Research in debating

Typical mistakes

Usually, it happens in the first debate after school has started after summer break – most team members are new to debating and what should be a prepared debate turns into an impromptu discussion. Often in such cases, people haven’t taken their time to do research and missed a chance to expand their horizon. A team may lose a debate if they…

  • are clearly not familiar with key terms of the motion;
  • don’t know any examples to illustrate their arguments;
  • come up with faulty numbers and far-fetched statistics in which no one would ever trust;
  • fail to address critical points because they don’t know the legal or political background of the motion;
  • don’t provide up-to-date material;
  • cannot name the sources they’ve used;
  • fail to distinguish between opinions and facts.

To make sure such things won’t happen to you, have a look at the following guideline.

 Types of information

What kind of data are we looking for?

  • Generally, the most important information in debating are prefabricated arguments – systems of validated statements you can use in a debate.
  • Stories and examples can always be helpful for your introduction or to introduced a specific example. They help you to create emotional impact.
  • Quotes do not only add credibility to your speech but can also make it more memorable.
  • Statistics and numerical data are often quite convincing. But make sure the figures are accurate and unbiased. Inexperienced speakers might find it difficult to interpret charts and graphs correctly. Whenever you use numbers, you should keep in mind that many people have problems with them. Use visualisation (“Imagine a box full of…”) or comparison (“that’s twice the amount of…”).
  • Facts are well-established statements commonly held to be true. To win over your audience, be accurate and make sure that you have checked all relevant facts.
  • Analogies are useful for reply speeches, but also for introductions.
  • Graphs and illustrations allow for quick information at one glance.
  • The same accounts for tables that compare or contrast information.

What is relevant?

  • Proximity. Choose facts that have to do with your area.
  • Relevance: Look for information that corresponds directly to the motion.
  • Significance: Select meaningful examples to support your arguments.
  • Suitability: Make sure the material is suitable for your audience.
  • Variety: Present information from a wide range of sources and different types of media.

Research In Impromptu Debating

  • In debating, you cannot access the internet to do online research. However, you can bring along a one-volume reference book like the CIA Factbook or the New York Times World Almanac. It contains current and relevant information for all countries on earth.
  • Debating is teamwork. It makes sense to have one teammate do most of the research - usually the extra team member who is not part of the team line and will not appear as a speaker in the debate. Choose a person who keeps themselves up to date with what’s going on in the world of politics. Also, geographical and historical background knowledge is also helpful.
  • A good starting point is usually your own experience. Ask yourself what the motion has to do with your own life!
  • Also, brainstorm with your teammates!
  • Use professional brainstorming methods to make effective use of your time!
  • Don’t forget to include opposing views when you collect arguments!

Resources in Prepared Debating

  • Whenever you do research for a debate, make sure you do so with the audience in mind. Neither will the judges be overly familiar with all the minute details of the motion, nor will the other team. Make sure you choose information your audience finds interesting, useful and credible.
  • In a debate, it can also be quite helpful to take a look at the area where the other team is located – do you see any connections with the motion?
  • To gather more information, it can be quite helpful to use interviews. Talk to your friends and family about the motion.
  • Since there are so many debates going on every day, you are likely to find relevant arguments on Google (“debating TOPIC arguments”).
  • Define your search terms wisely – usually, it’s just perfect to type in the key terms of the motion when you start your online research.
  • Whenever you quote, name the source!
  • Use accessible information. It doesn’t make any sense to come up with far-out information your opponent can impossibly falsify.
  • Also, when you refer to new facts and numbers, give a credible source! Look for the best source available (national institutions and trustworthy NGOs, research papers, international studies…)
  • Start with recent numbers and current facts! Keep in mind perspectives of facts might change over time!
  • Start with general information and proceed to more detailed information later on!