How to Write a Debate Speech in #6 Proven Steps

What is a debate?

A debate refers to a structured discussion about a particular issue for which people have different arguments and against a topical issue which ends with a vote.

Also, see how to prepare for a debate speech.

Structure of a debate

There are popular questions when it comes to debating. For instance:

  • How do you write a debate?
  • How do you start a debate?
  • What is the basic format for debate writing?

This section covers in detail the best debate approach or debate writing format one could possibly follow. Ultimately, these key segments hint at how to start a debate and highlight useful strategies to win any debate.

Part 1: Debate Introduction

A debate introduction must attract the attention of the audience. Begin your debate introduction with a hook that introduces the topic and holds the interests of the audience.

Parts of a debate introduction.

1. Opening statement

Every debate starts with a strong opening line. If your debate topic is emotionally charging, then starting with a similarly emotional opening is the best way to go. Both debate teams must clearly state their opening statement position to clearly communicate to the audience what position they will be supporting in the debate.

Debate opening statements are critical as they allow both the affirmatives and negatives to grab the audience’s attention. Opening statements set the tone for the debate.

Features of an opening statement

  1. Claim. This is the idea that you plan to support or oppose.
  2. Evidence.  A short summary of statistics, literature, and expert opinions.
  3. Impact. The significance of the evidence and how it supports the claim.

After the opening statements, each side supports its arguments in detail, offering pertinent evidence to back its views. The affirmative presents its arguments first.

How to write a debate opening statement

  • State your debate thesis immediately in one sentence.
  • Introduce the debate topic without any arguments.
  • List down your facts in a manner that supports your debate thesis.

2. Arguments:

A structured debate has three arguments for each debate team. Your argument shows your level of understanding of the debate topic and ability to persuade the audience to stand with your thesis because it is well-thought-out and proven by research.

The opening statement states the claim that you plan to support or oppose in the debate. The arguments raised should be in sync with the claims highlighted in the opening statements and supported with factual evidence.

How to structure your arguments in a debate

Deciding your arguments

Once you have come up with a debate topic, many arguments for and against might come to mind. Take time to conduct in-depth research and come up with talking points. Once you understand the topic well, the arguments will come naturally.

The Layout

Writing a debate argument is similar to writing the body of an essay. Begin each argument by signposting. Example: ‘Firstly, I am going to argue.’ Follow up with one sentence summary of your argument. After this, give some facts and figures to legitimize your argument. Ensure to create a link to the debate topic to demonstrate to your audience that you are making a valid point connected to the debate thesis statement.


Support your arguments with correct evidence boosts your credibility. The evidence is the backbone of your arguments. Citing wrong evidence often leaves you vulnerable to attacks from your opponents.

The opening statement states the claim that you plan to support or oppose in the debate. The arguments raised should be in sync with the claims highlighted in the opening statements and supported with factual evidence.

How to Write a Debate Introduction

  1. Attract the reader’s attention with an opening statement
  2. Introduce your focused topic. After opening, you need to define your topic to the audience. This part should include background information on your topic that establishes its context. This ensures that your team and opponents agree with the topical issue for debate. State your debate team’s position on the topic. Define any keywords in the topic. This does not have to be a dictionary meaning, but your view on the word based on the topic context. 
  3. State your thesis. Your debate thesis should include the specific topic, your main point about the topic, and the points of discussion you will include in the debate. Your thesis should be clear and easy to find. It is the last sentence of the introduction.
  4. Offer a conclusion. A conclusion works to remind your audience of the main points of the debate.

Writing a Hook for a Debate

A hook grabs the attention of your audience. It can be a quote or anecdote. Here are a few suggestions on how to create a good debate hook.

  • State an interesting fact or statistic about your topic.
  • Ask a rhetorical question.
  • Reveal a common misconception about the topic.
  • Share a humorous anecdote.

