If you’ve debated long enough, you’ve probably heard the catchphrase “repetition is not refutation!” thrown around casually by debaters. It seems to be their go-to response to arguments they don’t know what to do with.
Even though the phrase is often misused, it is even more frequently and unfortunately true—too many people get in the lazy habit of repeating their previous response.
Why it’s bad
Simply repeating your previous responses ruins the point of having 8 speeches in a debate round. Theoretically, the 1AC and 1NC are all that matters if every speaker repeats what was said earlier word-for-word.
Thankfully, we generally have plenty of variation and back and forth on several points at a time. But the more points are repeated, the less useful each speech becomes.
I’ve noticed that debates in politics tend to degrade to “my catchphrase vs. your catchphrase”, and no substantial clash. Candidate 1 proposes plan A, Candidate 2 proposes plan B. They don’t attack each other’s plans except for a couple of half-truth jabs, and they spend all their time repeating the same phrases.
Furthermore, debate rounds with no clash are extremely boring for the judge. Nothing new happens: they just get up, say a quote, repeat their points, tell the judge to vote for them, and sit back down.
Not sure how exactly to put this, but… the alternative to repeating the same argument over and over is to actually come up with a new response. Novel, isn’t it?
Honestly, it’s really not that hard to do. You know when your club leader taught you four-point refutation and drilled you over and over again? They’re trying to get you to use new responses.
Identify the argument, tag your response, support your response, then impact your response.
The argument: A team brings up evidence that Iran sanctions aren’t actually hurting the populace.
Response: The negative team claimed in their last speech that our sanctions on Iran don’t harm their people. (Identify) Their only backup for this claim was an opinion piece in the New York Times. (Tag) That is fine in some instances, but when discussing a complex topic such as the effect of sanctions on a group of people, we need to be looking at studies or experts on the topic, not just someone’s opinion. Compare that to our three quotes on the topic, all based on empirical evidence, that all state very clearly that Iranians are hurt by sanctions. (Support) Because the negative team has been unable to prove their side of this point, we are left with the conclusion that sanctions on Iran have harmful effects. And remember, we also proved that they don’t even fix the nuclear issue. (Impact)
Couple of notes based on this example.
1. The tag doesn’t always have to be a specific title for your response, depending on how conversational you are. It will depend on the type of response you’re using. Also, if you use multiple responses, tags are more important.
2. Impacts aren’t just for DA’s. This form of an impact is about showing the judge the impact of the argument in that round. Basically, you’re telling the judge why your response makes you warrant their ballot. That doesn’t mean you should say “and for that reason you should vote affirmative”, though.
The argument: The team then counters by attacking your weakest evidence on that same point (they ask what the methodology for the study is), and claiming “the affirmative team hasn’t proven their side either”, while bringing up another piece of evidence from another opinion piece.
The response: Mr. Watchamacallit brought up another quote and attacked our evidence, saying we need to prove that sanctions do hurt Iranians. (Identify) I have three responses. 1. Their “new” evidence is just another opinion piece, and we already discussed why that isn’t credible. It’s just more of the same. 2. They attacked only one out of our three quotes, acting as if that was everything we brought up. If we were to pretend this evidence never existed, you’d still be left with two experts saying sanctions do hurt Iranians, compared to two laypeople. 3. The methodology of our study is actually in the credentials of the evidence, they simply missed it or ignored it. It was: [read methodology]. (Tag/support) Zooming out, let’s see what we have on this crucial point. We have two quotes from experts and a study with solid methodology proving that sanctions on Iran are hurting their populace. The negative team only has two opinion pieces that are completely subjective. (Impact/big picture)
Couple of notes based on this example.
1. My first response is actually a sort of repetition of my previous response about “opinion pieces”. But notice the difference between just saying “this evidence is also an opinion piece”, and what I did—saying “we already discussed why that isn’t credible”. This wording is far more confident and gives the judge the feeling that we already proved opinion articles are bad. It also avoids seeming like repetition.
2. Response 2 and 3 are interchangeable. You don’t need both if you’re out of time, but if you provide both you’re solidifying your argument. If the point isn’t important to the round, use less responses. (I personally find response 2 more powerful, because judges’ heads swim when discussing methodology).
3. After that many responses, you’ve added a lot of bulk to the argument. It can be hard for judges to track with all that extra baggage. Zooming out and summarizing what the state of the argument is helps them to keep track.
4. This style of response is the conversational, non-tagged style. It is harder to write notes on, however. The other way of doing it is to tag each response. It would go as follows: “I have three responses. 1. More of the same. (Maybe repeat the tag to help them write down). They brought up another piece of evidence, but it is ALSO an opinion article. We already talked about why that doesn’t cut it. 2. Three quotes vs. two Keep in mind, although the negative team tried to discredit our evidence by asking about the methodology, we have two other quotes they didn’t even mention. We still have three credible quotes to their two. 3. Credible study. The methodology of the study is actually in the credentials of the evidence, the negative team just missed it. It is a very vigorous study. [Read methodology].
The bottom line: be creative and think about what exactly is wrong with their response. If there is nothing wrong with it, you are probably losing that point anyway. Repetition is not the answer, folks!
How to deal with repetitive opponents
Point out their repetition to the judge. Don’t just say “repetition vs. refutation”,
Here’s an example.
“Let’s discuss the point about sanctions hurting Iranians. The negative team’s response was once again pointing back to their evidence. Unfortunately, this adds nothing new to the table. They brought it up in their first speech, then discussed it in their 2nd and 3rd speeches, all the while ignoring our response that the evidence isn’t credible. Until they bring up better evidence or solid logic on this point, we are left with the conclusion that sanctions on Iran do hurt the populace.”
Some notes on this example.
1. Notice how I chronicle this argument by telling the judge when it was brought up. This adds credibility to your side, because you’re telling them exactly how many times it’s been repeated.
2. The last sentence has an incredibly important technique implanted. “Until they … [do something], then [we win this point]”. This is basically subconsciously setting a standard for the judge. A confident speaker who says this will basically win this point guaranteed, as long as their expectation is reasonable. The judge’s brain processes it as “Oh, the negative team loses this point unless they [bring up more evidence]. Okay!” If they don’t bring up the evidence, the brain says “They didn’t bring it up so I guess they lost this point!”.
Important: if you use this technique, make sure to follow up on it. In your last speech, point out the expectations they did not meet. “Remember when we said they needed to [do something] to win this argument? They have yet to fulfill that, so we are left with the conclusion that [impact the argument].” If you’re in the 2NR, make sure you tell the judge it’s not okay for the other team to fulfill it in the 2AR. “We’ve been asking for this evidence the entire debate round, and it is too late to bring it now in their last speech, especially since we have no chance to respond and analyze the evidence.” If you’re in the 2AR, the negative team will cringe at the table. You’re right: they didn’t fulfill the request you made, so they suffer the consequences.
3. Notice I didn’t say “so this argument flows affirmative”. That makes no sense to most judges, and it also sounds arrogant to make the conclusion that you won the argument. You are basically making that conclusion anyway, it’s just all about the presentation.
I started writing this post with the intention of writing something that would quickly show the folly in repeating responses. But as I wrote, I realized that a lot of basic debate techniques all tie in to this, including four-point refutation.
If you just skimmed this, I’d encourage you to go back and take note of all the points, because there are some delicious rhetoric nuggets in here.