Questions and Answers about Debating

Manhattan Chowder & Debate Society

What is a debate? Webster: "n. a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides. v. To debate: to discuss a question by considering opposed arguments." Non-Webster: Using an adversarial method to arrive at a decision or truth.

What do you need for a debate? A proposition, two matched sides, and opposing arguments.

What is a proposition? Webster: "The point [or topic] to be discussed or maintained in argument usually stated in sentence form near the outset." (Discussion about stating propositions)

What kinds of propositions can you debate? Policy and value. Policy propositions are generally easier to debate because they can be defined more precisely. Examples (and more examples):

Propositions of policy:
All censorship should be eliminated.
Every TM District should have at least one debate society.

Propositions of value:
The United States is declining.
Abortionists murder babies.
What is policy? Webster: "A definite course or method of action selected from along alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide present and future decisions." Non-Webster: the way things are done now; the status-quo.

How does the proposition relate to current policy? It expresses a change.

When should the policy be changed? When the affirmative side establishes sufficient need, outlines a practical and effective plan, and shows adequate benefits.

What are stock issues for policy debates? "Stock issues" are generic; they can be used to organize cases in all debates. Affirmative stock issues for policy change are need, plan, and benefits. Negative stock issues are no need, no plan, and no benefits. If both sides stick to their stock issues, then they will surely clash, the essence of good debate.

How should a policy proposition be worded? The proposition should be a declarative sentence with one main idea: a significant change of the status quo. Its wording should be neutral--not favoring either side--and positive--affirming the new rather than negating the old. Its idea should be broad enough for interpretation yet narrow enough to manage.

What can you do before researching the topic? Analyze the wording of the proposition. Ask questions and list possible arguments, on both sides, for all stock issues.

How do you research the topic? Explore the online resources linked to the MCDS Web. Discuss reference tools with your librarian. Many directories and databases now available will speed up your library work. Record the sources of your quotes and evidence for attribution in the debate. Organize your information according to stock issues.

Why do you need evidence? Every argument you make needs reinforcement. Just your opinion weighs little. Without evidence, your audience and judges may not believe you.

How can you coordinate your team before the debate? Exchange copies of articles. Develop strategies together; list the pro's and con's together. Exchange lists of questions for cross-examinations.

What is a good format for a Toastmasters club debate?

First affirmative constructive speech (8 min.)
Cross-examination by second negative (3 min.)
First negative constructive speech
Cross-examination by first affirmative
Second affirmative constructive speech
Cross-examination by first negative
Second negative constructive speech
Cross-examination by second affirmative
Rebuttal/summary by first negative (4 min.)
Rebuttal/summary by first affirmative
What happens in constructive speeches? Usually, the first affirmative states the proposition, defines key terms, gives some background information, and most importantly establishes the need for change.

The first negative sometimes offers alternatives and gives different background information, but always refutes the affirmative's arguments and evidence and shows that there is no need for major change.

The second affirmative rebuts the first negative and extends the first affirmative's arguments for need, but spends most of the time outlining a plan and listing its benefits if carried out.

In the final constructive speech, the second negative rebuts the second affirmative's arguments by showing that the plan is impractical or ineffectual, and that the benefits are nil.

What happens in the cross-examinations? In good interrogations, examiners ask leading questions to which they already know the answers. Their goal is to get opponents to admit facts that weaken their own cases. Their questions should be short, so that the answers are short. They do not include "why," "how," and "what" questions that invite long, uncontrollable explanations. To retain control, the examiner can politely cut off uninvited "elaborations."

What happens in the summary/rebuttals? The first negative and then the first affirmative review their sides' cases, and their rebuttals of the opponents' arguments and evidence. They end with strong appeals to reject or accept the proposition.