How to Debate

 

This introduction to debating is just that: an introduction.  It is not intended to be comprehensive and, if it works like it should, you will have more questions about debating after you read it than you did before.  You will have access to members of the Seawolf Debate team for advice and coaching before your round, and at the competition to answer any questions you may have.

Example Round

Here's a round of debate on the motion "This House Believes that the media should show the full horrors of war" from the 2010 Final Round of the World Universities Debating Championship. You may find that you better understand the Guide to Debating (listed here below) after watching a video of a round, or you may find that you better understand the video of the round after reading the Guide to Debating.  Either way, this is an excellent example of the type of debating you'll be participating in at the competition.

 
 

Guide to Debating

The Teams

The tournament will use the international collegiate debate format.  Four teams will participate in each round, two on the Proposition (Opening Proposition and Closing Proposition) and two on the Opposition (Opening Opposition and Closing Opposition).  Each team is made up of two debaters who work together to advance their position.

 
 Opening Proposition 1. Prime Minister 3. Deputy Prime Minister Opening Opposition 2. Leader Opposition 4. Deputy Leader Opposition
Closing Proposition 5. Member of the Proposition 7. Proposition Whip Closing Opposition 6. Member of the Opposition 8. Opposition Whip

 

 

In general, teams on the Proposition must argue in favor of the motion as presented and teams on the Opposition must argue against the motion presented.  At the end of the round, the adjudicators will decide which team has done the most effective job of arguing the position to which they were assigned.  Both Proposition teams and both Opposition teams (teams "on the same bench", i.e. Opening and Closing Proposition or Opening and Closing Opposition) are required to present arguments that support or oppose the motion.  While teams on the same bench are competing against each other, they must not contradict the other team's position(s).  For example, the Closing Government team must present arguments that advance the same motion and stance advocated by the Opening Government team.  To do so, the Closing Government team should present substantively unique arguments that pursue the same goal as the Opening Government's arguments while distinguishing the Closing Government's efforts.  Teams must not, however, collude in this effort.  Teams are expected to prepare separately from other teams and will not be aware of other teams' arguments until the debate occurs.

The Speeches

Each speaker in the round gives one, seven (7) minute speech, beginning with the first speaker from the Opening Proposition and alternating between the Proposition and the Opposition.

 Speech # Team Speaker Time
1 Opening Proposition Prime Minister 7 minutes
2 Opening Opposition Leader Opposition 7 minutes
3 Opening Proposition Deputy Prime Minister 7 minutes
4 Opening Opposition Deputy Leader Opposition 7 minutes
5 Closing Proposition Member Proposition 7 minutes
6 Closing Opposition Member Opposition 7 minutes
7 Closing Proposition Proposition Whip 7 minutes
8 Closing Opposition Opposition Whip 7 minutes
  During each of these speeches, debaters from the opposite side may ask for the opportunity to speak briefly from the speaker holding the floor.  Known as Points of Information (or POIs), these interjections are short questions or statements taken at the discretion of the debater holding the floor.  POIs are allowed from the opposite side after the first minute and before the last minute of each speech.  Within this time, a debater may request the opportunity to present a Point of Information (either verbally or by rising) from a team on the opposite side of the motion at any time after the first minute, and before the last minute, of any constructive speech. The debater holding the floor may accept or refuse Points of Information. If accepted, the debater asking the POI has no more than fifteen (15) seconds to make a statement or ask a question. During the Point of Information, the speaking time continues.  Each debater should make an effort to accept and respond to 2-3 Points of Information 

Debater Duties

Each debater has three duties in his or her speech: construction, deconstruction and framing.  While the time spent on these duties varies from speech to speech, debaters should keep these three priorities in mind when preparing their remarks.  Construction refers to the debater's obligation to bring new substantive matter to the round, i.e. each debater should develop arguments to support his or her team's position.  Also known as developing and advancing a case, debaters will be evaluated in part on their ability to build arguments that prove their position on the motion.  Deconstruction is the obligation to address the constructive matter advanced by teams on the other side of the debate; debaters should discuss the weakness and shortcomings in their opponents' arguments.  Also known as refutation, deconstruction is what most people think of when they imagine a debate.  Here is where debaters test and critique the constructive arguments made by the other side.  Framing refers to the duty to place the debater's constructive and deconstructive efforts into context.  While framing, debaters should tell the adjudicators and their audience about the relevance of the arguments made, how each team's position should be considered relative to others and why, ultimately, how their team's arguments prove the motion.  The purpose of framing is to tell the adjudicators how they should perceive the arguments in the round and how your arguments are relevant to the question posed by the motion. 

