CHOOSING A PROPOSITION: Selecting an adequate proposition is essential for meaningful debate. A proposition is expressed in a clear statement that represents the affirmative side of the controversy. An official statement of the proposition is written as “Resolved: That. . . .” Propositions may be about judgments of fact/value or about desirability of a policy/plan of action. For example:

  • Resolved: That UFOs are spaceships from another planet. (FACT)
  • Resolved: That private universities are better than national universities. (VALUE)
  • Resolved: That school uniforms should be abolished. (POLICY)



The topic may be presented in a question form as in “Should school uniforms be abolished?” But a WH-question like “What should we do about our uniform?” cannot serve as a debate topic since it does not draw a line between the affirmative and the negative grounds.

There are four other points to consider when we decide a proposition.

  1. The proposition should be controversial. The proposition should be phrased so that it may give more or less an equal chance of winning. Both the affirmative and negative arguments should be balanced. “Resolved: That the Hawks will win the baseball championship” may be an adequate debate topic in the beginning of the season but cannot be debated after the winner becomes obvious.
  2. The proposition should be neutrally worded. “Resolved: That Japan should ban the sale of harmful cigarettes” presupposes the harm of cigarettes and thus unfairly favors the affirmative.
  3. The proposition should indicate a change from the present system. In a typical setup, the affirmative side is an advocate of change and the negative side is a defender of the present or the status quo. The affirmative has the burden of proof to show that the change is necessary; the negative side opposes the change.
  4. The proposition should be suitable for the participants. The topic should be interesting to participants, not too easy nor too difficult both in contents and language in the process of research as well as writing and presenting speeches. In classrooms, reading materials from other classes may be used to decrease the students’ burden of original research.

Step-by-Step Tasks to Debate:

  1. Write two possible resolutions for classroom debate. Attach a relevant article for each about the subject matter from newspapers, magazines, and Web sites (written in English).
  2. Write three possible reasons for the affirmative and the negative of each resolution.
  3. Discuss the relative merits of the candidate resolutions for the class debate. Choose the best
    one in class or group.

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