Department of Communication

Four Step Refutation

Skilled debaters not only have a command of language and content, but are able to present their arguments in an organized fashion that facilitates the audience following along in the debate. Refutation is designed to introduce arguments, undermine opponents' arguments, rebuild arguments, and clarify own arguments. One way to do this is through a process called “four step refutation.” This process is used regularly by individuals in day-to-day interactions. This is often referred to as the “Four S’s” of signposting, stating, supporting, and summarizing.

Step One: Signal

Identify the claim you are answering.

In a single debate, there will be multiple arguments, pieces of evidence, and sometimes tangents that a debater must address. Clearly identifying which of your opponent’s arguments you are responding to will keep the flow of the debate progressing in a coherent manner.

Step Two: State

Make your (counter) claim.

After articulating your opponent’s position, you should make your response in a concise, articulate manner.

Step Three: Support

Reference evidence or explain the justification.

Many arguments will be supported by evidence that provides some justification for the claim being advanced. Reading or referring to evidence already read in the debate will buttress claims advanced by the debater. Oftentimes, evidence is not needed, and the debater’s own brilliant analysis can provide the justification for the claim.

Step Four: Summarize

Explain the importance of your argument.

For an audience to reach a judgment on an issue, they must recognize the comparative importance of different arguments. Detailing the way in which your argument implicates your opponent's position is a crucial way to leave an impression on audience members.


(Signaling) My opponent argued that the death penalty deters crime.

(State) In fact, the death penalty increases crime.

(Support) According to a nationwide study conducted by Professor Wiggins in 2002, violent crime has actually increased in states with the death penalty while crime has decreased in states without the death penalty.

(Summarize) If this study is true, and the methodology is certainly sound, then the central justification for the death penalty has no merit.

Introducing Argument and Deliberation

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Skill Building