Part 2: Debate Rebuttal

A rebuttal is where both sides have clearly presented their arguments, and each side has the opportunity to express why the opponents’ arguments are weaker or invalid. The opposing side offers its rebuttal first.

What is the purpose of a debate rebuttal?

The purpose of a debate rebuttal is to prove your opponents’ arguments as false and erroneous, which could possibly mislead your audience. In a rebuttal, opponents put forward statements to negate or refute specific arguments against them.

The infographic lists key steps to help you write a debate rebuttal. It also lists the features of good debate rebuttals.

What makes good rebuttal phrases? (Features)

  • A good rebuttal states the opposing side’s position without any distortion.
  • A good rebuttal has accurate quotations to oppose your opponents’ arguments.
  • A good rebuttal phrase uses a professional tone, with rationality and courtesy. It does not allow ridiculing to make a point.

How to write debate rebuttals

Step #1: Restate: Mention the arguments being challenges you highlighted in the notes.

Step #2: Refute: Add the relevant details why the argument is incorrect. State why you object to the claim made by the opposing team in a simple statement.

Step #3: Support: Highlight evidence and expert opinions to your objection to the argument.

Step #4: Conclude.

Types of debate rebuttals

  • Attacking relevance

The opposition attacks the relevance of their opponent’s arguments to the motion by showing that the arguments do not support the opponent’s stand. This type of rebuttal destroys the opposition’s entire argument.

  • Attacking assumption

Debaters attack a particular way in which their opponents had described an assumed trait of the subject.

  • Attacking the impact

Debaters attack the presumed impact of the subject’s assumed trait.

  • Attacking logic

The debaters attack the lack of logical links between the assumed traits of the subject and its presumed impact.

  • Hung arguments

Hung arguments are those that are contingent on another argument to survive. Debaters can take two arguments at once with one attack.

Rules for debate rebuttals

  1. The debaters should attack the logic of an argument and not a debater on personal grounds.
  2. No new arguments should be introduced to support a claim during rebuttals.
  3. In order to establish a rebuttal, the team must support it with enough evidence and logic.
  4. Rhetorical questions are not allowed during rebuttals. In case, they are used, they must be answered by the debaters.
  5. The affirmative must reply to the major negative arguments before the last rebuttal.
  6. The judge must base their decision entirely on the material presented, without regard for other material he may happen to possess.

Debate rebuttal worksheet/template

Rebuttals are a key component in debates and must be executed well in order to convince the audience that your arguments are superior. A debate rebuttal worksheet makes it easier to organize your arguments in a logical manner.

Example of a debate rebuttal template

First Affirmative Speaker

  1. Introduction. Includes greetings and the topic of debate.
  2. Definition of the topic. Define the key important words in the topic.
  3. Team Split. Write down the points you will discuss and highlight the points of the second and third speakers.
  4. Rebuttal. There is no rebuttal for the first speaker.
  5. Arguments. The arguments you will present with supporting evidence.
  6. Ending. A conclusion that sums up what your team believes.

Replicate the exact template to the preceding speakers.

Examples of rebuttals

You might start your rebuttal with:

‘My opponents’ claims are wrong for several reasons’. Then you begin citing facts, statistics, and expert opinions logically.

After each side issues its rebuttal, depending on the judge, both teams may be given a chance to issue another rebuttal, known as the second rebuttal.

Rebutting arguments is difficult as it forces you to think quickly on the spot. Your opposition has spent hours on their research, and it will take you effort to refute their points.

Below are a few strategies that make rebutting less daunting

  • Pre-research: Take time to research your arguments and put yourself in your opponents’ shoes. This will help you anticipate what arguments they will use against you. During the debate, you can quickly rebut using the pre-researched facts that will boost your debate team’s credibility.
  • What’s the point: If the opposition is arguing for a change to be made, there is probably a key idea that you can focus on rebutting them.
  • Economic challenges: Ensure to bring up economic challenges as it virtually works in all imaginable debate topics.

