LD Debate Rebuttals
First Affirmative Rebuttal
Negative Rebuttal
Second Affirmative Rebuttal

Rebuttals Review

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If you delivered a strong, well-grounded case in your first constructions, then the rebuttals are just a matter of pointing out your opponent's weaknesses and your strengths. The only problem rests in the fact that you have such a short time to accomplish the task.

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First Affirmative Rebuttal

Responsibilities, 1AR: In actuality, the first affirmative rebuttal is a shortened version of the negative construction, only reversed. There are two major tasks that the affirmative must complete within his four minute time limit:

  • Direct Refutation of Negative Case: Attack the negative's position by pointing out flaws and presenting counterwarrants, objections, and implications.
  • Rebuilding the Affirmative Case: Provide additional evidence, explanation, and rational for each affirmative issue.
  • In many instances, debaters will simply defend the position they established in their first speech. They seem to feel that if they directly refute every evidence card presented against their case, then they will win - if they prove what they say is true, then the judge will see it their way. This viewpoint is a little egocentric and frequently overlooks the weight of the negative counter-value. A debater may be more successful if he looks at the debate as a two way street - the negative usually presents a value and that value carries weight and importance - it must be dealt with. The affirmative must assume an offensive and defensive posture - attacking the negative while defending his own.

Organization: In some circles, a tradition has developed that dictates that the rebuttals should follow the flow from the constructions - that the debater will address each issue in the same order as it was presented in the constructions. This type of organization, again, leads to "going one-on-one" with evidence and arguments that, again, rarely leaves one side with a clear-cut victory over the other. Instead, an affirmative debater should use the same organizational structure as outlined for the negative construction. While this format will result in a few disapproving critiques from judge's who prefer a flow oriented presentation, it possesses a number of advantages:

  • Saves Time: The debater already knows what organization is required before the negative presents his case. He can spend his prep time filling in the outline instead of considering what order the rebuttal should be presented.
  • Groups Issues: Instead of having an unlimited number of points and sub-points to address in this short four minute speech, issues are grouped into pre-set categories that allows the debater to address two or three negative issues at a time.
  • Weighs Arguments: Instead of emphasizing one side over the other - spending too much time attacking the negative or defending the affirmative - it allows the debater to measure both sides of the debate.
  • Prevents Dropped Issues: In the rush to cover all of the issues, debaters from time to time unknowingly drop an important issue. This format provides a spread over both territories reducing the problem with dropped issues.

Optimizing Time, 1AR: Four minutes is a very short period of time to cover eight or more issues (thirty-seconds each). The debater must decide:

  • What are the weaknesses in the negative position?
  • What are the weaknesses in the affirmative position?

The affirmative should dedicate more time, during this first rebuttal, on identifying weaknesses on both sides. This does not mean dropping or "breezing" through issues - it means spending a little more time on specific areas. For example, an affirmative may feel that the negative is susceptible to counterwarrants and value objections and also feel that he needs to repair damage inflicted on his criterion's application; in such a case , he may use the following time allocation:

  1. Negative Representativeness - 15 seconds

    Do the components of the negative case adequately represent, portray, or typify the negated proposition or the position the negative should assume?

  2. Counterwarrants Against the Negative Position - 45 seconds

    In what way are the negative arguments, evidence, or statements false or misleading?

  3. Value Objections Against the Negative Position - 45 seconds

    In what way is the negative value flawed or inferior to other values?

  4. Value Implications Against the Negative Position - 15 seconds

    What disadvantages are associated with acceptance assuming the negative's attitude or position towards this topic?

  5. Repairing Establishment of Affirmative Value- 15 seconds

    Have I adequately established how my value represents the proposition; have I adequately defined and established a foundation for my value?

  6. Repairing Establishment of Affirmative Criteria - 15 seconds

    Have I adequately established a foundation for my criteria and have I sufficiently linked my criteria and value.

  7. Repairing Application of Affirmative Criteria - 60 seconds

    Have I fulfilled my obligation to demonstrate the importance of accepting the value of the proposition?

  8. Reestablishing the Superiority of Affirmative Value - 30 seconds

    Have I demonstrated that my value is more important than the negative's value?

