D&CA Good Debating Practice

This article details the kind of posting TSR would love to see in our Debate and Current Affairs forums. This includes: News and Current Affairs, Educational Debate, UK Politics, Society, Philosophy, Religion, History. This list is not exhaustive, and is not intended to be prescriptive. What is described in this article represents what TSR finds to be the most valuable discussions in the D&CA section. Posts will not be removed automatically if they fall outside of this guidance.  

These are separate to the Community Guidelines, anything in this document is not something to raise in a post report. However, if you see a user consistently debating poorly (based on this guidance) then please raise a complaint in the Ask the Community Staff forum and their behaviour can be looked into. 

Users who frequently do not meet the standards of debate that TSR wishes to see in our forums will be engaged with by the TSR Volunteer Team, to improve the quality of posting in the section. This may be in the public forums, private forums or both. If, over a long period of time, a user is deliberately and consistently debating poorly and ignoring requests to improve then the Community Staff can issue temporary or permanent bans from posting in the D&CA section. Please also be aware that forum specific guidelines are also in place in several D&CA sub forums.   

Be open minded:

It’s important that you don’t enter a debate with your opinion closed off to other (valid) points. With this in mind, it’s helpful to... 

  1. Recognise the positives in another person's point of view.

  2. Clearly identify where you agree with somebody else.

  3. Ask questions of other users, which should encourage them to expand on their viewpoint and explain why they think a particular thing. 

  4. Openly identify areas where your own argument is weak, or where your knowledge is not as strong. Try especially to avoid generalisations about an issue or about groups of people.

  5. Remember: A difference of opinion doesn't make somebody wrong.

  6. Please avoid comments about the people who contribute to debates. It is not productive to discuss individuals or groups that hold a particular opinion. Better to discuss the opinion itself. 

  7. If you wish to raise concern with the tone of somebody else's writing then this is best done in our Ask the Community Staff forum. Avoid making comments about someone else’s tone in a thread, as this is often unhelpful and off topic.

Be thorough:

Mistakes in debate often come from times when we are not being thorough enough with our details, choice of words or sources.  

  1. Support your points with reasoning and/or supporting evidence. If you’re not willing to provide evidence for a point you are making, clarify that this is your opinion - not a fact.

  2. Link to reputable sources, from legitimate publications. Do not use blog pages or unauthenticated news websites to try to prove something. We recommend major news sites, government sites or university studies as the best sources to use.

  3. If something you have written is your opinion, make that clear. "I think..." or "in my opinion" make it obvious that you aren't trying to portray something as a fact.

  4. If someone asks you to support your claim further, do so. Unless you make clear that your point is speculation, or purely your opinion, it will come across as though you believe it to be irrevocably true.

  5. Be specific, generalisations are easy for other users to unpick and it can discredit your overall argument with.

  6. Be cautious about assuming connections between different things. One of event or topic is not necessarily going to mean one group was behind or, or will benefit from it. In an emerging news story it can be relevant to make predictions - but best caveat them with a recognition that you may be wrong.  

Be clear:

The best way to maintain a healthy debate is by being extremely clear with one another. Try the following to make sure conversations continue to be fruitful and meaningful:

  1. Try to stay on the thread topic. Look at the title each time you post - are you still addressing the central question?

  2. Clarify your points in a thread if there seems to be some confusion. Be as specific as you can. You may even want to address what you are NOT trying to argue if some users may be misinterpreting your points. 

  3. State your position openly, from what perspective do you approach this topic? Is it something you are passionate about for a specific reason? Make that clear when you join a thread. It will help you to recognise your own perspective and it will inform others about the context behind what you have written.

  4. Do you find yourself repeating the same points over and over? Either change the frame through which you're discussing the topic, or walk away from the thread. There is little merit in having a circular discussion. If your posts are very repetitive then eventually they may come across as spam.

  5. Complicated metaphors and comparisons can often make your point more confused. If you use them, keep them simple. Otherwise, a metaphor or comparison to another scenario can be easy to unpick by other users. Sometimes, the argument can quickly become about the comparison used, rather than the original point itself. 

  6. Try to avoid “whataboutery”, where another topic is brought up to try and minimise the importance of the one originally being discussed. If you want to have a conversation comparing several things, that is best done in its own thread rather than in a thread dedicated to just one of those.