Part 3: Question and Answer sessions/Cross-Examination

Most debates have question and answers sessions, where each side asks their opponents questions. A cross-examination is a powerful tool; a sit demonstrates the debater’s ability to think on the spot. Cross-examination happens mostly during Q&A sessions, and it refers to detailed questioning of arguments and claims raised during a debate.

The cross-examination takes place after each side has presented its arguments.

You can start your cross-examination by asking:

“Could you clarify where you got your statistical findings to back up your findings on the illegal immigrants living in the US from Mexico?”

The goal of this session is to ensure both sides correctly understand the opponents’ arguments so that they can create and argue their best defense.

The purpose of cross-examination

  • Clarify your opponents’ arguments. This is the main goal of cross-examination.
  • Force your opponent into committing to a specific stand on a vague issue.
  • Highlight any errors in their arguments and discuss shortcomings with their evidence. Cross-examination exposes fallacious reasoning used by opponents.
  • Expose inadequate evidence. Most times, it is necessary to ask for the source of an opponent’s evidence in order to establish its credibility.

Tips for conducting a Q&A debate session

It takes time to prepare a successful Q&A, and these tips will make your debate run smoothly.

  1. Hold a briefing session before the debate.
  2. Allocate enough time for the Q&A session after the debate.
  3. Stick to the time limit set.
  4. Choose a great moderator.
  5. Consider adding a few pre-prepared questions.
  6. Use the right tools and equipment.
  7. Notify the audience at the start of the debate
  8. Collect questions throughout the event.
  9. Don’t start a debate during Q&A sessions.

Rules of the Q&A session

  1. The questioner may ask fair and clear questions that directly affect the debate.
  2. The questioner must confine themselves to questions and not make statements, comments, or rhetorical questions.
  3. The questioners should only use this time to ascertain facts or constructively build up or tear down an argument from both debate teams.
  4. No new constructive arguments may be introduced during this session.
  5. Both the affirmatives and opposing must advocate everything required by their position.
  6. No revision of position is permitted during the Q&A session.

Part 3: Conclusion

When it comes to writing a debate essay, even good arguments can fall without a strong conclusion. Closing statements wrap up a debate’s argument by connecting the evidence and the claim of the debate topic.

A debate conclusion can, and should, be either memorized or extemporaneous. When writing a debate conclusion, keep the three R’s in mind: Restate claims, rephrase thesis, and refer to introduction.

How to write a debate conclusion:

  • Reference the introduction. Going back to the opening statement adds cohesiveness to the overall speech.
  • Reusing the title. Consider reiterating the title at the end of your debate speech.
  • Making it appropriate. Make your speech precise, clear, and concise. This leaves the listeners satisfied.
  • Summarizing. Summarize the main points of your debate speech in your conclusion. It is a good way to re-emphasize your main points.
  • Closing statement. A good closing statement is the culmination of the debate speech. A quality closing leaves the audience wanting more and asking questions and pondering the ideas put across in the debate.

Closing Statement

A closing statement helps each side summarize their main arguments and stress critical points. This allows you to remind the judges of your opponents’ shortcomings. The affirmative debate team presents its closing statements first. The aim is to persuasively convince your audience that your arguments were better than your opponents’. Ensure to leave a lasting impression by ending with a powerful analogy.

Have the following in your closing statement

Expert testimony

Include a paragraph summarizing evidence of expert opinions and relevant literature to support your viewpoints. You can provide a short quote or anecdote to validate your statement.

Concise rebuttals

State the most significant rebuttals to your opponent’s side of the argument. Include the dire consequences of what might happen if the audience were to follow your opponents’ line of reasoning.

A Call to action

Recommend a course of action in your closing statements. Debates involve many theories and speculation, and the goal is to challenge readers and listeners to act.

How to write a closing statement

To write a good closing statement, utilize a closing argument outline like the one below.

