How to win an argument

Tips for forum discussions and debates

If you are an avid Internet explorer like myself – and I'm not saying that I'm a browser – you may have noticed that forums and discussion boards are nesting grounds for intellectual morons, if there is such a thing. Forums have developed a culture of their own. Mainly a culture of nonsensical rantings and ravings. Ever notice what happens when a person starts an innocent thread hoping for an answer? It generally turns into a violent playground for bullies to harass and abuse. (Ah, the sweet memories of kindergarten.) In the end, as you may know, feelings are hurt, peripheral computer components are hurled and friendships are unfurled. Ironically, many times the original question is never resolved.

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If any of this sounds all too familiar, then this article is for you.

I would like to pour into your mind a new understanding of the dynamics of discussion, elaborate on human reaction and share with you some tools for successful argumentation (so that you can beat the idiocy out of those bullies – figuratively speaking, of course).

The first question we need to ask ourselves is:

WHAT IS MY GOAL in participating in a forum?

Choose the category into which you fall:

1. I want to voice my opinion, because I know what I think matters.

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2. I want to enter a discussion and convince people of my viewpoint. I'll fight to the death to make them see things my way.

3. I want to accurately lay out the evidence so that any person that may read the thread may be able to make an informed decision for him- or herself.

4. I'm a troll. I go on forums when I'm bored and I like to mess with people's heads.

Here's a hint: Of the above, the answer you really want to pick, is number 3. There is nothing wrong with the other options and I'm sure we have all been there, but number 3 is the one that will win the argument. (Yes, there's nothing wrong with number 4! Don't we all like to mess with people's heads?)

By “win the argument” I do not mean that everyone on the forum will sing praises to your awesome and brilliant intellect. You can win an argument by simply, clearly and thoroughly stating your side of the issue. You'll know you've won when the person who is attempting to argue with you resorts to ad homonym attacks. This happens when the opponent can't counter your evidence and needs to fall back on personal attacks (even though the person, in many online cases, does not know you and lives on another continent). Take personal attacks as a sign of victory.

THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT POINTS to remember when making your case:

1. Be polite and respectful – even if the other person sounds (or reads) like a drunk skunk.

2. Structure you argument, so it makes sense – if the argument is difficult to follow no one will bother to read past the first sentence. If you don't understand it, they won't understand it.

Use paragraphs and headings.

Don't underline and/or bold much.

Avoid CAPITALIZATION. There's is no need to shout. I'll tell you a secret: If your reader is blind – capitals won't help.

3. Make a logical appeal, backed up by evidence – give links to reliable sources (online dictionaries, encyclopaedias, scholarly videos, etc). Do research and counter arguments that you are sure will be raised (kill them before they arise).

4. Make an emotional and moral appeal.

5. Check your spelling and grammar – a typo won't necessarily derail your argument, but if you get it right you'll look smarter. (Hurray for spell-checkers!)

MORE TIPS:

1. Ask yourself: “What will a third party think if they read my comments?”

(Third party refers to someone who has stumbled onto the forum and who reads the arguments made by you and the others.) People may be put off by sarcasm, derogatory comments, swearing and blasphemy, personal attacks. No matter how well you construct your argument, if you act disrespectful, mean or snobbish, you won't win over your audience.

2. Are your answers friendly? Being friendly is the first step in winning over your opponent. Also, if you're nice to the other person and they are being mean back, this will automatically make everyone who reads the discussion sympathetic towards you and your case. Manipulation Psychology 101. FTW!

3. Did you agree with the other person on some points? If you did, feel free to tell them so at the start of your argument. In fact, it is a good idea to actively look for points to agree on. This softens them up and gives you a psychological advantage. For instance in an abortion debate: “I agree with your statement that it is the woman's body and that she should have a say over her own body. Well said. However, I must say that...” Subtly manoeuvre into your argument. You are in effect giving them a reassuring pat on the back before you sucker punch them in the face (muahaha).

4. Did you use sarcasm? Sarcasm may be used to add humour to your argument, but be careful to not use it as a subtle weapon to hurt your opponent. The object of the discussion is to state facts, not hurt feelings. If you lower yourself to that level, everyone will notice. This is an easy one to lie to yourself about, so try and be honest when you dissect your text.

