How to Prepare for Rebuttal by Writing Blocks
Updated: Mar 27, 2021
What Are Blocks?
Blocks are prepared, pre-written responses to your opponents’ arguments so that you have strong material when delivering your Rebuttal Speech.
There are three core features of Blocks
1. Prepared Responses to Every Argument
2. Numbered Logical Responses
Your document of prepared responses for the Rebuttal Speech (your “Block File”) will start with a list of every argument you can think of on the topic. You can start with, say, at least 5 arguments on the PRO side and 5 arguments on the CON side. Then you will write out as many possible responses to each argument as you can think of, starting with logic, and then adding in the evidence you find through online research.
Evidence: Should I Quote or Paraphrase?
This has been a hot-button issue in the debate community for many years and continues to be debated to this day. The short answer is that you should paraphrase most of the time if and only if you can do it right. Quoting and paraphrasing each have their place in Debate, but it is important to understand when to use each one, and how to do it right
There are two main benefits of quoting.
1. The judge knows your words are coming directly from the evidence, which adds credibility to your argument
2. You will avoid any ethics challenges, which could get you disqualified from the tournament
On the flip side, there are two main benefits of Paraphrasing as well.
1. You can frame the argument in precisely the correct words to get your point across
2. Paraphrasing saves time, which can be essential in a Rebuttal speech for which you only get 240 seconds.
(If paraphrasing cuts the amount of time it takes to deliver your responses by half, say, you can make double the number of arguments in the same speaking time as you could before.)
The single most important thing to keep in mind is you should never paraphrase an article that you have not read in full or that you do not fully understand. This opens you up to all sorts of issues, as debate is an activity where it is essential to have a paper trail substantiating your claims. Not only do you look horrible in front of a judge if your opponent asks for your evidence and reads it aloud only to reveal it does not say what you claim, but also some judges will ignore everything else that happened in the round and drop you (debate-speak for giving you a loss) if you have any ethics violations whatsoever.
In the end, paraphrasing correctly is ideal – it saves you tons of time . But if you don’t have the time or expertise yet to read through and understand your evidence in full, we recommend starting with quotations.
Five Steps For Writing Blocks
The Debate Resource method for writing blocks is as follows:
Step 1: Get Every Response You Can Think of on Paper
At the beginning, your goal when writing blocks is quantity. How many different ways can you think of to respond to each argument? Write them all down, no matter how good they are. Don’t worry too much about wording yet – generally you don’t want to constrain yourself during this brainstorm phase.
Often the biggest roadblocks to successful Debate Preparation are just in your head. As you put pen-to-paper (well this is the 21st century so more like finger-to-keyboard) and as you develop more and more prepared responses, your topic knowledge and confidence will build. Both are essential to winning debate rounds.
Step 2: Test Your Ideas using the Internet
Now it’s time to open up your web browser and do some googling. Most of your research will be done this way, although it is good to do the first step fresh to avoid outside bias. When googling, think about:
1. Are other people online also using similar arguments to you? If so that is a good thing – it means you are getting to the core of the topic and the points that actually matter.
2. Can you find evidence from a reputable source that verifies your response, or even better, provides a quantification that disproves your opponent's central argument?
Don’t worry about your argument being “too stock,” as they say, which means too mainstream or commonplace. Some people fear that they can’t win using stock arguments or stock responses because others will have already prepared responses. Don’t succumb to this fear: if you believe an argument or a response is strong, roll with it and argue it better than anyone else. Your response should be nuanced and clear, but there is no problem with it being popular or commonly used. Just remember to use your own original words, not some other debater's.
Ideally, you will have at least one piece of evidence in the majority of your responses. In debate, the more evidence the better (as long as you completely, clearly, and accurately explain it). But evidence is not necessary in any response; strong logic will do the trick as well.
Step 3: Test Your Ideas with Humans
Start out with your friends and family. If they are willing to indulge you, ask what they think about the topic. What arguments do they like? Explain one of the most common arguments on the topic to them in a few sentences and ask what problems they see with that argument.
