PREPARATION FOR DEBATE: This section follows the process of preparation for debate after the proposition is decided until the oral debate is conducted. The process is not linear but individual stages may be repeated a number of times. Debate is often conducted in teams and thus preparation is also shared by the group members.



3.1. Analysis of Proposition

If you selected the proposition for yourself, you have already started the analysis. Otherwise, you must make a fresh analysis of the given proposition. This process involves interpreting the meaning of the proposition and finding the issues involved in the proposition.

3.1.1. Interpreting the Proposition

Unless the meaning of the proposition is clear, we cannot have a fruitful debate. The first step of analysis is defining the terms in the proposition and determine the meaning of the proposition as a whole. You must often go beyond finding dictionary definitions of the terms. If you are debating the topic “Resolved: That the Japanese government should prohibit smoking in public places,” you should consider, for example, what constitutes “smoking” and “public places” in the controversy.

3.1.2. Finding Issues

Both the affirmative and negative teams must consider all potential issues involved in the proposition. In a murder trial (Resolved: That X is guilty of murder.), both the prosecution (affirmative) and the defense (negative) must consider not only the physical act of killing but also motive, alibi, and other issues which are determined by criminal law. In Academic Debate, such issues must often be found in the nature of the controversy. In debating policy propositions, debaters and coaches have developed a set of standard issues (called “stock issues”).

These stock issues help you systematically analyze the proposition. These issues are expressed in a question form and must be answered “YES” by the affirmative and “NO” by the negative. Let us briefly discuss the major stock issues.

(1) Is there a serious problem that calls for change? The affirmative wants to show the quality and quantity of the problem(s) in the present system. It may also show that the plan will produce a significant advantage over the present system. (The lack of such an advantage is considered a problem in the present system.)

(2) Is the problem inherently connected to the present system? The affirmative may want to show that the problem is caused by the present system or the problem cannot be solved without changing the present system. The negative could show that the problem is temporary or accidental to the present system.

(3) Is there a practical plan to solve the problem? The affirmative must present a feasible plan within the frame of the given proposition. Technological, personal, natural resources may be at issue. Constitutionality and current political popularity of the proposed plan are not at issue because Academic Debate about a policy proposition examines whether the proposed plan would be desirable if it were to be carried out.

(4) Would the affirmative plan solve the problem? Assuming that the proposed plan is indeed carried out, this issue examines the process of solving the problem or producing the advantage.

(5) Are the advantages of the plan bigger than its disadvantages? This is an issue that should be raised by the negative side. It must show that the disadvantages are significant, unique to the affirmative plan , and also show how they would occur. The negative side tries to show that the disadvantages would be more significant than the problems to be solved.

3.2. Research

Research is an important aspect of Academic Debate. In some cases, you can simply find information from your own knowledge. In most debates, however, you want to go beyond what you already know. You also want to find definitions, facts, statistics, and expert opinions to back up your arguments. In the beginning of preparation, you may want to conduct a broad/generic research to better understand the proposition and possible issues. Later, you want to look for specific information to support particular points in your arguments.

3.3. Building Cases

A case is a set of arguments that supports the affirmative or the negative position. One proposition allows more than one case. For example, the resolution calling for the prohibition of cigarette smoking may be justified by a case of smokers’ health risk, of passive smoking, or of fires caused by smoking. A few cases may be combined to make one case. An affirmative case may be based on an intolerable current problem or may be based on the attainable benefits currently ignored.

A negative case may be based on one or more of the following strategies:

(1) Straight Refutation. The negative team tries to refute individual affirmative arguments and issues.
(2) Disadvantages. The negative shows that the affirmative plan would produce serious disadvantages that would outweigh the affirmative advantages (or the problems that the plan would solve).
(3) Defense of the Status Quo. The negative tries to show that the present system is working well or is capable of solving the problem that the affirmative has identified.
(4) Counterplan. The negative could concede the problem of the present system but argue that an alternative plan (different from both the present system and the proposition) would solve the problem better than the affirmative plan.

Both the affirmative and the negative teams must present an entire case in Constructive Speeches (Section 19.1.3) and must not change or add major issues in Rebuttal Speeches. This rule enables debaters to develop arguments on focused issues.

3.4. Refutation and Rebuttal

This is a unique feature of debate that is different from more or less one-way communication of public speaking. But the same critical examination can be applied when you are simply receiving messages as a listener or a reader. Debate, or argumentation in general, is a process of approaching the truth through defending one’s own opinion, attacking the other’s, and further defending one’s own in light of the opposition’s refutation. Refutation and rebuttal also rigorously train your critical thinking and effective communication skills.