  9. Please note that two minutes is allocated to attacking the negative position, and two minutes is allocated to rebuilding the affirmative position. During this first affirmative rebuttal, it is imperative that the affirmative maintain a state of equilibrium between the two sides. His objective should be not so much to win the round during this speech, but to regain the affirmative momentum and to minimize any impact the long negative construction left on the judge.

Dropped Issues: Because of the number of issues raised during thirteen minutes of speech time (both affirmative and negative) and because the affirmative only has four minutes to respond to all issues, some debaters conveniently ignore an opponent's argument that they either do not have evidence to refute or feel uncomfortable addressing. This is called dropping an issue and can have a deadly effect. Technically, an opponent should only receive credit for the issue dropped and a dropped issue should only result in a loss if it is vital to the viability of the case. In reality, many judges will automatically grant a loss to the debater who drops any issue. Therefore, a debater must always address each issue in some manner, shape, or form. As discussed earlier, I do not advocate "going one-on-one" with individual arguments or evidence - debaters should follow the advised format for their rebuttals; however, during their second rebuttal, they must be able to explain how each specific issue was addressed within the first rebuttal if the negative asserts that the affirmative dropped an issue.

  • New Issues or New Evidence? Occasionally a beginning debater will raise new issues during a rebuttal or occasionally a debater will be accused of raising new issues when they simply read new evidence - both problems raise the question of what is the difference between new evidence and new issues? Debaters may use new evidence to support existing arguments but may not offer new arguments during the rebuttals. The dividing line is not always clear, but the following guidelines may help to clarify any misgivings:
  • During the first rebuttal, an affirmative may use evidence to support issues of representativeness, counterwarrants, value objections, and value implications against the negative's position.
  • During any rebuttal, debaters may use new evidence to rebuild any existing position weakened by an opponent's attack.
  • During any rebuttal, debaters may use new evidence to rebuild any existing attack against an opponent.
  • The key phrase in parts (b) and (c) is "to rebuild existing" issues. A debater must be careful to link the new evidence to an existing argument. Most of the controversy concerning new evidence could be eliminated if debaters would simply tie the existing issue, the refutation, and new evidence together in a convenient tagged argument, e.g. My opponent's argument concerning the importance of biodiversity is flawed.

The Importance of the Affirmative Construction: A well developed, well thought out affirmative construction will reduce the burden on this short rebuttal. If the debater has done his homework, anticipated negative attacks, and incorporated preemptive components into their construction, the first rebuttal will be based on issue discussion rather than on providing substantial proofs - the debater will be able to explain how the previously cited evidence applies to his position and counters his opponent's rather than expending time and energy reading additional evidence cards which lack detailed explanation.

Use of Evidence in a Rebuttal: Some judges demand tons of evidence, and some judges prefer that a debater simply explain his position in a logical, rational manner. During a rebuttal, some debaters read one evidence card after another, while others fail to read a single quotation. Can you read too little or too much evidence? The answer is yes to both questions. Unfortunately, many judges still view a high school debater as a "child" and evidence is required to give this "kid" some credibility - demonstrate that he knows about what he is talking. On the other hand, too much evidence hampers a debater's ability to explain the importance of an issue. My judging critique sheets usually contains one of two statements:

  • "Do more than simply read evidence cards - explain what they mean and why they are important." or
  • "You must provide authoritative evidence to back up your claims - some of your arguments lack credibility."
  • In general, if an evidence card was read during the construction that is supportive, the debater should refer back to the card and use the time to clarify and explain the point he is trying to make. If an argument lacks credibility, then the debater must provide additional evidence to support his claim. Debaters must learn to tell the difference between the need for greater explanation and the need to enhance credibility.
  • The Importance of Pre-Tournament Preparation: A key to a successful first affirmative rebuttal is to anticipate possible negative attacks and prepare rebuttal arguments before the tournament ever begins. A well-prepared debater is much less likely to encounter an opposing argument for which he has no response.

First Affirmative Rebuttal Review: This section contains a great deal of material. Please review the section by answering the following questions:

  • What are the two responsibilities of the first affirmative rebuttal?
  • What method of organization should be used to present the first rebuttal? Outline this organization.
  • What is a dropped issue and what is the best way to prevent dropping an issue?
  • What is the difference between new issues and new evidence in a rebuttal?

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