5. Do you have evidence for all your 'facts'? If not, try to find reliable evidence and post the links. If you cannot back a 'fact' up, try and do without it.

6. When you make opinions, do you label them as such? Be truthful when it's only an opinion. Refrain from passing opinions off as facts. This is the quickest way to dig yourself an early grave into which you will be thrown after the opponent has torn you to shreds.

7. Did you say anything that does not add to the discussion? For instance: “I would like to say that I do not agree.” “You're wrong.” “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.” These sentences do not add to the discussion in any way. Discard them entirely and just start debating!

8. Before you post and you've re-read your post three times and you feel uneasy, do not post it yet. Save your post in a Word or Notepad file and come back in an hour, or a day even. Chances are that by then you will have figured out what was bothering you (might be a subtle sarcastic stab to the jugular).

9. Be diplomatic. If your opponent is not as bright as you are, talk on their level. In many cases it is easy to discern when someone cannot understand big words or use complicated language. Dumb down your language a bit and avoid big words, but don't give them the impression you are making fun of them. Find a balance between not sounding pompous or snobbish and not sounding like you're making fun of their... er... lack of intellect. (If this point sounds confusing then just be yourself.)

10. Know when to give up. Remember number 4 above, under the categories section? Some of the people you will come up against fall in this category. Trolls. They will drain all your energy and time. Beware! A good way to spot someone who's just arguing for the sake of arguing, is when you post a book's worth of information and they answer with a question or a single paragraph that's designed to set you off on a two-page essay again. Don't fall for it. It's a trap, I tell you!

11. Never defend yourself. If someone tries to divert the discussion to you, stay with the issue. The reason your opponent might do this is that they cannot think of a proper argument or they genuinely get sidetracked or they are too lazy to make their argument. The reason you should avoid it is that they are in effect putting you on the defensive (on purpose or accidentally). You can't attack and defend at the same time – even if you try – so avoid it.

Anecdote: The other day someone turned an issue around on me. This was after I posted two five paragraph posts (with links to videos and articles). The other person had made two replies, a paragraph each. In the end the person said that I was pretty much just being disagreeable and not facing the truth because (for a reason only they would know) the truth did not suit me. I saw their statements for what they were: the person was making me the issue. As I knew we were not going to get anywhere (it came down to a difference in opinion) I decided not to defend myself. Instead I turned it around on the person and asked if by their own definition, following the argument they had made previously with regards to piracy, the person considered himself to be a thief. Somewhat reluctantly the person agreed. I decided to end it there, since by labelling himself a 'thief' the person had discredited himself. (I made the gender of the person in the anecdote male, though I really have no idea what gender the person in question was).

I almost never use this tactic, but as it was a dying discussion I made an exception. Don't defend yourself and don't divert it onto the other person like I did (if the discussion is lively, this tactic will open you up to attack).

12. Stay calm. Avoid typing a response when you are emotional. (This line is especially for the ladies.)

13. Remember that people have a right to their opinions. Discern when they try to pass opinions off as facts.

The best outcome (for me) is when two opponents can agree – on friendly terms – to disagree. They both respect and accept each other's evidence, but their interpretation of the evidence differs and therefore their opinion differs. There is nothing wrong with this and comes down to many things: culture, background, religion, personality, etc.

It does not pay to argue for the sake of convincing someone of your viewpoint, since this rarely happens. Rather argue as practice for yourself, to help you get to know the subject better, to help you learn, to improve your thinking ability, to broaden your horizons, to socialize and enhance your typing and spelling skills. Chances are good that your argument will convince a third party (or hundred thousand and twentieth party as the case is with the Internet).

Just do the best you can and enjoy the process.

"It is not so much about that you argue, as it is about how you argue."

"It is better to lose an argument and keep a friend, than to lose a friend and win an argument."

"If you lose your temper, you’ve lost the argument."

"Do unto others as you want done unto yourself."

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About The Author:
BarakiEl's favourite things to do include creating digital art, listening to music, playing computer games and spending time with her husband. She works from home as a freelance desktop publisher, colourist and illustrator.
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Posted in: Uncategorized by on March 18, 2011 @ 9:31 am

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