In a formal Academic Debate, “refutation” (= attacking) occurs in any speech except for the 1st Affirmative Constructive Speech. The principle is that you must respond to the opposition’s argument in the earliest available speech; otherwise, you will be assumed to grant the argument. That is, silence is admission. In order to refute an argument, you can expose its weaknesses (lack or inadequacy of evidence and reasoning) or present counter-evidence, which contradicts the opposition’s argument.

The term “rebuttal” is used in two meanings. One is “rebuilding” your own argument, which is tried in response to the opposition’s refutation of your argument. It occurs in the team’s second or later speeches. You can rebuild your own point by refuting the opposition’s refutation or adding new support to your argument/issue under attack.

The other meaning of “rebuttal” is used for the names of speeches in the second half of the debate round, i.e., rebuttal speeches. Rebuttal speeches may not present new major arguments but must develop already introduced issues and arguments. The last rebuttal speech of both teams also summarizes the entire debate from their respective viewpoints.

Preparation is important for effective refutation and rebuttal. You must anticipate the opposition’s arguments and prepare against them. In a particular debate round, you must adapt the prepared arguments to the opposition’s points. Such prepared arguments can be stocked in the form of “briefs”, written arguments complete with evidence. Given below are two sample briefs in the debate “Resolved: That private high schools are better than public high schools.”

The first one is an affirmative team’s brief to strengthen the argument that private schools are better. This could also be used to respond to some problems of the private schools that the negative may bring up. The second brief is another affirmative brief in response to a negative issue that “public schools are more economical because their tuition is cheaper than private schools.” Since the affirmative cannot deny the fact, it tries to minimize the effect of the argument.

Sample Brief 1

Affirmative: flexibility
Private schools are ready to change.
Private schools are more flexible and ready to change.
The Asahi Shimbun (March 16, 1989) reports many changes in private schools in order to improve their images. They include changing school names, uniforms, and school mottoes.
This evidence shows that private schools can change in order to meet the changing needs of society. Therefore, private schools are better than public schools.

Sample Brief 2:

Affirmative: tuition
Difference of fees is small.
(Negative: Public schools’ tuition is cheaper.)
I. Even if the tuition is more expensive in private schools, it is worth paying it. The quality of education is more important than its cost.
II. The difference in tuition is small. The difference in tuition between private and public school is small in the total money parents spend on education.

A. The difference is about 1,000,000 yen for three years. According to the Ministry of Education’s statistics in 1991, the total expenses that parents pay are about 310,000 yen in public high schools and 640,000 yen in private schools. The difference is 330,000 yen a year. That makes a total of 1,000,000 yen for three years.

B. The total money parents spend on one child from birth to university graduation ranges from 24,000,000 to 60,000,000 yen. This information comes from a study done by AIU Insurance, reported in the Asahi Shimbun, April 6, 1991.

C. The difference between private and public high schools is about 1.7 to 4% of the total money for one child. If a child goes to a public high school and then to a private medical school, the parents must pay much more than a case in which a child goes to a private high school. Therefore, the difference is not important.


3.5. Writing & Presenting Speeches

Preparation for oral presentations is necessary before the debate round and during the round. Before the round, the team must prepare the manuscript of the 1st Affirmative Constructive Speech. Each team must prepare briefs about all, or at least the major, potential arguments. Individual members must practice reading such manuscripts and briefs. During the debate round, debaters must take notes while listening to speeches, write down some notes for refutation, and organize their next speech by adjusting their prepared briefs.

Writing a debate speech is like writing a research paper for oral presentation (See Section 5 below). One piece of advice for effective writing is that you should write the manuscript within the grammar and vocabulary of your own English level. Of course, certain new words and phrases must be used depending on the subject matter and they may be found in a Japanese-English dictionary. But DON’T write your complete manuscript in Japanese and then translate it into English.

If you use difficult words and structures in Japanese, you will not be able to accurately translate them into English, unless your English is as good as your Japanese. If you translate word-by-word, the result will be something far away from communicative English. You must try to write in English from the beginning.

Two candidates arguing at the debates, public speech, political campaign

If you participate in oral debate rounds, speeches except for the 1st Affirmative Constructive will be extemporaneous, meaning that you must prepare them on the spot based on the prepared briefs and notes during the debate. As classroom practice, students may participate in “scripted debate” where the 1st Affirmative Speech is passed to the negative team, which writes the 1st Negative Speech in response and passes it back to the affirmative team, and so on. This exchange of written speeches itself is one form of debate. Those speeches then may be orally presented to the audience who will listen to them and evaluate the debate.

