Guide to writing debatabase debates

Introduction

These guidelines are meant as a reference to help you create some sensational debates. We’d love it if you read it through at least once, but you don’t need to stick to it rigidly.

The document is split into 3 sections: How to do it; What your final debate should look like; and Detailed Guidelines. Hopefully most of this will seem blindingly obvious to you. The first section is most important, the last one can be considered to be mostly a check list for your debates.

We are hoping that you will write a very good debate. However this does not mean that you need to write a debate as if you were taking part in a live debate. As you have much more time to formulate arguments and of course you can use evidence (and anyone can check it) while we encourage the use of evidence and quotes we do not want plagiarism.

We encourage you to take a look at and read through several of the current debatabase debates - in particular we recommend Daniël Schut's 'This House would build hydroelectric dams' as a good example of writing a debate that is not long but fulfils all the criteria, though most require a bit more explanation. This will give you a good idea of how the debates end up. While not all the debates follow the method laid out here most do. Where they don’t there is usually a good reason; such as not being able to find a good reference.

First you need to have a good motion (either from our list of debates to be written or if writing your own please read our guide to creating motions) and this should be cleared with the editor of debatabase (Alex Helling ahelling@idebate.org.uk for the English version), please do not send in debates without first checking with us that we believe it is a topic that we is worth a debate and something we will put up. Once you have set your motion it is best come up with a plan; what points should both sides have? Then write the introduction and in particular the definitions of the debate. This will set the parameters of the rest of the debate. You should then spend some time doing research to familiarise yourself with the background and topic before you begin writing and looking for specifics.

idebate.org debates are open to change over time. Users can suggest changes for editors and curators to sign off on through the ‘improve this’ buttons on each point and counterpoint. This means that changes to the debate will likely be slow but will happen. As a result you do not need to worry about thinking of every possible argument on each side of the debate as any missed can be added later. It is far better to make sure you have the core arguments well-argued and written.

The format for the debates is relatively simple. There will be more detail about each section later on, but something to note here is that each argument has a counter-argument. This is not a list of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. We recomend you use a word processing program to write your debate as working online is difficult (we are working on making it possible) please see the template attached to the bottom this page which you may use if you wish.

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Introduction

  • Define terms in title
  • Provide the parameters for the debate
  • Provide the context: some foundational facts - how it is done now across the world (what are we changing from?)
  • Unbiased: both sides should be able to accept in its entirety

Structure

  • At least one moral point – the justification/imperative for the policy
  • At least one practical point – A general could this be done, how would it be implemented, basically how practical is the proposed change. This is necessary in policy ‘This House would’ motions but may not be for analytical ‘This House believes’ motions. (This may also sometimes be in the introduction if the context of the debate is about a specific proposal).
  • At  least one consequences point – Cost/benefit, What impact will the change have on X/Y/Z
  • Length: there is no absolute minimum or maximum but most debates we have are between 2000 and 4000 words. Individual points should at most be 500 words in length though the introduction may be longer.

Points

  • Aim for about four points from each side. Try to keep it reasonably balanced. If you can’t, or if there are too few points, then the topic title is likely biased and needs to be changed.
  • Point Titles must be a single short sentence that shows how it is related to the topic title. They may be questions, but must be complete sentences.
  • Points must be obviously or demonstrably relevant to the motion.
  • You should have points for moral arguments, practical arguments and consequences.
  • Points should:
    • Contain a clear argument – the point you are trying to make (premise leading to conclusions);
    • Be limited to one, or at most two linked assertions;
      • The assertion(s) should be explained.
    • Have evidence to back up the argument (example/facts/statistics); and
    • Have references to back up the evidence (see below).

Counter-points

  • Counter-points should be an objection to the assertion made by the other side, showing why the other side is wrong and engaging with the point that has been made.
  • Counter-points may:
    • Challenge the logic of the other side’s argument;
    • Challenge the evidence presented;
    • Offer a different interpretation to the evidence; or
    • Cast doubt through questioning.

Bibliography & References

The bibliography should contain all the material you have used as references in the debate. These references should be:

  • References are mostly needed for the evidence. Assertions and explanation can be yours alone. You may however add references to them if you wish.
  • Peer reviewed work is the gold standard. Internet sources are good as they can be read immediately, but please refer only to reliable sources; this means journal articles, newspapers (preferably not tabloids), only use blogs and other sources when the writer is an expert or in some way knowledgeable on the subject (this may include campaign groups).
  • For offline sources, please include more of the source in the argument page, enough to give some context to the quote, statistic, etc.
  • If not all information is available for the citation, add as much as you can. The more information, the better.
  • References can be shorthand which can then be looked up in the bibliography which should contain as much as possible of: LastName, FirstName. “Article Title.” Publication Source. Volume Number. Date Published. http://sourceurl.com.
  • For all citations, here’s some good on-line guides: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/949/01/ http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

A Purely Hypothetical Example of a Point

Topic: Welcome aliens from the moon

debatabase point

You might want to deviate slightly from this format; for example by starting with a punchy statistic and then explaining why this statistic matters and what it means. However it is best if you try to keep your points relatively simple and make sure the explanation is not overly complex. Debatabase’s target audience is High School and University Students so you should not assume any specialist knowledge.

Also please read our style guide.

We also have a word template below you may use if you wish. If you dont use the template make sure it is clear what is a point, what is a counterpoint and where there is a change from proposition points to opposition.

We hope this guide has answered all of your questions. If it has not or you wish clarification on something please email ahelling@idebate.org.uk

 

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Discuss debatabase debates on the forum.

 

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