Many different types of debates are used at the high school and collegiate level, as well as in the political arena. Every kind of debate has two sides, but there are two general types of debates: problem debates, which are centered on philosophical questions, such as whether something is right or wrong, and mechanism debates, which deal with practical problems, such as how something should be done.
Team Policy Debate / National Debate Tournament
Team policy debates feature two teams of two debaters each. The format consists of eight speeches, four constructive speeches and four rebuttals, and four periods of cross-examination. Emphasis is put on presenting large amounts of evidence as quickly and as coherently as possible.
The National Debate Tournament (NDT) also features two teams of two debaters each with the same format of eight speeches as team policy debates. The primary difference between team policy debates and the National Debate Tournament is that the team policy debates are for younger debaters in the upper middle and high school grades, whereas NDT is used at the collegiate level.
Cross-Examination Debate Association
Cross-Examination Debate Association, or CEDA, debates are a newer type of two-on-two collegiate debate. Unlike NDT debates, CEDA debates have resolutions that are not related to policy. CEDA debates are intended to be based on values, but, like NDT, a lot of evidence can be presented.
Lincoln-Douglas debates were inspired by the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas during a senatorial race in the 1850s. They are one-on-one debates that focus on arguing for or against competing moral and ethical values. There traditionally has been a strong emphasis on speaking persuasively, logically and clearly in Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Spontaneous argumentation, or SPAR, debates feature two debaters who draw a topic at random (traditionally out of a hat). The debaters then spend a few minutes preparing what they will say before engaging in a brief debate on the topic. It is often used in college and university classrooms and helps decrease speaker anxiety and build confidence. Because the debates do not require serious research, they focus more on presentation and style than on content.
Similar to SPAR debates, parliamentary debates require no prior research. Resolutions are established only 10 minutes or so before a round of debate begins, so wit, logic and persuasiveness are strongly emphasized. These debates are referred to as "parliamentary" because of their resemblance to the debates that occur in British Parliament. There are two teams of two debaters in parliamentary debates, and a round consists of six speeches: four constructive speeches and two rebuttal speeches.
- California State University Northridge: Debate Formats
- Atlanta Urban Debate: The Policy Debate Manual
- Argument Centered Education: Spontaneous Argumentation Debate Format
- U.S. History: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
- American Parliamentary Debate Association: A Guide to Parliamentary Debate: the Rules of Parliamentary Debate
- National Debate Tournament: Standing Rules