Welcome to the DAV Website
The DAV is a non-profit association which exists to promote debate. It
is the peak debating body in Victoria and runs large competitions for
adults and for schools across Victoria. It provides training and
resources for debaters, teachers and adjudicators.
How to construct arguments - the getting of Matter
Students are often told that the cornerstones of Matter are logic and relevance, but are not told how to attract good Matter marks. Good matter relies partly on good organisation (method) and a good knowledge of your topic, but there are other simple tips that will improve your debating and your matter mark.
Make sure you have enough arguments
As a general rule, you should have about three or four arguments for every first or second speech. Arguments are not examples, they are ideas which you can explain and then demonstrate with an example. For each argument you need one or maybe two examples. Without an example of what you are saying your argument is just an assertion.
If you are arguing for school sport, it is not enough to say that school sport is good for you. You need to explain how it improves physical fitness, how it improves self-esteem, how it encourages teamwork and how it establishes healthy living habits.
Don't fall into the trap that I once did when the adjudicator told me "You had one quite good argument but you spent 8 minutes rephrasing it in different ways". Make sure you have enough material and if you don't ask your teammates to help you think of some more material.
Use "real arguments"
Always ask yourselves - is this a debatable issue or argument. If you hear yourselves convincing your team mates that the topic "The only way is up" is really a debate about whether it is possible for people to achieve their personal best, stop and ask yourself - "How will I explain four arguments about this?", "Is this really an issue that will interest or amuse an audience?" and "Would I want to watch this debated for an hour?". As soon as there is any doubt in your mind, think seriously about taking another direction. You might decide that the debate is actually more about the new federal government elected two days ago will really improve life for Australians.
Don't use statistics or other people's opinions
Don't use statistics about the opinion of a number of people you surveyed at your school. The fact that 45% of Year 10's at you school don't want Australia to become a republic tells us nothing. Remember that when seatbelts were made compulsory in Victorian cars in 1972 95% of people opposed them. That doesn't mean that there were or are a bad idea. People are convinced by arguments not by what others think.
Use plausible arguments
Don't run examples or arguments which you would not be persuaded by if you were the adjudicator. All adjudicators have heard the argument that Hitler wasn't such a bad guy because he liked dogs and children. Adjudicators are not stupid - this type of analysis makes them wish that they were sitting at home watching TV and that you were too.
Likewise, any debater that sets up an example about how their sister who is a nurse sees sick people every day and they smoke and this depresses their sister who has herself taken up smoking because of her stress and ... and ... and therefore smoking should be banned is looking for an adjudicatorial rebuke. Pathos and sympathy are rarely convincing. It is much better to tell the audience that smokers get ill, hospitals treat many smokers and then explain why banning smoking would stop smoking and therefore reduce the number of sick people in society.
Order your arguments
Unless your arguments fall naturally into a chronological or logical order, put your best arguments first. They will have the most impact on the adjudicator at the start of your speech and will ensure that you will not run out of time for your best material. If you are running over your can dump some of your later arguments knowing that they would have added little.
Structure your speech into paragraphs
If you remember nothing else from this article then learn this. Order your arguments into paragraphs, as you would in an English essays. Each "paragraph" should contain your argument (the opening sentence), an explanation of the argument (several sentences), an illustration or example to demonstrate (several sentences) and lastly the explanation of how this argument proves the topic (the concluding sentence). If you think of all debating in this way, your method and the logic in your matter will include. If you include one paragraph on each cue card, this will help your pause naturally between each argument.
Be aware of the world around you
Debating is all about convincing "the ordinary reasonable person" with real material. To do this you should draw on real world examples and events occurring around Australia and the World. Students who try to debate about modern wars but know nothing about Iraq are at a real disadvantage. Keeping an eye on the news is not difficult but will make debating and the word around you more interesting. Skimming "The Age" or "Time" is very useful. If you don't have the time for this, try to listen to the news on 3LO 774 or News Radio 1026 in the morning for 10 minutes while you are getting ready for school.
Read your notes
The last thing you do before going into your debating room is to skim your notes over again so that you are familiar with your arguments and the order of your speech. Occasionally this will mean that other arguments occur to you and you can include those on your cards. More importantly it will improve your confidence.
Lastly, remember that good matter is a skill and can be improved with a little reading and a little planning.