The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Debate is a formalized system of (usually) logical argument. It is a rule-governed contest with two or more sides, usually presided by a judge. Each side is attempting to win the approval of a designated audience, such as a judge.

Debate is a highly organized activity with sponsors such as the Oxford Union at the local, national, and international level.


Debate in education

Debate is popular in English-speaking colleges and high schools around the world, most notably in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.

Parliamentary debate

Parliamentary debate (sometimes referred to as "Parli") is conducted under rules derived from British parliamentary procedure. It features the competition of individuals in a multi-person setting. It borrows terms such as "government" and "opposition" from the British parliament. It is commonly used in Canada.

Parliamentary debating in Canada uses the following positions:

  • Government
    • Prime Minister (speaks first, and last 7 and 3 minutes respectively)
    • Minister of the Crown (speaks third for 7 minutes)
  • Opposition
    • Minister of the Opposition (speaks second for 7 minutes)
    • Leader of the Opposition (speaks fourth for 10 minutes)

Some tournaments allow points of information, where an opposing team member may stand up and ask a question to the member who is debating. Depending on the country, there are variations in speaking time, speaking order, and the number of speakers. For example, in New Zealand, both the leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister offer a short summary as the last two speakers.

In the U.S. the American Parliamentary Debate Association is the oldest national parliamentary debating organization, based on the east coast and including all of the Ivy League, although the more recently founded National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) is now the largest collegiate sponsor. In Canada, the Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debating (CUSID) is the umbrella organization for all university-level debating.

Throughout the rest of the world, parliamentary debate is what most countries know as "debating", and is the primary style practiced in the United Kingdom, Australia, India and most other nations. The premier event in the world of debate, the World Universities Debating Championship, is conducted in the British Parliamentary style.

Policy Debate

In Policy Debate two teams of two students advocate or oppose a resolution calling for a change in policy by the government. The style of argumentation features extensive use of citations and quotations from news sources and technical material. In the US, high school policy debate is overseen by the NFL, the CFL and the NCFCA . Collegate policy debate is overseen by the National Debate Tournament, the Cross Examination Debate Association, the National Educational Debate Association, and the Great Plains Forensic Conference . Format often involves cross examination.

The typical format of Policy Debate involves four 8 minute speeches (2 speeches per each side, advocating and opposing) called "constructives" in which each team presents and introduces the arguments they will make throughout the round. Each speech is followed by a brief 3 minute cross examination period in which 1 member of the opposing team questions the last speaker. The affirmative team speaks first, and their "first affirmative constructive" seeks to define the specific policy that will be debated throughout the round. After the "2nd negative constructive," the debate round enters the rebuttals. In rebuttal speeches, each team member has 5 minutes to go into further detail about the arguments they introduced in the constructive speeches. As a generality, no new arguments are allowed in the rebuttals. There is no cross examination period during these 4 speeches. The first speaker in the rebuttals is the opposing (negative) team, which constitutes the only time in a policy debate round in which 2 members of the same team will speak consecutively. This 13 minute period of negative speech is often referred to as the "negative block." The debate round ends with the "2nd Affirmative Rebuttal," at which point the judge will consider the arguments and sign the ballot.

The expansion of Mock Court and Parli have come at the cost of the shrinking of participation in LD and Policy Debate in US High School competition since 1995.

World Schools Style

World Schools Style or WSS is a debating style fairly easy to learn, but very rewarding to practice. Each team has three speakers:

  • First speaker of the Proposition (speaks for 8 minutes, presents the case of the Proposition, defines the motion, gives 2/3 of the arguments of the Proposition)
  • First speaker of the Opposition (speaks for 8 minutes, may accept the definitions or contest them and give an alternative, rebut s Proposition arguments, presents the case of the Opposition, gives 2/3 of the arguments of the Opposition).
  • Second speaker of the Proposition (speaks for 8 minutes, further develops the case of the Proposition, rebuts the arguments of the first speaker of the Opposition, gives 1/3 of the arguments of the Proposition)
  • Second speaker of the Opposition (speaks for 8 minutes, further develops the case of the Opposition, rebuts the arguments given by the second speaker of the Proposition, gives 1/3 of the arguments of the Opposition)
  • Third speaker of the Proposition (speaks for 8 minutes, rebuilds the case of the Proposition, rebuts the arguments of the second speaker of the Opposition, concludes case)
  • Third speaker of the Opposition (speaks for 8 minutes, rebuilds the case of the Opposition, rebuts the arguments of the second speaker of the Opposition - may not introduce a new argument!)
  • Reply speaker of the Opposition (speaks for 4 minutes, outlines clash point, evaluates debate, gives the final appeal ) - either the first or the second speaker of the Opposition, usually the first
  • Reply speaker of the Proposition (speaks for 4 minutes, outlines clash point, evaluates debate, has the last word in protected time!) - either the first or the second speaker of the Proposition, usually the first

During main speeches, members of the opposing team may offer Points of Information to express a question or brief remark, these shall not exceed 23 seconds or three sentences. First and last minutes of main speeches as well as the entire duration of reply speeches are protected, that means, no Points of Information may be offered. There is no cross-interrogation . The Proposition has to prove the motion for a reasonable majority of cases , while it is not enough for the Opposition to present reasonable doubt . The debate is decided by ballot of the uneven number of judges (usually 7 or 9). The grading of each team member on a range of 0 to 100, where style/content/strategy are divided 40/40/20, is summed and the reply speech is counted as 0-50 points, 20/20/10.

Simulated legislature

Other high school debate events such as Student Congress, Model United Nations, and the American Legion's Boys State and Girls State events are activities which are based on the premise of the contestants acting as representatives in a mock legislative body.

Moot court

Moot court (simulating appellate advocacy) and Mock trial (usually simulating criminal trials) competitions for law school, undergraduate, and (in some regions) high school students are held throughout the United States.

