How To Approach A Motion

When you are new to debating and are given an impromptu motion, with the debate about to start imminently, it is easy to panic. You may have never seen a motion anything like it before and have no idea how to approach it or construct relevant and robust arguments to help you win the debate. However, there is a structured and methodical approach that one should take to help generate arguments efficiently and comprehensively in the precious preparation time that is afforded prior to an impromptu debate.

The first thing to consider when given a motion are the effects on stakeholders tied to the debate at hand. The stakeholders in a debate are the individuals or groups of people who are directly affected within the scope of the debate. For example, with regards to the motion ‘THBT the United States should impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia, contingent on human rights reforms’, the relevant stakeholders would be the US, Saudi Arabia, and various other nations who may have diplomatic and economic relations with the United States and Saudi Arabia. The important things to consider are the ways in which these stakeholders will react to the motion and how they will personally be affected. For example, it is clear to see that Saudi Arabia, which is a major stakeholder in this debate, will be economically harmed by sanctions imposed by the United States. The proposition may then argue that Saudi Arabia in turn will choose to improve their human rights record by taking actions such as extricating themselves from the civil war in Yemen and implementing egalitarian policies for the oppressed groups of people within their nation. This thought process can be constructed into a complete argument that proves that the leverage gained through imposing sanctions will force Saudi Arabia to better it’s human rights record and improve the quality of lives of hundreds of thousands of people.


To give another example, with regards to the motion ‘THW make teacher salaries dependent on the performance of students in their class’, the relevant stakeholders range from teachers, students, parents, the education system as a whole, and so on. The proposition might argue that the major stakeholder of teachers will be given a strong financial incentive by this motion to teach to the best of their ability and help their students perform well academically. This could be further constructed into a complete argument that proves that the financial incentive given to teachers to help their students will ultimately lead to higher quality teaching and better education for students.


The second thing to consider when given a motion are the category of the impacts. That is to say, the effect the motion will have environmentally, politically, socially, economically, culturally, and so on. Once you can identify an area of impact that the motion might lead to, you can work backwards to construct the argument by unravelling the logical links that could be made to reach that impact. For example, with regards to the motion ‘THW impose a carbon tax’, when we think about the potential impact of this motion on the environment, it is clear to see that we can work backwards to identify that a carbon tax would lead to an increase in the cost of high carbon emission products, which the proposition might argue will lead to a reduction in their consumption since demand typically drops for items that get more expensive. This can be constructed into a complete argument that proves that an increase in the cost of high carbon-emission products is necessary to cut down on their consumption and reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are released into the environment, thereby slowing down the incredibly dangerous process of climate change. On the other hand, the opposition might consider the economic impacts of this policy and work backwards to identify that this motion will drastically harm corporations, as well as individual people, who must now spend much more of their disposable income to buy necessities such as petrol to run their cars and go to work.


As you can see, although it may be daunting at first to be faced with a motion that you may not know much about, using a rigorous and methodical approach, we can uncover strong and relevant arguments pertaining to the motion to increase our chances of winning a debate. Although most debates will not be as easy to deconstruct into simple stakeholders and categories of impact, this method is a foundational way of thinking and constructing arguments in a way that not only helps develop a depth of rigorous and well proven analysis, but also helps uncover a breadth of arguments appealing to a variety of stakeholders and impacts. Try this method on the following practice motions to test your understanding of this technique.


For the following motions try to identify an impact that would result from the motion, using the method outlined above. Do not worry if all the impacts don’t seem very compelling! This exercise is simply designed to cement the structured thinking that is key to generating strong arguments in a debate and help you extend your creativity even further.


THW legalize the sale and consumption of all drugs
THW implement quotas for women in STEM
THW implement a sugar tax
THW defund the police
THBT developmental aid to countries should be contingent on environmentally friendly policy