “do the same thing,” combine them into sections. On one part of the flow, have a thesis of attacking their credibility. On another, sever them from their impacts, and so on.
Only half of the battle is in case construction. The other half is in the rebuttals. (A third half is in cross-examination, but that’s neither here nor there for the moment.) If we can learn how to point our rebuttal arguments all in coordinated directions, we have maximized the effectiveness of yet one more tool in our arsenal.
Nathanael is a senior honors student at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, studying for a bachelor’s degree in history. Nathanael believes that debate is first and foremost about cultivating strengths to export out of debate. Nathanael argues one should win such that even their opponent is happy for them.
You can learn about Nathanael in this short bio. You can also book coaching with Nathanael here.