Student looking over notes at classroom podium
Student looking over notes at classroom podium

Academic debate is different from the types of political debates aired on television. In academic policy debate, each team consists of two people. A topic question or “resolution” is given, and each team is told whether they will present the affirmative or negative position on the issue. Each team member is assigned a certain number of minutes to speak (depending on the style of debate). A “flow” is the paperwork on which each team member keeps track of the topics discussed.

Debate Flows

Develop your own shorthand. Nearly all debaters speak faster than a person can write. As you learn common debate tactics and terms, you will develop a form of abbreviations that works well for you. If you have the same debate partner consistently, it enhances team communication if you understand one another’s shorthand.

Draw columns on each sheet of paper. Make one column for each speech that will be made. Assign each team a color. Some debaters find it easiest to always make their own team one color and the opposing team any other color.

Each column represents one speech. The affirmative team speaks first, and the first speaker on each team sets the tone for how many sheets will be used. One sheet is usually used for introductory material, such as restating the resolution, explaining what the status quo is regarding the topic, defining words in the resolution and outlining what course of action the affirmative team proposes. Each subsequent sheet represents either an advantage of the affirmative team’s plan or a disadvantage of that plan (presented by the negative team).

As each speech is given, write down the points made in that speaker’s column. If a rebuttal immediately occurs to you, write that down in the column that represents your team’s next speech. Be sure to use the appropriate colored pens, as it helps identify which team is making which points.

As the speeches go on during the debate, align rebuttals horizontally on the paper with the arguments against which they’re being made. For example, if the affirmative team’s advantage was “video cameras should be allowed in court to help make the judicial system transparent,” the negative team might jot a note next to it, but in the next column, saying “not all states permit cameras.” If it’s not possible to align the arguments horizontally, connect them with a line on the paper for clarity.