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CNDF Basics 4 - A guide to rebuttals - How to refute

By Meryl Tu

Rebuttals are essential to any format of debate, so it is important to familiarize yourself with what they are and how to effectively use them during a round.

But first, what is a rebuttal? A rebuttal (or refutation) by definition means “the action of proving a statement or theory to be wrong or false.” In simpler terms, it’s essentially disproving your opponent’s argument and explaining why it’s wrong, bad, or less important. It is important to keep in mind that a refutation is like all other forms of argumentation, and should include a claim (the argument that you’re making), warrant (why the argument is true), and impact (why the argument matters). You can’t just give a plain statement, you need to provide analysis supporting your refutation and/or evidence (which depends on the debate format you have chosen, as some impromptu debate formats will not allow for research). In CNDF, rebuttal is almost exclusively done in the second speakers’ speeches of either side. However, it’s also recommended that the first opposition speaker takes a short moment to refute points made by the first proposition speaker.

With that in mind, let’s discuss a few different common refutations that you’ll need to know.

The first is a de-link. With a de-link, you’re essentially questioning the link/connection between different aspects of their argument. It could be made on all different kinds of connections within an argument, such as questioning their connection between their claims to impact, their claims to evidence, their evidence to impacts, their analysis to impacts, and so on.

For example: if your opponents said that background checks will lead to a gun black market which will lead to more criminals obtaining weapons which will lead to more crime, you could have evidence that a black market will not happen which delinks everything that comes after.

It’s extremely crucial during any format of debate that there are connections and links between your arguments, because it’ll explain to the judge how you got from A to B. That is why by taking away your opponent’s connection(s), they wouldn’t be able to properly give their argument. In CNDF, analytical links are especially emphasized as the format isn’t research or statistics-based. Therefore, the links and the ability to prove your impacts define the entire round.

The second way to refute is through a turn. When you’re giving a turn, you’re essentially saying that although your opponent's argument may be true, it actually benefits your side more. Turns are usually made on the mechanism level because when you turn someone’s mechanism, you also will be turning their impact as a result.

For example: if your opponents said that you will increase debt and that an increase in debt will cause a recession (which is something bad), the link would be “an increase in debt”. However, if you turned the argument to say that your opponents are more likely to see an increase in debt on their side, that would mean their impact of recession would also be on your side because they would be the ones most likely to see a recession.

Now a turn is quite strategic because not only are you disproving the opponent’s argument, you’re also providing more offense on your own side (you’re giving the judge a potential reason to vote for you).

The third way to refute is through a mitigation. This type of refutation is more targeted towards the impact level in comparison to the other two above that are more focused on the link level. A mitigation is simply providing analysis that mitigates, or reduces their impact. You’re basically saying that although your opponent’s argument may be true, it’s not relevant/not a big problem.

For example: your opponent makes an argument that an increase in debt is going to lead to a stock market crash. You can mitigate this by saying the stock market has already crashed because of COVID, and thus the impact wouldn’t be very large at all.

I personally would recommend having this refutation alongside other refutations because it won’t be enough by itself, but would help your side strategically, especially down the line when you have to weigh and compare arguments.

A fourth way to refute is through a non-unique (or non-exclusive). This is when a premise, analysis, mechanism, evidence, or impact could be true under both sides or is true on neither side.

For example: your opponents could say that debt will increase on your side. You could explain why debt will increase on their side as well, meaning the argument is not exclusive to either side.

A non-unique is strategic because if the argument occurs/doesn’t occur on either side, then your opponents wouldn’t have an argument at all, because even if it is true, it wouldn’t matter.

Here are some more logical ways to refute that could provide strategic benefit, but would have to be given alongside other refutations because they’re not strong enough on their own.

Cross-apply (Also called a hung rebuttal)*: When you use your own argument to refute their argument, assuming that their argument directly clashes with their point. Could be with your case or with a refutation that was previously stated.

**Just as a note: this refutation is not recommended to be used unless for purely strategic purposes (i.e. you don’t have enough time to go onto their argument, or if you want to reallocate time onto another more pressing argument of your opponent’s), so if you really wanted to use it, it has to be given alongside other refutations. This is because it gives your opponents an easier time to take down your side, because if they’ll only need to take down one argument and it would effectively not only take down your argument, but also frontline against your refutation against their argument.

Contradiction/Case tension: Two ideas, principles, or arguments that are logically incongruent (one has to be wrong for the other to be right, they cannot both be true).

Or even simply stating that their argument is false and it’s just factually incorrect. (for example if they said that the sky is going to turn green in the next hour, then that’s just factually incorrect)

Refutations exist during a refutation speech, summary speech (but only in the Gov summary to respond to the new argument given in the second Opp speech) and much more. They’re an extremely essential part of any debate format, so be sure to familiarize yourself with these common kinds of refutation. It’s important to also note that these refutation formats are just some of the most common and stronger types of refutation, however rebuttals are not limited to these strict formats. It’s much simpler than it looks, but the more you practice, the easier it will get.

For any questions, send us a DM @equalproposition on Instagram or an email at equalproposition@gmail.com. Good luck!


Meryl Tu is a staff writer at Equal Proposition. She has achieved second place at US Nationals extemporaneous debate, first place at TOC int., and 9th place speaker at Harvard. She broke at both US and China Nationals, as well as the NSDA Vancouver Invitational.

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