Lincoln-Douglas debate

Lincoln-Douglas Debate, named after the famous series of Senate debates between the two candidates, has two participants who compete against each other. The arguments center around philosophy or abstract values, and thus it is also called a value debate . Lincoln-Douglas debate tends to require less evidence than policy debate, and thus emphasizes logic and reasoning. Most LD cases center arround a core value and a value criterion, with the value representing the highest concept that can be achieved under a given resolution and the criterion being the best way to achieve or measure the value. While there are regional variations, most good LD debates occur when both sides agree on a set value, and then must argue their criterions on the best way to achieve or measure that core value. High school Lincoln-Douglas competitions are typically conducted under the rules of the National Forensic League (NFL) or the National Catholic Forensic League (CFL).

Debate tournaments

High school speech tournaments are held every week during the season. Regional tournamnents, often held in high schools, attract other local teams. Major tournaments (such as Harvard's) attract students from the national circuit. The various national championships attract debaters from all over the country as well as from overseas. Many organizations hold national championship tournaments inclduing the NFL national championships, CFL, NCFCA, CDA and NDT. The US national championships include teams from former US territories and protectorates including the Panama Canal Zone, American Samoa and Guam. In the state of Texas, the Texas Forensics Association holds a list and schedule of tournaments it deems "qualifying tournaments" for the TFA state tournament. Note that this is separate from the Texas University Interscholastic League tournament held for debate events. Similarly in Kansas qualification for the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA ) regional and state championships is distinct from the CFL and NFL district qualifiers in Kansas.


The term "Tournament of Champions" is used throughout the debate community for the championship tournaments of a variety of circuits and at the state level. Generally however the term TOC in the high school community most commonly refers to the University of Kentucky TOC (Tournament of Champions) held each spring in Lexington, Kentucky.

Amoung U.S. high school policy debators TOC is one of the most prestigious tournaments on the national circuit. Unlike CFL and NFL national tournaments to which teams are qualified by winning their district championships, TOC teams qualify by winning or placing at designated highly competative national circuit tournaments. This stylistic distinction results in a vastly different pool of competators for the different championships. TOC teams typically are representatives of well funded private, or underwritten public school teams, able to afford national circuit competition and who are allowed onto the national circuit by their state rules. Note that debaters in many circuits are not eligible to compete for TOC. Kansas schools, for example, are forbidden by the Kansas State High School Activities Association from participating at tournaments outside Kansas with the exception of CFL and NFL nationals.

The district qualification mechanism of CFL and NFL result in a much broader pool of well qualified teams, but high school debators on the national circuit tend to denigrate this due to the other stylistic differences. CFL and NFL tournaments feature judging by judges provided by the school. Many of these are local-circuit judges or even lay judges. CFL and NFL debate therefore, is characterised by communication skills and argumentation at the lay judge level. TOC judging is almost exclusively the franshise of college debators, and therefore features technical debate arguments. The stylistic difference is almost unresolvable.

Other forms of debate

Online debating

With the increasing popularity and availability of the Internet to people, different opinions arise frequently. This paved the way for more formalized debating websites, typically in the form of online forums or bulletin boards. The debate style is interesting, as research and well thought out points and counterpoints are possible because of the obvious lack of time restraints (although practical time restraints usually are in effect, e.g., no more than 5 days between posts, etc.). Many people use this to strengthen their points, or drop their weaker opinions on things, many times for debate in formalized debates (such as the ones listed above) or for fun arguments with friends. The ease-of-use and friendly environments make new debaters welcome to share their opinions in many communities. Examples of online debating websites are shown in the external links.

U.S. presidential debates

Since the 1976 general election, debates between presidential candidates have been a part of U.S. presidential campaigns. Unlike debates sponsored at the high school or collegiate level, the participants, format, and rules are not independently defined. Nevertheless, in a campaign season heavily dominated by television advertisements, talk radio, sound bites, and spin, they still offer a rare opportunity for citizens to see and hear the two major candidates side-by-side. The format of the presidential debates, though defined differently in every election, is typically more restrictive than many traditional formats, forbidding participants to ask each other questions and restricting discussion of particular topics to short time frames.

The presidential debates were initially sponsored by the League of Women Voters, though since 1988 the two major political parties have taken over the process. In 2004, the Citizens' Debate Commission was formed in the hope of establishing an independent sponsor for presidential debates, with a more voter-centric role in the definition of the participants, format, and rules.

See also

International University Debating

High School Debating


External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Debate

National and local debate organizations

  • National Forensic League U.S. standards body for high school speech and debate
  • National Association of Urban Debate Leagues - debate league for urban schools
  • National Educational Debate Association
  • Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debating
  • Oxford Union debating society
  • Ontario Student Debating Union
  • Chicago Debate League
  • Charles University Debate Club , the oldest Central European university's debate club
  • The Cogers Society , the world's oldest debating society

Other related websites

  • Dutch Debate Institute commercial Institute focused on transferring the classical principles of debate to widely usable debating concepts focused on results.
  • Cross-X dot com A resource and forum site for those involved in the high school policy debate world
  • LD Debate dot org A resource and forum site for those involved in the high school Lincoln-Douglas debate world
  • Big Sky Debate A source for debate research from Big Sky Debate, a vendor of debate products
  • Online Debate Network - An online debating community
  • Public domain information on Debate and Communication Skills from a private ad-supported website
  • Objectivism Online - An online debating community for fans of objectivism, run by two students
  • Debate Outreach Network - A resource for starting a debate team. Includes video from the Dartmouth Debate Institute
  • Conversational Terrorism – delay tactics and other techniques to use in debate.
Last updated: 02-07-2005 20:35:11
Last updated: 05-03-2005 09:00:33