Not every exchange between people with opposing ideas needs to have formal structure, nor must such an exchange produce any clear winner or other definitive result. While changing minds is an admirable goal, setting the bar somewhat lower is often more productive. Frequently, the best we can hope for is to appropriately and fairly represent an idea or position. Doing so without taking personal affront or devolving into verbal shoving matches is even more satisfying.
Even though you’re far more likely to find yourself in online discussions rather than formal debates, it can be really helpful to build a library of resources to help you identify features of classical argumentation. This will let you see patterns in how ideas are being presented to you, and give you a good foundation for building solid, rational arguments for your own ideas. I’ve found that being able to see patterns and give names to certain styles of presentation is useful in understanding the core ideas at play, and possibly how those ideas are held.
Since there is a lot of great information online, I encourage you to go digging around for things like building a case, logical fallacies, and general styles of argumentation. Not that you’ll remember all of it, but simply knowing the vocabulary exists often gives you a leg up on getting your ideas across and understanding your opponent. I’ve started compiling some of the more useful resources I’ve encountered. I’ll also put up a one-page reference sheet that condenses some common situations I encounter when arguing online.
In all of this, it’s important to remember that you’re not engaging in formal debate when talking online; you’re having a discussion or conversation. It won’t be of much use to cite and try to enforce rules, as this will be seen as attempting to confuse the core topic and set yourself up to win the game you describe. On the other hand, it may sometimes move things along if you and your opponent agree to some boundaries. Tread carefully 🙂
Check out the references page which contains both internal and external links. Where I’ve copied directly, I provide credit to the original source and whether I was able to get explicit permission.