In orally presenting your speech, you must consider the oral delivery in public speaking. In debate, you are presenting your speech to the audience in a public place, even in a classroom; you are not talking to one another in a private conversation. You must speak loud enough and project your voice so that it may reach people in the back of the room.

If you are using a microphone, you must adjust yourself to such a device. After practicing your speech a number of times, you should be able to keep some eye contact with your audience. You do not need to memorize your speech but should look at the audience from time to time. In public speaking, delivery (loudness, clarity, speed, body language, etc.) is often much more important than the pronunciation of individual words.

3.6. Taking Notes

In order to accurately follow the development of the arguments in debate, for refutation and
rebuttal as well as for judging, you should learn a special method of note taking called “flow sheet”
(Figure 2). This flow sheet is also effective in planning arguments during preparation before the
debate round.


You should prepare large sheets of paper (or facing pages of your notebook) to have as many vertical columns as the number of speeches in one debate round. In the left-most column, you will write down the major points of the 1st Affirmative Speech from the top in an outline format.

Refutations in the 1st Negative Speech are written down in the next column side by side with the matching affirmative points. If a particular affirmative point is not refuted, the place next to it should be left blank (See Point I.B in Figure 2). If the points of one speech cannot be written down in one column, you must use another sheet of paper. For example, the negative team’s arguments about the disadvantage against the plan may be written down in a separate sheet of paper. You can use arrows to connect matching arguments if the connection is not apparent.

This flowsheet shows how a particular point is originally presented, responded (or not responded) by the opposition, and further responded to, and so on. Such development of arguments is shown as a flow of notes on the paper from left to right. By reviewing this flowsheet, you can easily track down the flow of arguments during the debate and at the end of the debate. This flowsheet together with the tight organization of the speeches helps debaters and judges to develop and follow the highly complicated arguments in Academic Debate.

3.7. Cross-Examination

A typical Academic Debate format has a cross-examination period after each constructive speech. The purposes of questioning in cross-examination are (1) to clarify the opposition’s points, (2) to expose weaknesses of the opposition’s arguments, and (3) to set up a basis for your team’s later arguments.

Cross-examination is different from speeches. The examiner can only ask questions and may not present arguments. Many students are confused with cross-examination and refutation in a speech. Although a major purpose of questioning is to weaken the opposition’s arguments, you must do so by asking questions. You are not allowed to make statements or read quotations in cross-examination.

They should be in later speeches. In cross-examination, the affirmative and negative debaters directly confront each other as well as addressing the audience; in speeches, the speaker only addresses the audience. Thus, in cross-examination, you may ask “Did you say X in your speech?” directly addressing the opposition, but in a speech, you should say “The negative team (they/he/she etc.) said X in the 1st Negative Constructive” referring to the opposition as a third party.


3.8. Evalualing Debate

There are two major ways to evaluate debate. One is to decide the winner of the debate in light of the strength of the arguments. The other is to evaluate the essential skills in debating. The winner of the debate is decided by the judges. Sometimes the entire audience casts votes. The decision of the debate is usually based on the quality of the arguments presented in the debate.

Judges ask themselves if the affirmative team has proven that the proposition is probably true. If the affirmative side was successful in doing so, it wins the debate. Otherwise, the negative side wins the debate. There is no tie. If there are several judges in the round (usually the odd number), they will individually decide the winner and the team with the majority votes wins the debate.

In making the decision, judges must only consider what the debaters said in the debate. They must disregard their personal opinion about the proposition or other issues in the debate. They must believe the debaters’ arguments as long as they are supported by a reasonable amount of evidence and valid reasoning even if the judges themselves do not personally believe them.

The other way of evaluation is to rate the quality of debating. If there is a ballot sheet with analytical categories such as analysis, evidence, reasoning, organization, and delivery, judges give scores to each category while the debate is in progress. The total scores are added for each team at the end of the debate. The judges may select the winner either based on these scores or regardless of them. These scores are used for feedback and sometimes for other purposes (selecting the finalists or top debaters in a contest).


We have introduced to you major stages of preparation and oral presentation of debate. If you have been through the Step-by-Step Tasks to Debate, you are now ready to participate in debate. In the next two sections, we will discuss more about two important aspects of debate: the nature of arguments and organization of speeches.

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