  • Restate your claim: What is the main idea of your argument?
  • Remind your audience of the evidence. Explain how each piece of evidence justifies your claim.
  • Explain how all the evidence syncs to justify your position on the debate topic.
  • Finally, address why the judges and audience members should find the case in your favor.

Features of a good closing statement

To write a closing statement, look back at your opening statement. If you have already written a good opening statement, odds are you have an effective closing argument. A good closing statement shows how the statements made during the debate support the position. Use succinct language to clearly state how each piece of evidence supports the main arguments.

Examples of closing statements

Restate your claim: What is the main idea of your argument?

In conclusion, it is clear that refugees pose a huge security risk to the host nation because of the increased terrorist attacks the nation has suffered since the opening of borders to Somali refugees.

Remind your audience of the evidence.

Anti-terrorism police found hidden explosives in the refugee camps and the National Intelligence Service gave a security alert of a suspected terrorist attack. Also, remember the lives of our honorable citizens that were lost during a terror attack in a university just a few kilometers from the refugee camp in 2017.

Address why the judge should find the case in your favor.

Ladies and gentlemen, due to the evidence listed, I ask you to find favor in our argument that refugees pose a huge security risk to the host nation.

Debate summary

A debate summary lists the main arguments of the first and second speakers in your debate team. The summary speech is about making choices in arguments, extending critical arguments, answering arguments and weighing arguments. A summary should not exceed 2 minutes.

When writing a debate summary, observe the following:

  • A debate summary is clear and concise.
  • Clearly list your main points and connect them back to the primary argument of the debate.
  • Avoid using examples or excessive elaborations.

The infographic highlights six key steps one can follow to write a debate speech.

Key Steps in Writing a Debate

Writing a debate essay requires a thorough thought process to ensure it flows logically. You must settle on a debate topic that is informative and one that will set the pace for compelling debate motions and hold the interest of the audience for a long time. Writing a debate paper outline is advisable as it helps you arrange your thoughts before writing a debate paper.

  1. Choose the topic wisely. Choose a controversial topic that goes both ways. Ensure it will be compelling to the audience. An example of such a topic is “legalization of marijuana for medical purposes”.
  2. Choose a side once the topic is selected. Some topics, such as racism and gender-based violence, will be opposed by most people, but you can still create an argument around them.
  3. Make sure you have researched the topic and formulated arguments both for and against the topic. During rebuttals, you will be able to respond quickly as you have mastered the arguments and flaws.
  4. Know your audience. They are crucial to building your argument. If you are writing a debate essay, you need facts and figures which can be cited.
  5. Ensure you have relevant facts to your argument. Your argument must be supported by facts and figures to persuade readers to agree with your position. Without facts, then your debate will be considered as one subjected to your personal opinions rather than a well-thought write-up that adds value to the readers.
  6. Select an issue you are passionate about to allow you to voice out your thoughts strongly.

Choosing a debate topic

This is the most important part of writing a debate essay or speech. A good debate topic is one that lets both the participants and the audience learn about the sides of an issue.

Features of a good debate topic

  1. Informative. A good debate topic presents complete information. A perfect debate topic should aim to educate people and help them reach a logical understanding of facts.
  2. Persuasive. The debate topic should give a strong emphasis to arguments that need the support of people.
  3. Well-reasoned. The topic must be logical, well-explained, relevant, and competent.

Debate outline

Writing a debate outline requires research and organization. Once you master how to categorize your arguments, then writing a debate outline effectively becomes relatively simple.

What to do before writing an outline

Identify the type of debate. Each debate has its own structure. The order in which speakers present their arguments is different in all of them. Base your outline on the particular structure of the debate you will engage in.

Research the debate question and decide which position to take. Use quality sources together with information about your debate topic. If your topic is on environmental conservation, the journals and articles will provide you with relevant information. Based on the evidence, decide which side has stronger arguments and go with that.

List down all the evidence. The most influential and powerful evidence should be presented first in support of your arguments. Make a list of all the evidence that supports your opponents’ arguments to have an idea of their rebuttals.