Speaker Roles

Each speaker has a specific set of obligations:  a. Prime Minister (a.k.a. PM, Opening Proposition Team-1st speaker)  The Prime Minister meets his or her framing obligations by defining the terms of the motion (through explicit definitions or the presentation of a model).  Following this interpretation, the Prime Minister engages in constructive argumentation by presenting a case that supports that motion.  b. Leader Opposition (a.k.a. LO, Opening Opposition Team-1st speaker)  The Leader Opposition's role is to establish the opposition to the motion and/or the Proposition's case.  The LO satisfies his or her framing duties by clearly articulating the stance of the Opposition in the round.  The LO then moves on to deconstructive argumentation by critiquing the arguments made by the PM.  Finally the LO should engage in constructive argumentation during which he or she develops "positive matter" or arguments that demonstrate the falsity of the motion.  c. Deputy Prime Minister (a.k.a. DPM, Opening Proposition Team - 2nd speaker)  The Deputy Prime Minister should engage the points made in the Opposition Leader'S speech and further develop the Proposition team's argument. The DPM must support the Prime Minister; he or she may do so by critiquing the positive matter offered by the LO (deconstructive argumentation), further developing arguments presented by the Prime Minister or by advancing new arguments (constructive argumentation).  Finally, throughout his or her speech, the DPM should attempt to compare and contrast the Proposition and Opposition efforts relative to the motion (framing).  d. Deputy Leader Opposition (a.k.a. DLO, Opening Opposition Team - 2nd speaker)  As with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Deputy Leader Opposition must engage the material advanced by the Opening Proposition team and support his or her teammate to advance the Opening Opposition team's position.  The DLO should balance their effort between their framing, deconstructive and constructive duties.  e. Member of the Proposition (a.k.a. MP, Closing Proposition Team -  1st speaker)  The Member of the Proposition's role is to support the Proposition line (introduced by the Opening Proposition team) while simultaneously distinguishing his or her team's contribution to the debate.  Following an effort to summarize and evaluate the debate as it has unfolded in order to develop context for his or her arguments (framing), the MP may deconstruct the arguments made by the Opening Opposition team.  The MP'S most important contribution, however, is in his or her constructive argument.    The priority for the closing teams is to establish an identity distinct from the opening team.  The MP does this by offering an "extension."  An extension may be a new line of argumentation consistent with the original proposal offered by the Opening Proposition, a case study that deepens analysis on a particular example relevant to the motion or an extension may further develop a position introduced by the Opening Proposition.  The extension should be identifiable to the judge, but need not be labeled as such by the debaters.  f. Member of the Opposition (a.k.a. MO, Closing Opposition Team - 1st speaker)  Like the Member of the Proposition, the Member of the Opposition's role is to support the Opposition line while simultaneously distinguishing his or her team's contribution to the debate.  The Member of the Opposition may do this by offering an "extension."  An extension may be a new line of argumentation consistent with the original proposal offered by the Opening Proposition, a case study that deepens analysis on a specific example relevant to the motion or an extension may further develop a position introduced by the Opening Proposition.  As with all previous speeches, the Member of the Opposition should balance his or her time between framing (placing the arguments in context), constructive argumentation (building positive matter in opposition to the motion) or deconstructive argumentation (critiquing the arguments of the opposite side).  g. Proposition Whip (a.k.a. PW, Closing Proposition Team - 2nd speaker)  Framing is the primary duty of the Proposition Whip speaker.  An effective whip speech should to summarize the whole of the Proposition's position on the motion relative to the Opposition's effort.  To do so, he or she should consider the relevant arguments advanced by the Proposition teams and the Opposition teams' response to those positions.  The Proposition Whip may continue to develop his or her team's case, but the majority of time should focus on summing up the Proposition side and on rebutting the opposition team's arguments.  As a general rule, no new arguments may be introduced in a Whip speech (though new analysis and evidence is welcome).  h. Opposition Whip (a.k.a. OW, Closing Opposition Team - 2nd speaker)  Like the Proposition Whip, the primary responsibility of the Opposition Whip speaker is to summarize the Opposition's position on the motion.  To do so, he or she should consider the relevant arguments advanced by the Opposition teams and the Proposition teams' response to those positions.  The Opposition Whip may continue to develop his or her team's case, but the majority of time should focus on summing up the Opposition side as a whole and on rebutting the opposing team's arguments.  As a general rule, no new arguments may be introduced in a Whip speech (though new analysis and evidence is welcome). 

Adjudication

At the end of the debate, a panel of judges will confer and rank the teams first through fourth.  Teams are scored on both matter (quality of argument, strength of supporting material, refutation of the opposing team) and manner (execution of debater duties, teamwork between team members, presentational style, strategy).  Once the judges have conferred (it usually takes between 15-30 minutes) the results will be announced.