It is very important to be willing to change your mind in these conversations, aka to not be a debater. If your friends and family members disagree with you, you don’t need to convince them your idea is best – save the debating for the debate rounds! They aren’t your opponent. However, they will have valuable insight which you should not neglect.
We suggest you grab a notepad and take notes on what they say so you don’t forget the important parts. Whether or not their arguments are good, you are learning about how “lay people” (non-debaters) think about the argument and this insight is incredibly valuable.
Remember: you don’t win a debate round by beating the other team. You win by convincing the judge. As they say in the legendary 2013 debate movie "The Great Debaters,"
Q: Who is the Judge?
A: The Judge is God.
Q: Why is he God?
A: Because he decides who wins and loses, not my opponents.
Q: Who are your opponents?
A: They do not exist.
Q: Why do they not exist?
A: Because they are a mere dissenting voice to the truth I speak!
The people around you who know least about the topic may actually be your greatest resource to understand the mindset of the judge. And remember: the Judge is God.
Step 4: Search for Turns
One of the most powerful yet often-overlooked ways to win a debate round is to use “turns,” or responses that garner offense in rebuttal.
Here is a practical example. Your opponent says that the United States should not implement a Universal Basic Income (UBI) because this would discourage people from working and unemployment would increase.
There are two types of turns: link turns and impact turns. Here is an example of each in response to the “work disincentive” argument - one is a link turn and the other is an impact turn. As you read, see if you can figure out why.
1. A UBI actually encourages work. New Scientist Magazine reports that Finland ran a year-long study finishing in 2018 to determine the employment effects of a UBI compared to the more commonly used Unemployment Insurance, and found that “people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits.” This makes sense, as UBI provides financial security, allowing people to spend less time worrying and more time working.
2. Unemployment is actually good because it allows people to pursue their true passions. When people are working, their schedules are incredibly constricted and they have very little time to do what makes them happy. Unemployment allows people to explore their creative sides, enjoy themselves, and maybe even start their own businesses.
Take a moment and answer these three questions:
1. Which is the Link Turn and which is the Impact Turn?
2. Would it make any logical sense to make both of these responses in the same speech?
3. Which turn do you like better?
As you hopefully have noticed by now, you may not run both link turns and impact turns on the same argument. Then you are double turning yourself the same way a negative times a negative is a positive. Also, your narrative will make no sense since you’ll be contradicting yourself.
Link turns like the first response above are more common than impact turns. It is usually easier to say “no, actually my side solves that problem better and here's why” than “what you are saying is good is actually bad.” We would recommend using the link turn instead of the impact turn in this specific case.
However, impact turns can be incredibly powerful despite being risky. If you have done your research and have strong evidence, you can actually tell the judge you agree with 90% of what your opponent is saying – their position actually does create the effect they claim. But that effect is bad and therefore they should lose this round.
Step 5: Refine, Refine, Refine!
This final step is very important and will occupy much of your time in the days prior to a tournament. Having good arguments does not win rounds; you also need to convey them in a way that makes sense to someone who has no expertise in the topic whatsoever, and to do so concisely.
We at Debate Resource recommend that you write out your responses word for word so that you don’t have to waste any time or energy in the round. This means cutting words wherever you can without losing value and practicing delivering those paragraphs in front of a mirror.
In debate, time is everything, so come prepared and speak clearly and efficiently.
*Two Bonus Tips!*
1. Don’t use highly technical jargon; in other words, explain things in plain English. The judge doesn’t get to speak during the round, meaning they can’t ask for clarification if they don’t understand something. Keep it simple. Although you may believe that using fancy words will impress the judge, if the judge doesn’t understand what you’re saying he will be far more confused than impressed.
2. Tailor your responses in-round depending on what sort of judge you have. Generally speaking, there are two types of judges – Flow judges and Lay judges. Some are in the middle (call them “Flay”), but we’ll stick to the two categories for now. Flow judges are coaches or former debaters who are carefully recording every argument you make and evaluating the round in a technical way. Lay judges are everyone else – parents, teachers, college students – and they will mostly be evaluating the round based on which side makes the most sense to them and seems most perceptually dominant. In-round adaptation and tailoring will be essential to your success.