How to write a debate essay outline

Follow outlining principles that will keep your thoughts organized. Use bullets and numbers to highlight major points. Organize your work into headings and sub-headings.

  • Outline your introduction. The debate introduction should highlight the debate question and a debate thesis statement for the overall argument. Your thesis statement should demonstrate which position you will take during the debate and why your case is stronger than your opponents.
  • Write your first main point in the form of a thesis statement. Create a second heading of arguments. What you come up with will be your main argument in the debate.
  • State the relevant evidence and significance of the main point.
  • Repeat this process for your other arguments.
  • Prepare rebuttals to address potential counter-arguments. You will have the opportunity to rebut and question the arguments raised by the opposing side. Brainstorm different ways to counter these arguments should the opposing side raise them. Find rebuttals for individual arguments, as this will fortify your position in the debate.

Types of Debates and Their Features

Debates are popular because they address complex issues with conflicting sides.

Debates are practiced in high school, colleges, as well as in the political arena. Every debate has two sides.

Team policy Debate/National debate tournament

Team policy features two debate teams, each with two speakers. The debate format consists of eight speeches, that is, four constructive speeches and four rebuttals, and four periods of cross-examination. Major emphasis is placed on presenting large amounts of data in the shortest period of time and coherently.

The primary difference between a team policy debate and a national debate tournament is that the former is for young debaters, such as high school students, while the latter is for college students.

Examples of team policy debate:

  • The USA should legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in all states.
  • The USA should substantially increase its financial and democratic assistance to Syria.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

These debates were inspired by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas during a senatorial race in 1858. They are a one-on-one debate that argues for or against moral and ethical values. Lincoln-Douglas debates emphasize the debater’s ability to speak persuasively, logically, and clearly.

Participants typically agree on time limits and topics ahead of time. College and high school debaters are familiar with this format as it is very structured. It lasts about 40-45 minutes.

Speaker A: Making the case-6 minutes.

Speaker B: Cross-examination of speaker-3 minutes.

Speaker B: First rebuttal-7 minutes.

Speaker A: Cross-examination of speaker-3 minutes.

Speaker A: First rebuttal-4

Speaker B: Final rebuttal

Speaker A: Closing rebuttal

Examples of Lincoln-Douglas Debates:

  • International lenders ought to cancel debts for highly indebted poor countries.
  • Secondary education should be a right in the US, not a privilege.

Spontaneous argumentation

This type of debate features randomly drawing of a topic, where the debaters then spend a few minutes researching before engaging in a brief debate. Since the debaters do not spend much time in research, this debate focuses on presentation and style rather than content. It is used in colleges and universities to build confidence and reduce speaker anxiety.

Format of a spontaneous argumentation

  • Prepare the class. Divide the class into half and prompt one side to take for and the other against the resolution.
  • Students brainstorm arguments. Give students a few minutes to write their arguments for or against the debate topic.
  • Students present opening statements. The affirmatives present their opening statement while the negative listen, take notes, and vice versa.
  • Students discuss. Invite the pairs to discuss their take on the debate topic and answer questions raised by their opponents.
  • Students present closing statements. The negatives present a closing statement, and the roles reverse.
  • Debrief the activity. Ask the students questions concerning the debate, such as what arguments were raised.

Examples of spontaneous argumentation

  • Is it appropriate for public schools to ban the wearing of religious clothing?
  • Police in the US overstep their constitutional authority.

Parliamentary debate

Parliamentary debates require no prior research. Emphasis is mainly placed on persuasiveness and logic as resolutions are established only 10 minutes before voting begins. They are referred to as parliamentary because of the resemblance to the debates that occur in the British parliament. There are two teams of two debaters, and a round consists of four speeches and two rebuttals.

