Debate Guide: Context-specific considerations

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Here we address some of the issues that depend largely on the circumstances of a particular discussion.

Non-constructive participants

Some members of bulletin boards are fond of shouting from the sidelines whilst making absolutely no constructive points at all. When this happens, and is clearly disrupting a discussion, it is a fine balance as to whether you should point them out individually. Linking their behaviour with the beliefs espoused may work if it is done carefully, but ignorance or a humorous reply is more likely to undermine such efforts. If the board has a good moderation policy, it may be worthwhile reporting threatening or accusative content to moderators, although such "lawyering" often undermines your credibility, at the same time making others' comments look more serious in nature. Remind yourself that with the rule of reason on your side, you should never be effectively countered with jibes, which are themselves easily dismissed.

Never forget - however hard it may seem, that there are lurking members and at least twice as many non - members viewing the discussions. You have an audience, and are doing a service to much more than the debate itself, so hyperbolic rebuttals and disgust (lest they happen) are by no means the end of a debate. In fact, when others overshoot - it may only serve to give power to your side of the debate.

In the face of repetition

If your opponent's contributions are respectable in temper, but unreasoned and repetitive, do not shy away from mentioning this before you, yourself are made to look monotonous. Explain in an impersonal and calm way, how such assertions are not good enough to stand up against reason or persuade you. Do not label and attack your opponent or directly address their arguments with unnecessary hyperbole, as this creates the perception of a person who is overly invested in the outcomes of their own arguments.

Be clear and concise

If you feel that a "point by point" response to your opponent has effectively obscured your main contention, it may be important to summarise your objection at the start of a post. Considering that such contributions may be "too long, didn't read" for most readers, it is important to emphasize your main contention at the beginning of each large post, giving some idea of what you are working towards. It is also advisable to stress your main contention throughout your reply, if it contains a number of small, distracting sub-arguments that risk derailing the debate and driving it into unfamiliar territory.