Strategies for Effective Refutation

Added on by Henry Zhang.

(This guide serves as an overview. To master these refutation strategies, we recommend our flagship instructional program.)

Responding to your opponent's position is one of the most important parts of debate, and doing so well can give you a huge strategic advantage in the round. Being able to respond well to arguments requires a good balance of pre-round preparation and quick critical thinking skills. Most people are largely unprepared for good quality substantive debates on their arguments, so being able to engage that debate on a high level will give you a key edge in round.


Your main goal when responding to your opponent's case is to make their next speech much more difficult. The harder you make them work, the higher the chance they will miss something or they will screw up. Further, the time you spend responding is a good time to highlight the flaws and assumptions made by their position. Exposing those flaws and thoroughly destroying their arguments is a good use of your time in this case.


The number one goal of any refutation strategy is to generate offense. Even if you prove in general that all of your opponent's arguments are not true, that is not enough to win the round. You need to be able to go a step further and show that what they say you should do is actively bad – this is what is meant by "offense." The way that you in general go about generating offense is through the use of turns.

Link Turns

The type of turn used most often is the link turn. What it does is change the direction of the link meaning that instead of providing less of a bad thing, the action specified provides more of a bad thing. For example, if your opponent's argument is of the form "X increases Y, and Y good. Thus, X" then a link turn would be "X decreases Y, and Y good. Thus not X". The link turn is the most common way to generate offense, namely because the types of arguments it implies tend to be intuitive responses.

Impact Turns

The second type of turn is the impact turn. Instead of changing the direction of the link, it reverses the implication of the impact. If your opponent again says "X increases Y, and Y good. Thus, X" the corresponding impact turn would say "Y bad. Because X increases Y, X is bad".

Note: While it is in general advantageous to have multiple turns as responses to an argument, it is important not to use both impact turns and link turns because that leads to what is called a double turn. Because both types of turns reverse the implication of something, using both turns in conjunction actually reinforces your opponent's original claim. If their argument is "X increases Y, and Y good. Thus, X" and you say both that X deceases Y and Y is a bad thing, then you are functionally saying X decreases a bad thing, which means we should in fact do X.


The main strategy people use defensively is a variation of the no warrant argument. The argument is simple enough, as it implies that there is no real reason backing a claim. However, when making this type of argument it is important to specify what logical ink is missing specifically. In the absence of that explanation, these arguments are often dismissed as trivially weak.

In addition to simply denying individual links or warrants, another successful type of defensive argument is the non-unique. This argument is very useful as it says that the impact occurs in both the affirmative and the negative worlds. As a result, as a basis for comparison, that argument is not useful as a justification for one side or the other. Thus, a non-unique argument if successful is often enough to undo an entire argument.


Weighing is one of the most underused yet very important parts of debate. When you weigh argument you directly compare between them. Being directly comparative with your opponent's arguments is a great way to demonstrate how you are winning the round. There are a variety of ways for you to weigh between arguments. They include:

  • Magnitude - How severe is the impact?
  • Probability - How likely is the event?
  • Scope - How broadly is the impact felt across a population or even the world?
  • Reversibility - Can the harms be undone?
  • Timeframe - Is it a short-term or long-term harm? Will the harm come about now or later?

These all serve as distinct ways to gain an advantage, but the ones you will find most commonly used are probability and magnitude. If both you and your opponent are doing weighing, it may even be good to do weighing between types of weighing. There are plenty of arguments out there as to why high-probability events are worse than high-magnitude ones and vice versa, so all it takes is a little effort to come up with an effective strategy.

(Mastering refutation, the core of high-level debate, often requires more in-depth training and practice. For both, we recommend our flagship instructional program.)