Roles of each speaker

  • First proposition speaker. The speaker defines the motion and the basis of the debate. The speaker must explain any ambiguous words and set limits to the debate. He or she also proposes arguments to support their case.
  • First opposition speaker. The speaker must refute the arguments of the proposition and explain why there is a difference between the two sides.
  • Second proposition and opposition speakers. The second speakers divide their time between refuting arguments made by their opponents and continuing with their side of the argument.
  • Reply speeches. This is intended to review the major arguments in a debate and leave a lasting impression on the judges’ minds. The speech goes over the major arguments but implies that their side has won.

Examples of parliamentary debates

  • The House believes that strong dictatorship is better than weak democracy
  • The House rejects distance learning in higher learning institutions.

Cross-examination debate association

This is a newer type of college debate. The resolutions are not related to policy but are intended to be based on values. A lot of evidence is presented.

Examples include

  • Euthanasia should be legal for assistance in suicide.
  • Should hospitals be allowed to force-feed anorexics?

Frequently asked questions in debates.

1. What makes a good debate argument?

Knowing how to write a debate argument that captivates is an important skill in debating. A good argument is one of the criteria judges use to select the winning debate team. To make a good argument, your points must be relevant to the topic and all must be backed up with sufficient evidence. Also, remain objective and put aside your personal opinions, so your argument remains logical.

2. How long should the opening statement of a debate be?

The length of the opening statement is proportional to the debate length. The opening statement should be no more than three minutes, as a longer one tends to disinterest the audience. When writing your opening statement, ensure it covers the important points of your debate and provides a brief description of what you will discuss.

3. What are the three components of a debate argument?

  • Claim. This presents your argument to the audience in a clear statement
  • Evidence. Evidence supporting your claim, such as statistics, references, etc.
  • Impact. Explain the significance of the evidence. How does it support your claim?

4. What is topical order?

A topical order refers to the structural format of a debate.

5. Where can I find help with my debate assignment?

If you need help with your debate assignment, our experienced debate writers will be glad to be of service to you. Getting help from debate writers ensures that your arguments are strong, supported by facts, and will convince your audience to support your stand.

6. What if I have no experience in debates?

This shouldn’t worry you as we all start from somewhere. Your teacher will guide you on the structural format of a debate and how to choose a good debate topic. This will give you a glimpse of what writing a debate entails. Also, look at the issues that you are passionate about and consider writing a debate on them.

7. What are the steps of a debate? What are the basics of Debate Writing?

  • Introduction. Express your thoughts and why they are important to the audience and yourself.
  • Statement of facts. Divide the general debate thesis into smaller parts that will constitute the arguments.
  • Proof of claim. Briefly explain how the evidence relates to the debate thesis.
  • Refutation or rebuttals. Offer counter-arguments to the opposing side’s arguments by highlighting visible flaws such as misleading evidence or facts.
  • Conclusion.       

8. Will debates help me get into graduate/professional programs such as Law?

Absolutely! Debates will set you up for a professional program in Graduate school as they equip you with relevant skills such as critical thinking, research, and presentation skills. Here are a few benefits of debating.

9. How does policy debate work?

Policy debate involves the proposal of a policy by the affirmative side, and the negative team offers reasons to reject the proposal. Throughout the debate, students cross-examine each other. A panel of judges evaluates which team has presented the strongest arguments and announces the winners.

10. How do you write a debate question?

Ensure you ask questions to clarify arguments. Ask questions about the quality of your opponent’s arguments. Ask questions to get your opponents to admit weaknesses in their arguments. Give clear and concise answers.

11. What are things to remember when writing a debate?

  • Formatting. A debate adheres to a specific structural format. The format ensures that a logical debate flow is maintained.
  • Define your scope. Focus on the major arguments to ensure that you do not deviate from the debate thesis.
  • Know your opponent’s content and speech style. This will give you an easier time during rebuttals.
  • Timing. When writing a debate, remember a debate is timed, and each speaker is allocated 3-5 minutes. Ensure your arguments are straight to the point and address the thesis.

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